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Reports roll in that Falcons are not trading for Lamar Jackson on same day he’s franchise tagged

The news came in swift, deflating, and merciless, and we’ll see if things pan out this way.

Baltimore Ravens v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Lamar Jackson to the Falcons was the exciting rumor that wouldn’t die. Across the league, rival executives and pundits linked Jackson to an Atlanta team flush with cap space and without a declared starting quarterback, betting that the Falcons would take a big swing and try to pry Jackson away from the Ravens and give themselves an elite young quarterback for many years to come.

When Jackson was given the non-exclusive tag, opening the door for the gifted quarterback to negotiate with other teams while Baltimore holds the option to match a contract, the fanbase excitement and rumors rose to a fever pitch on Tuesday afternoon. That was buttressed by a reporter by Heavy Sports reporter Matt Lombardo, one that was jarringly out of step with the lack of reporting on the team’s interest. Minutes after the tag was applied, however, a flurry of national and local insiders made it clear: The Falcons aren’t expected to make an attempt to trade for Lamar Jackson at all.

While my feeling all along has been that the Falcons will roll with Desmond Ridder and sign a veteran to compete with him, I am truly shocked the team isn’t at least attempting to acquire a player of Jackson’s caliber. They could make a contract work with their current cap space, after all, and also have the draft capital to get a deal done. The price tag must have been unappealing, their faith in Ridder (or, I suppose, one of the top draft-eligible quarterbacks) must be real and solid, and/or they just weren’t that interested in Jackson, though that last piece seems impossible. This is more fodder for the theory that ownership heavily drove the Deshaun Watson pursuit a year ago, given that Jackson is arguably an even better player, is also young, and comes with exactly zero off-field concerns.

It’s not clear where Jackson will land now, but Baltimore will have the option to match any contract, and it’s possible they’ll simply let another team negotiate a deal for them. Jackson remaining with the Ravens still seems like the likeliest outcome, and with the Falcons and Commanders reportedly out and the Jets chasing Aaron Rodgers, it’s not clear who might emerge as a major suitor for his services. Either way, Jackson will ultimately get paid and make a team quite happy. It just doesn’t appear it will be Atlanta.

If this proves true—I wouldn’t say anything definitive even with so many insiders weighing in, but it certainly now seems very unlikely—this non-move will be scrutinized by fans for a long time, with whoever lines up under center being stacked up against Jackson whether he lands in Baltimore or ends up elsewhere. The Falcons surely know that, but Terry Fontenot has repeatedly talked about the importance of building up a team around your quarterback no matter who that may be, and with all that cap space and all those draft resources it appears this team will prioritize needed upgrades across the roster. The hope will be that Ridder—or, again, whoever ends up starting—will be handed the keys to a team that’s good enough to go places, and that the quarterback they’ve chosen will be good enough to help them get there.

Atlanta’s team-building approach will have to bear fruit for this to be applauded, but it’s certainly consistent with what they’ve said and done to this point, including the recent praise from Arthur Blank, Terry Fontenot, and Arthur Smith for Desmond Ridder. The Falcons arguably do not have a single position (aside from kicker, where Younghoe Koo remains great) where new additions and upgrades would not be welcome, and this will give the Falcons a chance to learn what Ridder or another young quarterback (again, the draft is looming) can do with better pieces around them. It’s a bet that in the careful, quiet work done to this point and still ahead, and a bet that we have to hope and pray pays off.

The Falcons’ quarterback future is still unsettled with the draft looming and free agency expected to bring in an option, but with Jackson seemingly out of the picture, Ridder’s chances of entering Week 1 as the starter seem stronger than ever. We’ll hope history vindicates the team passing on Jackson and betting on Ridder running this passing attack.