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Terry Fontenot speaks at the NFL combine

The GM spoke about quarterback, running back and cornerback, among other things.

NFL Combine Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

Atlanta general manager Terry Fontenot took to the podium in Indianapolis this morning and spoke to the media ahead of the NFL Combine.

The big news of the day was the announcement that Atlanta is parting ways with Marcus Mariota and saving $12 million in cap space. Fontenot was of course asked about that move and, after expressing his appreciation for Mariota, he did say that the Birds will be adding to the quarterback position this offseason.

What that means exactly is to be determined, but Fontenot followed that up by letting the media know that he won’t box himself into any particular decision, saying that the team could look at the draft, free agency or anyplace else to add a quarterback, “leaving every door open.”

The Mariota release adds to an already rich treasure chest of cap space for the Falcons, who now have over $65 million to play with according to projections — the second-most in the NFL behind only the Bears.

Fontenot addressed that while the team has a lot of flexibility now, it’s important to stay disciplined and to bring in the right people.

General managers will rarely give much insight regarding their upcoming team building strategy but Fontenot did make it very clear how much he values the nickel cornerback position, calling it “critical” and that saying it’s more or less a starting position given that that player is on the field 70% of the time.

Atlanta’s primary nickel CB last season was Isaiah Oliver, who is now a free agent, with Darren Hall and Dee Alford getting extended looks there while Oliver was coming back from injury. The Birds can absolutely bring Oliver back to man that position, now fully healthy, but we do know that it will be addressed one way or another.

One interesting thing to note is that new defensive coordinator Ryan Nielson comes from a philosophy in New Orleans where they have been known to play a safety at the nickel CB position. Chauncey Gardner-Johnson was New Orleans’ primary slot CB in 2021 before moving back to his natural safety spot in Philadelphia, where he was a Pro Bowler last season.

Speaking of Nielson, Fontenot touched on just how much the new defensive coordinator fits into the team’s culture, citing his player development and competitiveness.

Another insight that’s become a bad secret at this point is that the Falcons value the Senior Bowl a lot. They’ve taken 11 players combined who participated in the Senior Bow in the last two drafts, since the new front office arrived. Fontenot emphasized once again that the Senior Bowl is very important to the team.

The other interesting thing to note is that the Falcons’ GM did talk about the need and desire to add more to the running back room, in addition to Tyler Allgeier.

Allgeier had a fantastic rookie season, where he broke the franchise record for rushing yards by a rookie, but we’re in a modern NFL where the majority of teams operate with multiple running backs. Cordarrelle Patterson and Caleb Huntley are currently the other RBs on the roster, and Huntley may not be ready for the start of the season due to Achilles surgery.

A final cool fact from the press conference is that the Falcons apparently do emphasize if a player on the board is from the state of Georgia by placing a peach next to their name.

The NFL combine begins Tuesday, Feb. 28 and continues through Monday, March 6. Free agency begins on March 15 at 4 p.m. ET while the NFL Draft spans from April 27 through April 29.