The news that the Atlanta Falcons had benched Marcus Mariota for Desmond Ridder was followed by the news that Mariota was headed to the IR. Mariota has had a nagging knee injury that hasn’t kept him off the field but now as the backup, he is choosing to protect his health and focus on his next team.
This was met with mixed reviews from not only the Atlanta media but his own head coach Arthur Smith who seemed frustrated by the decision. Any frustration shouldn’t be aimed at Mariota at this point in the season but the head coach that built him up as a leader continued to start him despite his performance.
Smith’s seeming frustration at Mariota is clearly misguided considering he is the coach who empowered a quarterback who clearly isn’t a starter in this league. Mariota choosing to step away from the Falcons for a time after being benched is completely understandable.
Not only is processing another failed tenure as a starting quarterback but also welcoming the birth of his first child. Even if Mariota was locked in as the starter it is completely understandable to step away from the team to spend time with his family.
Ideally, would it be nice to have Mariota on the sideline holding a tablet and guiding Ridder? Sure, in a perfect world having the veteran on the sideline couldn’t hurt the rookie as he takes over the final four games of the season. However, this team is already being altered this is Desmond Ridder’s team now and one could just as easily argue that not having the former starter looking over his shoulder on the bench could be just as beneficial.
Looking at Mariota’s cap hit next season it is easy to see that Atlanta is going to cut the quarterback to create cap space whether or not Ridder proves to be a capable starter. The best-case scenario for Atlanta is Ridder lights it up the final four weeks of the season leaving Atlanta to bring in a cheap veteran option behind him.
Worst case Ridder struggles and the Falcons address the position in free agency or the draft keeping Ridder as a cheap backup development option. No matter how the next four games go the ending for Mariota is going to be the same.
If Atlanta fans can see this Mariota certainly can and it makes his leaving the team all the more understandable. Perhaps he will be back on the sideline by Sunday helping Ridder or maybe he finished his time with Atlanta two weeks ago in a fitting fashion.
No matter the answer Marcus Mariota owes Atlanta nothing more. His time with the team is clearly at its end whether he is holding a tablet on the sideline or sitting at home with his family. His time with Atlanta and the mistakes he made should be harshly judged, however, leaving Atlanta a team clearly ready to cut and move on from the veteran shouldn’t be. It is the right decision for Mariota and one Atlanta fans should respect as the veteran quarterback has likely played his final down as a starter in this league.