There are two things you can count on almost always being in a state of rebuilding if you live in Georgia — the highways, and the Atlanta Falcons.
With the poorly-handled exodus of Matt Ryan and signing of bridge quarterback Marcus Mariota, the Atlanta Falcons have officially begun yet another rebuild, regardless of whether or not the front office wants to frame it that way.
Some of the moves the Falcons made over the past two weeks were necessary. The retention of Swiss army knife player Cordarrelle Patterson, the contract extensions of offensive tackle Jake Matthews and kicker Younghoe Koo, and the free-agent pickup of outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter are all part of an obvious pattern Falcons fans have seen before.
The dreaded word…rebuild.
While all of these moves could possibly be considered typical offseason transactions made to fortify a roster and build on what’s there, there was that one sloppily-executed transaction (and its prelude) that truly point to Atlanta going back to the drawing board once again.
Matt Ryan — arguably the greatest player in franchise history — was sent along with his pricey contract to the Indianapolis Colts for their second-best third-round pick. In his stead, the Falcons signed once-heralded now-journeyman quarterback Marcus Mariota.
Atlanta will be Mariota’s third stop in four years and reunites him with Falcons head coach Arthur Smith who served as his offensive coordinator during his rather underwhelming time as the Tennessee Titans’ sometimes starting quarterback.
Make no mistake, Mariota isn’t the future, Mariota is a bridge to whoever Matt Ryan’s eventual successor (or attempt at it) will be.
If that doesn’t scream rebuild, we’re not sure what does.
Rebuilding seems to be a way of life for the Atlanta Falcons
Whether the Falcons opt to find the new face of the franchise in the quarterback-light 2022 draft or wait to see how the prospects shape up (looking at you, Bryce Young) in 2023, doesn’t matter. They have Mariota inked for two years, and if his brittle body should give out before then, the Falcons are more than likely ready to throw former Gator-Razorback Feleipe Franks to the wolves.
It’s true, Atlanta has some pieces. They have last year’s rookie sensation Kyle Pitts at tight end, they have one of the best kickers in the league, and they have a few young pieces on defense such as cornerback A.J. Terrell and linebacker Adetokunbo Ogundeji to build around, but that’s about it.
Fans probably shouldn’t count on defensive mainstays Grady Jarrett or Deion Jones being around when the season kicks off, because Falcons GM Terry Fontenot is likely to make moves to unload their hefty contracts as well.
The offensive and defensive lines are a shambles and the secondary is a work in progress with Terrell as the unit’s only real standout player.
No, this isn’t going to be a season “building on last year’s progress”, this is going to be a full-fledged tear it down and start over again.
While you can blame the organization as a whole for failing to plan (or is it planning to fail?), the current regime of Smith and Fontenot shouldn’t be held accountable. They were handed a depleted roster, overpriced contracts, no room in the salary cap, and a franchise who seemingly has never recovered from that horror show simply known as “28 to 3”.
The Falcons brass can frame this however they want and try to sell fans on the idea that the team is moving forward. None of it will happen without two…three…maybe four steps back. Fans are defaulting on PSLs and unloading season tickets faster than the Colts unloaded Carson Wentz. It’s going to be a long road back to respectability.
Make no mistake, the trade of sacred cow Matt Ryan to Indy for a handful of magic beans signaled more than just the end of an era in Atlanta. It signaled the beginning of the Falcons’ fourth “fresh start” since Bobby Petrino disappeared into the night in 2007.