As we get closer to the start of the 2023 NFL Season, we’re running through ten questions that’ll affect the Atlanta Falcons. We previously looked at how the wide receiver position could potentially make or break their season, took a deep dive into their offensive line, and looked at how they might utilize their running back rotation. Today we’ll look into how long their new starting quarterback Desmond Ridder’s leash should be.
After a productive career at the University of Cincinnati, Desmond Ridder was selected in the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft. The move was well received by fans in Atlanta as the team was making the transition away from long-time starter Matt Ryan at the position.
After being pegged as a potential first or second-round pick, the hope was that Ridder would overtake Marcus Mariota shortly after the season began. Unfortunately (and irritatingly for fans), coach Arthur Smith stuck with Mariota throughout the majority of the season.
It was hard to tell if Smith’s insistence on keeping Mariota in the starting lineup reflected on Ridder’s readiness, how Smith wanted to run his offense, or how the surrounding pieces of the offense might have affected Ridder. After only compiling 15 touchdowns and 3 games with 200+ yards, the Falcons finally pulled the plug on Mariota after a December loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
After coming in as the starter against New Orleans, Ridder had an even 2-2 record and provided a few highlights to help fans in Atlanta remain optimistic. His first game against the Saints was rough but his season-ending win against Tampa Bay was a strong way to end the year.
The biggest question for Ridder in the 2023-2024 season will be how long his leash is. With only four starts under his name and Coach Smith potentially fighting for his job, the Falcons might not have the same patience as other teams around the league do with their young quarterbacks.
Atlanta also seems to be in a split timeline where they’ve made several win-now moves including signing Jessie Bates, Calais Campbell, and Bud Dupree while also having a starting running back, wide receiver, and quarterback who are in their first or second seasons.
Balancing that timeline will be important not only for the team’s development but also for Smith’s job security throughout the season. If the team begins the year strong and Ridder plays even at a decent level, it’s hard to imagine them making a switch. If the team struggles and Ridder is part of the problem though, fans will be calling for Taylor Heineke to come off the bench and potentially provide a spark.
Based on the roster moves the team has made throughout the offseason and the lackluster NFC South, I expect Ridder to remain the starter throughout the year unless he struggles significantly or fails to capture the locker room as their new leader. Although Heineke is a good story and can provide a short-term boost, the Falcons will be much better off if they can identify their long-term starter at the position and finally finish their rebuilding process.
The only question will be how the team approaches the next off-season if a new option becomes available for the position. We’ve seen numerous quarterbacks join ready-made rosters and win Super Bowls including Tom Brady and Matthew Stafford throughout the past few years. If the team plays well and shows they have a strong supporting cast, it wouldn’t be shocking if they swung a major trade if Ridder isn’t spectacular in year two.