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Offseason Mailbag: Rookie vs. veteran QB, first-round draft targets & coaching hires

In today’s mailbag we’ve got quarterback debates, coordinator thoughts and the lingering presence of Bill Belichick

Texas A&M v LSU Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Welcome to the first official Falcoholic offseason mailbag! I sincerely appreciate all of the thoughtful questions submitted in the comments and on social media, and if I didn’t get to yours this week I promise I will keep them in a folder for the future.

Raheem Morris is making nice progress in building out his coaching staff, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the number of holdovers from Arthur Smith’s staff. I’m sure that some would wonder why coaches from the previous regime would be kept around after failing to produce a winning season, but I think Morris is holding onto some bright and creative minds.

Before we get into this week’s questions, I want to encourage everyone to check out the incredible coverage Kevin Knight and Aaron Freeman are producing from the Senior Bowl. I got a few questions about the Senior Bowl, but instead of answering them here, I’ll point you in the direction of their work. Finally, please leave any questions for next week’s mailbag in the comments section below, and you can add them at any time!

Alright, let’s get to it!

Recently we’ve been hearing reports the Falcons would target a veteran QB or draft a QB based on an older or younger Head Coach (i.e. Bill Belichick = Kirk Cousins, Ben Johnson = Drafted QB). Now that we know Raheem Morris is the coach, which direction do you think he is more likely to go? Veteran and/or rookie QB?

- Dahgrt1

This was maybe the most-asked question in some form or fashion, so I’m excited to dig into it because it’s the thing I’m most curious about as well.

Knowing what I do about how Arthur Blank feels about investing a large amount of his team’s cap space in one position, I don’t expect the Falcons to break the bank again at quarterback. Blank practically said as much at the end-of-year press conference:

“In the last 20 years in the Super Bowl, there has never been a quarterback who’s been more than 17 percent of a team’s cap, and Matt was approaching close to 25 percent of ours,” he explained.

So, it then becomes a matter of how the decision-makers feel about the veteran landscape. Is there a cost-effective backup who could be traded for and blossom in Zac Robinson’s system? Is the right free-agent journeyman out there as a short-term rental for a team ready to compete? The team can get creative with a contract, sure, but this is where I’d start when thinking about veteran options.

At this point, I think Morris should feel comfortable enough to take a rookie quarterback if he feels that is the best path forward, but he might not want to tie himself to a player this early. Given that this team is ready to compete, whoever they select in the draft would need to hit the ground running. At this point, I’m leaning more the veteran route. But the draft would allow for the biggest possible swing, given Blank’s cap beliefs.

How do you think the Falcons will draft in the first round? Trade up or down? Go QB, DE, or CB? Or do they just go wild and draft only WRs this year?

- The Amerasian Sensation

The Falcons are once again going to be one of the most interesting teams in the early parts of the draft, assuming it’s not just made abundantly clear that they are taking a quarterback. And if it does reach that point, I sincerely hope the Falcons go all-in. Swing BIG. Go up and get a player you feel will solve the game’s most important position for the next 12 years.

They should be lauded for avoiding any type of 2007 season in the aftermath of the Matt Ryan era, but it usually takes that kind of pitiful record to get a top quarterback. Sitting at No. 8 for the third year means they’d likely need to make a move, and I hope they do. However, if they don’t have a quarterback in mind, I think the positions that make sense at that spot from a talent standpoint are edge, offensive tackle or receiver. They could still get a good player by trading back.

New England Patriots vs Atlanta Falcons, Super Bowl LI Set Number: SI713 TK1

What were the reasons why Bill Belichick didn’t get the Falcons head coaching gig? If the rumors were true, doesn’t the owner’s wishes and wants supersede others?

- Ed Helinski

I have been fascinated by the fan reaction to everything coach-related over the last few months. There are a lot of assumptions masquerading as facts out there, which is not very productive for any of us. And you’re not wrong: The owner’s wishes would supersede those of others—if that’s how the owner wants it. But Blank clearly did listen to the advice of others, and I think he took a middle path by also changing Rich McKay’s role. Here is my read on how it all went down and the factors that ultimately won out.

I do think Blank was interested in Bill Belichick. He is genuine in his desire to bring a championship to this city, and his run as an owner has essentially aligned perfectly with the Patriots’ dynasty. Of course Blank would be interested in perhaps the chief orchestrator of that system. My instinct is that Belichick’s model just isn’t really the popular way of going about team building in 2024, which is why he’s not getting the interest his reputation deserves.

For the Falcons, specifically, a pairing with Belichick would likely mean significant overhaul at a systemic level. If Blank was seeking a 20-year campaign of dominance, then I think he would welcome that kind of overhaul if it meant he’d get the head coach for that whole run. But we all know that isn’t the case here.

There’s a sentiment out there that the last three years were a waste. That couldn’t be further from the truth. In terms of roster balance and financial flexibility, the Falcons are light years ahead of where they were in 2020. That was part of the mandate for Fontenot and Smith when they took the job. Belichick would tear that down in the name of building his own program up, but Atlanta would likely face this exact situation again in two or three seasons. It’s notable too that nobody else outside of possibly Mike Vrabel has been able to do Belichick like Belichick. What happens when he does leave and you have to move on with that system engrained in the organization?

Instead, I think they found someone who could pilot a plane already in the air without having to make a long layover. With Morris, every ounce of energy can be spent moving forward.

Is there any chance Desmond Ridder will be given a chance to become the starting QB next season?

- Killen

You miiiiight hear hollow overtures towards a quarterback competition entering training camp, but when your owner, himself, calls the quarterback play last season “deficient” it’s hard to expect Ridder will get a real shot. The Falcons aren’t far off, and quarterback is easily the biggest remaining hole to fill. They can’t afford to address that missing element with someone who isn’t an unquestioned starter heading into camp.

How aggressive do you think we will be in the draft to move up to top 3? Obviously if those teams are willing to make a trade.

- Korbin Miles

If the Falcons believe there are only three franchise quarterbacks in this draft, and they expect those players to be the first three off the board, they should do everything necessary to go get one. However, that assumes the plan is to use the draft to acquire a quarterback, which I’m not so certain of. As I briefly mentioned before, I believe that the biggest possible swing for the Falcons will come through the draft. Because of Blank’s philosophy on positional cap investment, I believe the ceiling of a top draft prospect will be higher than who they’d acquire via free agency or a trade.

However, if the mandate is to compete in 2024, the team may want to go with a player who has a higher immediate floor. That’s the big question here: Are you aiming to acquire a true franchise guy for the next decade or are you looking for the right player to achieve immediate success? There will be guys in the draft who can potentially do that, but CJ Stroud is special for a reason. If they think they can get a player of that caliber, though, I think they’d go pretty hard after him.

If there’s not a qb they want there, will/should the Falcons target a playmaker (like Odunze) or an edge rusher (like Verse)… or take one of the dominant tackles?

- Alex Forrest

One of the biggest ripple effects from the Falcons’ coaching change will likely be felt in the draft. Morris is a defensive guy, and I’m sure he’d love to start his tenure with something the Falcons never had during his first stretch with the franchise: A consistently impactful pass rusher. I do believe the Falcons need to add another real threat at wide receiver, and offensive tackle might provide the most value at No. 8, but the edge options are really fun to think about. Personally, I love Laiatu Latu, but a lot will be riding on his medical evaluation at the combine. Dallas Turner and Jared Verse are both excellent players as well, and it could be a matter of picking your favorite starting Pokémon between the three.

How do you feel about the Jimmy Lake hire?

- What_a-fungi

Lake wasn’t someone who was on my radar, but after digging into what he brings to the table I understand why he was the choice. Based on what I’ve learned, it seems that Lake is an excellent teacher in the secondary and he values forcing offenses into difficult choices. His cornerbacks at Washington were very physical at the line of scrimmage before dropping into a more familiar Cover 3 look. In the red zone, it wasn’t uncommon for the Huskies to bring more pressure than the offense could handle to force a quick decision. That all meshes well with what I think Morris wants the identity of this defense to be. They will be adaptable, as every defense must be. But I think it’s that aggressive mindset coupled with more of the zone principles that landed Lake in Atlanta.

What does it mean to the Falcons, and the city of Atlanta as a whole, having its first black GM and now its first black head coach?

- Dahgrt1

Full disclosure, I’m white, which many of you might have already known. So, keeping that in mind, I can only provide my perspective and that isn’t the most important perspective for a subject like this. I would encourage anybody to chime in with a comment below if you’d like to express what it means to you, but I can share what it means to me.

I think it’s a great way to deepen your connection with the city. We don’t really need to dance around what everyone meant when we talked about Bill Belichick as a culture clash here in Atlanta. He’s an old white dude from the Northeast. Yeah, the Falcons may have priced out the true heart of their fanbase when they switched to PSLs, but this is a franchise that has a larger percentage of black fans than perhaps any other. That number includes a very high number of females, and the ladies are going to really like Morris. He wins over the room with ease, and he knows how to bring a certain level of cool to his team’s persona.

As for Terry Fontenot, I am very happy he’s still around. He was extremely impressive in his introductory press conference, and he’s been nothing less in every interaction I’ve had with him. I think his track record in acquiring veteran talent is virtually flawless, and that was his forte coming to Atlanta. I’m glad Blank is giving him some time to get more comfortable with calling shots in the draft, because I thought the 2023 class was rock-solid.

That Morris and Fontenot are undoubtedly qualified for the roles they hold is maybe the best part of this whole situation. The Falcons aren’t pandering to their fan base with these moves. I genuinely believe Morris will have a lot of success in Year 1, and Fontenot doesn’t get enough credit for how he navigated the last three offseasons.

Have a question you want answered in the next mailbag? Leave it in the comments below!