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.
Terry Fontenot at the podium. Just addressed Marcus Mariota release.— Scott Bair (@ScottBairNFL) February 28, 2023
“We appreciate Marcus. ….ultimately, we’re going to add to the (quarterback) position.” pic.twitter.com/wPTSBP1mbo
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.”
Falcons GM Terry Fontenot is not ruling out a QB at #8….— Zach Klein (@ZachKleinWSB) February 28, 2023
Everything is on the table at NFL Draft pic.twitter.com/uSbw6ymyCR
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.
#Falcons GM Terry Fontenot: We have a lot of flexibility, we have a lot of cap space. But we want to make sure we have the right discipline, and make sure we're doing the right things. We want to focus on bringing in the right people.— Kevin Knight (@FalcoholicKevin) February 28, 2023
Terry Fontenot: “if you have a lot of cap space, that means you have a lot of work to do.”— Scott Bair (@ScottBairNFL) February 28, 2023
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.
#Falcons Fontenot: The nickel DB is a starter, and it's a really critical position. Whether it's a CB or third safety.— Kevin Knight (@FalcoholicKevin) February 28, 2023
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.
#Falcons Fontenot: It's really fun. When I think about [defensive coordinator] Ryan Nielsen, with our culture, it's all about development and competitiveness. And that's who Nielsen is. That's his favorite part, going out there on the practice field and working with the guys.— Kevin Knight (@FalcoholicKevin) February 28, 2023
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.
#Falcons Fontenot: We really value the Senior Bowl. Jim Nagy and the staff do a really good job. The process is really smooth and they give great access to scouts.— Kevin Knight (@FalcoholicKevin) February 28, 2023
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.
#Falcons Fontenot: You need to have multiple running backs to preserve their career and take care of them. We love Tyler [Allgeier], but it's a position you always have to add to.— Kevin Knight (@FalcoholicKevin) February 28, 2023
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.
Cool tidbit from #Falcons GM Terry Fontenot this morning:— Joe Patrick (@japatrick200) February 28, 2023
On the team's internal draft board, players who are from the state of Georgia are adorned with next to their names. It's a notable factor in the overall evaluation.
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.