Arthur Blank

Arthur Blank: Bill Belichick Never Asked To Control Falcons’ Football Ops

This offseason brought an unusual development involving a prospective coaching hire. The most accomplished coach to ever land on a carousel exited this year’s ride without a job. Bill Belichick‘s credentials are unmatched, but steady rumblings about what he would do upon taking a job look to have impacted his current free agency status.

A rare instance of power brokers interviewing a candidate and protecting their own job security came out as a reason Belichick is not currently the Falcons’ head coach. This component may well have led other teams to steer clear of the six-time Super Bowl-winning HC, who is believed to have only spoken with only one other team — the Commanders — about a coaching vacancy this offseason. While Belichick is believed to be planning to regroup with an eye on 2025, the Falcons now reside as the “what if?” team regarding the NFL’s second-winningest coach.

[RELATED: Latest On Falcons’ Quarterback Plans]

While calling Belichick’s interviews “excellent,” Arthur Blank said (via ESPN’s Michael Rothstein) Belichick did not ask the Falcons for full control of their football ops department during his interview process. A report indeed suggested the 71-year-old coach was targeting such power, though Belichick and Blank were not believed to have discussed this directly.

I want to be clear really on behalf of Bill, just as a human being and as a storied coach in the history of our league,” Blank said during an appearance on NFL Network’s Super Bowl Live. “Been a coach 49 years in the NFL. Bill, during all of our discussions with him, it was never about power, control, needing people to work for him, etcetera. He was interested in coaching. He definitely wanted a collaborative relationship with personnel, scouting.

He had done his reference checking on our department, had committed to me that he’d be happy to work with our people. In fact, did it in writing through a text message he sent to me at one point.”

Belichick met with Blank in a one-on-one setting before the second summit included members of the Falcons’ brass. Going into the second meeting, Belichick was viewed as the favorite. Following the larger-scale powwow in Atlanta, the team started moving in a different direction. It is natural, then, to assume the reports of Falcons brass steering Blank away from Belichick have some truth to them. GM Terry Fontenot said it was Blank’s call to hire Morris, but the fourth-year GM said (via Rothstein) he led the interview process. This came after a Falcons statement — issued in the wake of Arthur Smith‘s firing — said Blank and CEO Rich McKay would lead the search as Fontenot provided input.

One of the reports in the wake of the Falcons’ Raheem Morris hire pegged Belichick and McKay as having a less-than-stellar relationship. Despite moving out of the GM role in 2009, McKay has been a key Falcons decision-maker since. The team made a point of announcing the former Super Bowl-winning GM (with the Buccaneers) would step away from involvement in football ops moving forward. Friday, Blank said the experience Morris and Fontenot possess helped lead him to slide McKay toward the business side.

Given McKay’s 30-plus years in front offices and his 20-plus years with the Falcons, it is difficult to imagine he will not retain a voice in football matters — to some degree, at least. But Blank said Friday both Morris and Fontenot will report directly to ownership. Pointing toward Morris’ experience would seemingly represent a dig at Smith, but the former has been in the NFL much longer. Morris’ NFL run includes a three-year stay as Bucs HC and spending much of the 2020 season as Falcons interim HC.

Bill was really focused and is focused on being a great head coach, which is clearly what he has been,” Blank said. “We looked at all the candidates that we interviewed, all the time together, and we felt for a variety of reasons that the best choice for us at this point in our lives, the life of the franchise going forward, is Raheem Morris.”

If Belichick were to book more HC interviews in 2025, teams will naturally want to know the football lifer’s expectations regarding personnel control. He held dual HC/GM roles throughout his Patriots stay. Even if Belichick makes a point of indicating he is fine being only a head coach and not a de facto GM, having someone with his experience in the building and that organization giving someone else final say would be quite the interesting dynamic. After the Falcons passed, it will be a bit before these scenarios resurface.

Bill Belichick Fallout: Falcons, GM Power, Morris, Eagles, Cowboys, Patriots, QBs, Kraft

This coaching carousel’s music has stopped with Bill Belichick and Mike Vrabel on the outside looking in. While Vrabel’s prospects of returning to the league figure to remain strong, Belichick’s age — and the developments during this year’s hiring period — inject uncertainty into his prospects of landing another NFL HC job.

No coach in Belichick’s age range has landed a job, with Bruce Arians (66) being the oldest HC hire. Belichick’s age (72 in April) was naturally a factor for the Falcons, who interviewed him twice. But a degree of territory protecting appears to have transpired as well.

Arthur Blank indeed wanted to hire Belichick this year, SI.com’s Albert Breer notes, adding that some around the longtime Falcons owner swayed him. Belichick loomed as the early favorite, but after the team expanded its search (including Vrabel and Jim Harbaugh) following his second interview, it signaled a different candidate would be hired. The Falcons hired Raheem Morris, whom ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter notes has a five-year contract.

Morris remained popular with Falcons players, though the bulk of the cogs from his season as interim coach are gone. Had Belichick been hired by the Falcons, CBS Sports’ Jonathan Jones notes an organizational “groundshake” — on both the football and business sides — would have taken place. Staffers being concerned about losing their jobs or seeing their roles change dramatically is understandable, and this appears to be a key part of why Belichick is not currently assembling a staff in Atlanta.

Blank and Falcons CEO Rich McKay ran the team’s coaching search, with a team announcement indicating GM Terry Fontenot would provide input. This would suggest a vulnerability regarding the fourth-year GM’s status, but McKay assured following the Arthur Smith firing that was not the case. The Morris hire effectively keeps Fontenot in good standing, and although the Falcons have said the GM will now report to ownership — with McKay being kicked to the business side — The Athletic’s Jeff Howe indicates the latter does not have a good relationship with Belichick (subscription required).

A Belichick arrival would have undoubtedly meant a reduced Fontenot and potentially affected McKay’s, though given the latter’s 21-year tenure with the Falcons, Blank should not have been expected to dismiss his former GM to appease Belichick. Blank remains loyal to McKay, per Yahoo.com’s Charles Robinson, who adds McKay’s longstanding relationship with Morris — whom he hired as a quality control assistant in Tampa during his run as Buccaneers GM — played a role in the Rams DC being hired.

Although a coach with Belichick’s credentials being shut out during this year’s cycle points to front office staffers being concerned about job security, it is also believed certain demands from the six-time Super Bowl-winning HC were set to ensue. Belichick and Blank are not believed to have discussed who would hold final say on personnel matters, but Robinson adds the coaching icon believed had he taken the job the Atlanta football ops would need to run through him. Shortly before the Belichick-Patriots separation, the 24-year New England HC expressed a willingness to relinquish some authority to stay. It does not appear that entailed a true commitment to change.

Had Robert Kraft believed Belichick would have been more open to changes — from his front office to philosophy to roster construction — Howe adds the owner would have been more inclined to keep him onboard for the 2024 season. Belichick’s Patriots contract ran through 2024, but Kraft followed through with a long-rumored plan to move on. The contract he authorized for Jerod Mayo in 2023 led to the assistant being quickly promoted.

The post-Tom Brady years in New England have also played an obvious role in Belichick’s extended status as a coaching free agent. Belichick’s handling of his quarterback position following Brady’s 2020 exit has also impacted teams’ view of him, Howe adds, with Mac Jones‘ swoon serving as the crux of this concern. Belichick crafted a bizarre plan to shift Matt Patricia to the offensive side, where he called plays in 2022.

This season brought a significant downturn for Jones, who finished behind only Ja’Marr Chase in Offensive Rookie of the Year voting. Jones’ regression continued, under a third OC in three years (Bill O’Brien), and his NFL future is suddenly cloudy. Belichick demoted Jones to his third-string quarterback in Week 18, with ESPN.com’s Mike Reiss indicating poor scout-team work leading up to that contest prompted the departing HC to make that move. This marked the final chapter in a steadily deteriorating relationship between Belichick and the passer he chose 15th overall three years ago.

Belichick’s comments regarding Jones — before his 2023 freefall — have also confused some execs around the league, Howe adds. Had Belichick kept his Patriots job, ESPN.com’s Dan Graziano offers that he would have been expected to target a veteran quarterback this offseason. Belichick’s only Patriot-years season with a veteran option featured Cam Newton in 2020; the diminished MVP became a one-and-done in New England. Newton’s limitations in 2020 led to the Jones investment. It will now be on Mayo, and however the Patriots go about restructuring their front office, to solve this latest QB problem.

Belichick the coach continued to churn out stingy defenses, even without key pieces this season, but his GM work left the Patriots with one of the NFL’s worst rosters. Belichick’s personnel acumen previously equipped the Brady-led teams with a number of undervalued gems, aiding the Super Bowl runs. But the near-50-year NFL staffer’s standing has undeniably fallen. Only the Falcons and Commanders are believed to have spoken with Belichick about their HC jobs.

The Eagles and Cowboys, however, may be teams to monitor for the 2025 cycle — one that could conceivably be Belichick’s last chance to land another HC job. Both teams considered Belichick last month, but each NFC East power retained its embattled coach.

The Eagles retained Nick Sirianni, but had the Super Bowl HC not agreed to certain demands regarding his coordinators, the Boston Sports Journal’s Greg Bedard indicated during an appearance on 98.5’s Felger and Mazz (h/t Bleacher Report) a Belichick-to-Philly path is believed to have been viable for 2024. The Eagles likely joined the Falcons in making backchannel contact pertaining to a potential Belichick pursuit, Bedard notes. Unlike Doug Pederson in 2021, Sirianni did fire coordinators. It is safe to place Sirianni, his 3-for-3 rate at leading the Eagles to the playoffs, on a hot seat.

Bedard noted the Eagles were “very interested” in Belichick, pointing to this connection remaining a storyline should Sirianni struggle to reassert himself this season. The Eagles would almost definitely not hand final personnel say to Belichick, given Howie Roseman‘s track record (the 2015 Chip Kelly-driven demotion notwithstanding). That would make this fit interesting, but were Belichick to spend his first season away from the NFL since 1974, it stands to reason he would go into the 2025 hiring period with reduced requests regarding the personnel side.

Jerry Jones also made headlines by saying he could work with Belichick, saying (via Yahoo’s Jori Epstein) there is “no doubt” he could coexist with the towering sideline presence. Jones openly saying he’d be fine with another (more accomplished) coach than is own is telling, but Mike McCarthy remains in place for a fifth season. The Cowboys are not extending McCarthy’s contract, making him the rare lame-duck HC in the modern NFL. This will naturally keep Belichick on the Dallas radar. How Belichick would navigate a setup in which ownership runs the personnel would be interesting, though Jones did cede more power to Belichick mentor Bill Parcells during the latter’s four-year stay in the 2000s.

As for this season, Jonathan Jones points to Belichick taking a TV job as the most likely 2024 path. The 29-year HC veteran was planning to be selective about a third HC destination, with Jones adding the goal will remain for personnel power to be involved in a 2025 pursuit. The clock is ticking on that front, with only four coaches in NFL history coaching a game beyond age 71.

Although Belichick’s football knowledge will obviously far surpass anyone he attempts to work with moving forward, the Patriots’ post-Brady years — along with potential consequences for in-house staffers on HC-needy teams — have him in the penalty box for now. With no retirement plans, Belichick’s potential re-emergence in 2025 will be a major NFL storyline over the next several months.

Latest On Falcons’ Leadership Structure

The Falcons turned a lot of heads when they made the decision to give Raheem Morris his first official head coaching gig in 13 years instead of hiring Bill Belichick, who many see as one of the greatest head coaches in NFL history. A report from Dan Graziano details a situation that saw a difference of opinion on how the team’s executive structure should be shaped.

According to Graziano, multiple sources have been saying for weeks that team owner Arthur Blank came into the hiring process wanting Belichick. Unfortunately for Blank, Falcons chief executive officer Rich McKay has a hand in the day-to-day operations of the team and has a say, as well. Apparently, that role concerned Belichick, who inquired about McKay’s impact should he be hired. Belichick seemed to want structural power, similar to what he had in New England.

In the eyes of the organization, Belichick “was seen as a short-term play.” He’s got plenty of rings and is only 15 wins away from passing legendary coach Don Shula for the all-time record of most wins by a head coach. In order to grant Belichick the powers he sought within the organization, extensive overhauling would be required in the leadership structure; overhauling that would then need to be done a second time upon Belichick’s departure in the near future. In the end, it just made more sense to keep the broad structure in place and hire a coach with a greater aspiration for continuing to coach well into the future.

Additionally, though, the team made the call to ultimately move McKay away from the day-to-day operations of the team. According to D. Orlando Ledbetter of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, while McKay will remain CEO of Sports and Entertainment (AMBSE) and will continue “to represent the team on league matters and the NFL’s Competition Committee,” McKay will focus more on soccer, away from football operations. Instead, Morris and general manager Terry Fontenot will report directly to Blank.

Falcons Interview Bill Belichick For HC Opening

The Bill Belichick sweepstakes has officially kicked off. The Falcons announced this evening that they’ve interviewed the iconic head coach for their own HC vacancy.

[RELATED: Falcons To Carry Strong Interest In Bill Belichick?]

Per NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, Belichick recently met in person with Falcons owner Arthur Blank to discuss the opportunity. While no deal is imminent, Pelissero notes that there’s mutual interest between the two sides and “conversations are ongoing.”

Once the Patriots and Belichick made their divorce official, we heard that the Falcons could make a strong push for the head coach. There were also whispers that Blank was seeking more experience during this coaching cycle. While the owner’s previous hires (Jim Mora Jr., Bobby Petrino, Mike Smith, Dan Quinn, Arthur Smith) were first-time head coaches, Blank’s current focus on experience certainly made Belichick a logical target.

Of course, there’s a bit of history between the two sides. Belichick was famously on the sideline when his Patriots erased a 28-3 deficit to defeat the Falcons in Super Bowl LI. Since then, the Falcons have seen an NFC South rival, the Buccaneers, snag a future Hall of Famer from New England and win a Super Bowl. Blank and the Falcons brass are clearly banking on similar fortunes this time around.

The Falcons have loaded up on skill positions in recent drafts, and Pro Football Focus ranked Atlanta’s offensive line — one spearheaded by Chris Lindstrom and Jake Matthews — fourth overall. Further, the front office invested some money into the defense in 2023, and the organization will presumably invest similarly in 2024 if Belichick takes over. The Falcons are expected to reside in the middle of the cap-space pack, with the organization projected to carry more than $21MM.

Of course, the team’s lack of certainty at quarterback could scare away some HC candidates, even with the organization expected to take a bigger QB swing heading into the offseason. Of course, Belichick has famously downplayed the significance of the QB position, a sentiment that played a role in the growing tension between him and Tom Brady. Belichick would surely welcome the question marks at quarterback, and he’d probably push against the instinct to invest significant draft or free agency capital into the position.

While it’s easy to assume that one of the most accomplished head coaches of all time would be atop the Falcons wish list, that hasn’t stopped the organization from eyeing other candidates for their vacancy. Belichick is now the 10th official candidate for the role, joining a growing list that includes:

Falcons Owner Arthur Blank Exploring HC Options; Bill Belichick On Radar?

5:32pm: Week 18 did not go as planned for the Falcons, with a 48-17 loss marking an emphatic end to the campaign. Given the nature of Atlanta’s finish to the season, Bleacher Report’s Jordan Schultz provides the unsurprising update that this situation is pointing to a Smith dismissal. In such a scenario, the Falcons would join the Panthers as an NFC South squad in need of a new head coach during the upcoming hiring cycle.

8:24am: As of the time of this writing, the job status of Falcons head coach Arthur Smith is murky at best. Over the course of the past two months, we have heard reports suggesting that Smith is likely to get a fourth year on the job in 2024, as well as reports indicating that he is on the hot seat.

At the very least, it appears that owner Arthur Blank is not fully committed to Smith. According to Adam Schefter of ESPN.com, Blank is torn on how he should proceed, and he has “gone back and forth” on the matter (which helps to explain the vacillating reports). In case he does decide to part ways with Smith, Blank has explored what options might be available to him in the upcoming coaching cycle.

Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero of NFL.com also hear that Blank is considering a change, and that the owner has been calling his confidants within the league for advice. Should Atlanta, which is 1-4 over its past five games, defeat the Saints in today’s regular season finale, Rapoport and Pelissero say that Smith would stand a better chance of surviving Black Monday, even if the victory does not propel the club to a playoff spot (in addition to a win over New Orleans, the Falcons need the Panthers to upset the Bucs in order to qualify for a postseason berth). That is in keeping with a report from Albert Breer of SI.com just two days ago.

Smith and GM Terry Fontenot inherited a difficult salary cap and roster situation when Blank hired the duo in 2021, and the team has made considerable strides in terms of talent level on both sides of the ball. The problem has been the Falcons’ quarterback play, though Atlanta obviously has not landed a top-tier QB during the Fontenot-Smith partnership (the team’s attempts to acquire Deshaun Watson from the Texans during the 2022 offseason fell just short, which may have been a blessing in disguise). As Rapoport writes, the team will be taking a big swing on a signal-caller in the 2024 offseason regardless of who the head coach is, so perhaps Blank will give Smith — whose offensive acumen he greatly respects — one more shot to see what he can do with a more talented passer.

If Blank hands Smith his walking papers, Bill Belichick would be a legitimate candidate to replace him, per Rapoport and Pelissero. The prevailing opinion is that today’s game will be Belichick’s last as the Patriots’ HC, and his name has come up a great deal in conversations that the NFL.com duo has had with league sources about the Falcons’ future over the past week (Ben Volin of the Boston Globe, meanwhile, has been beating the Belichick-to-Atlanta drum for some time).

Assuming the Patriots and Belichick do end their relationship, the separation is expected to take weeks to finalize, which could further complicate Blank’s decision. Still, a team that appears to be a quarterback away from legitimate contention may be willing to roll the dice on a 72-year-old head coach, and Belichick, in turn, may believe that Atlanta gives him a real chance to overtake Don Shula for first place on the all-time coaching wins list (assuming the team does, in fact, add a high-end QB).

Extra Points: Jefferson, Maye, International Pathway Program

An undrafted wideout is working his way back to the field following a tragic car crash earlier this year. According to Aaron Wilson of KPRC 2 Houston, the 49ers worked out Louisiana receiver Michael Jefferson today.

Jefferson earned third-team All-Sun Belt honors in 2022 after finishing with 51 receptions for 810 yards and seven touchdowns. Thanks to his performance, the receiver was projected to be a mid-round pick in the 2023 draft. However, Jefferson was injured in a car accident in April that killed another driver, and the player required multiple surgeries.

He was expected to resume his career in 2024, but Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported earlier this month that Jefferson had been cleared by doctors to “fly, take physicals and join a team.”

It sounds like his first opportunity could come in San Francisco. The 49ers are currently stashing four receivers on their practice squad in Willie Snead, Chris Conley, Tay Martin, and Isaiah Winstead.

More notes from around the NFL…

  • Saints safety Marcus Maye got six months of probation stemming from a 2021 driving under the influence charge, per ESPN’s Katherine Terrell. Maye will have his drivers license suspended for six months as a result of the plea deal, and he was also given 50 hours of community service with the opportunity to buy them out. Maye allegedly crashed into another car while driving on the Florida Turnpike and was initially charged with driving under the influence, DUI/damage to property and person, and leaving the scene of the crash. The player also continues to deal with a civil suit from the driver of the other car who is seeking $30K due to injuries.
  • The NFL International Pathway Program has expanded in scope since it’s inception in 2016, with the 2023 iteration allowing teams from the AFC West and NFC North to allocate an extra roster spot to an international player. According to ESPN’s Kevin Seifert, the NFL will provide an international player exception to all 32 teams starting in 2024. There are currently 24 active players who participated in the International Pathway Program.
  • The NFL has established an ownership committee that will evaluate current ownership rules, potentially allowing “institutional capital” to invest in teams, per Ben Fischer of Sports Business Journal. As Liz Clarke, Nicki Jhabvala and Mark Maske of the Washington Post write, this committee could open the door to private equity firms buying stakes in teams, following the ownership rules previously established by the NBA, MLB, and NHL. Mike Klis of 9News in Denver reports that the committee includes Falcons owner Arthur Blank, Patriots owner Robert Kraft, Browns owner Jimmy Haslam, Chiefs owner Clark Hunt, and Broncos owner Greg Penner.

Arthur Blank Denies Falcons Were Serious On Deshaun Watson, Addresses Lack Of Lamar Jackson Interest

Most of the reporting done regarding last year’s Deshaun Watson sweepstakes revealed the Falcons were set to land the then-embattled quarterback via trade, but the Browns’ $230MM fully guaranteed contract won out. Arthur Blank‘s stance now is the team was not especially close to acquiring Watson.

Asked about the differences between the Watson pursuit and the Falcons joining the rest of the QB-needy or borderline QB-needy teams in avoiding Lamar Jackson, Blank said staff conversations led the team to view Watson as a poor fit.

I think we explored the one last year, which is what our responsibility was,” Blank said, via the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s D. Orlando Ledbetter. “We didn’t explore it deeply, deeply. We spent some time on it from a legal standpoint, personal standpoint, value standpoint on the player and a variety of things. Soon after we got into exploring, we decided it wasn’t a very good match.

… I think Lamar’s situation, and I don’t really want to spend a whole lot of time talking about players on other clubs, but Lamar’s situation, I think is very different. A different player. Different time.”

The Falcons joined the Browns, Panthers and Saints as meeting the Texans’ trade price, and a report the day Houston agreed to send Watson to Cleveland indicated Atlanta was “very close” to acquiring the Georgia native. Watson had narrowed his list to the Falcons and Saints — before the Browns’ contract offer — and the quarterback was believed to be recruiting Jarvis Landry and Leonard Fournette to Atlanta. That report and others later in the year viewed Watson as being Atlanta-bound were it not for Cleveland’s historic guarantee structure — one that has altered Jackson’s path.

The Texans only permitted the four finalists to meet with Watson had they offered satisfactory trade compensation, pointing to Atlanta being much farther down the Watson road compared to Blank’s assessment. The Browns’ Watson agreement has directly impacted the Ravens’ Jackson talks, with the former MVP long being connected to asking for Watson-level guarantees. No other quarterback is tied to a guarantee north of $124MM, and teams have attempted to make the Watson accord an outlier. Thus far, franchises’ efforts have been successful.

The Falcons drafted Desmond Ridder a few weeks after missing on Watson, and they are committing to the third-round pick as their 2023 starter. With Atlanta having not made the playoffs since 2017 and Ridder far from a sure thing, Blank’s club would seem to be one of the most logical Jackson suitors. No team has emerged as a suitor, and Blank alluded to Jackson’s run-oriented skillset as one of the reasons for the Falcons’ current stance. Jackson’s recent injury history (11 missed games since 2021) is believed to have affected teams’ interest levels, though his contractual demand has long been viewed as the main impediment.

Looking at it objectively, there is some concern about whether or not he can play his style of game for … how long can that last,” Blank said. “I’m not sure. He’s only 26. Hopefully a long time for his benefit or anybody that he’s signed with. But he’s missed five to six games each of the last two years. This is not like baseball and basketball where you’re playing 82 or a 182 games, or whatever baseball is now.”

Blank confirmed Arthur Smith, GM Terry Fontenot and Falcons CEO Rich McKay looked into Jackson. Blank was not involved in the evaluation. While Blank called Jackson “one of the top quarterbacks in this league,” the Falcons will stand down on an expensive pursuit and go with Ridder. The four-year Cincinnati starter worked as the Falcons’ first-stringer in four games last season. Ridder completed 63.5% of his passes, threw two TD passes and no INTs, but averaged just 6.2 yards per attempt.

Ridder’s rookie contract runs through 2025, and it will help Atlanta build its roster. Although Ridder will need to prove worthy of being a player good enough to build around, the Falcons came into free agency with a top-three cap-space figure. This standing came after the team ate a dead-money record from the Matt Ryan trade ($40MM) and also took on dead-cap hits from the Julio Jones and Deion Jones swaps.

During Blank’s run as Falcons owner, the team has authorized three big-ticket quarterback contracts — Michael Vick‘s 2004 extension and Ryan’s second and third accords. It appears Blank, whose team certainly appears to have been close to acquiring Watson last year, would like to build around a rookie deal for a while.

We just came out a period of time … last year we set a record for the most dead money in the history of the NFL,” Blank said. “In my 21 years as an owner, we had close to the least amount of cap room than we’ve ever had before. This year, we had a healthy amount of cap room. Not very much dead money, a little bit, not much.

Having compensation at 25% or so tied up in one player, we’ve lived through that. It definitely can put a lot of restraint on your ability to round out a roster and to have the depth on the roster given 17 games and the nature of this game, it still a contact sport … we need to build a team.”

Commanders Likely To Be Sold In A Matter Of Weeks

Momentum towards a Commanders sale continues to build, with Jonathan Jones of CBS Sports reporting that owner Dan Snyder is likely to sell the franchise in the next one to three weeks. Although no Commanders-related matter was officially on the agenda at last week’s league meetings, Falcons owner Arthur Blank appeared to confirm that a sale is imminent.

“The league is doing whatever it can to help support the Snyders in this transaction and transition,” Blank said. “I saw [Snyder’s wife] Tanya [Snyder] this morning and wished her well, Dan as well. I think their family has moved to London, I believe. We’ll see what will happen. He’s a young man, his children are young, his wife’s young and they have a whole life ahead of them. I certainly wish them well.”

Indeed, as Nicki Jhabvala, Liz Clarke, and Mark Maske of the Washington Post reported in January, the Snyders recently filed a certificate of incorporation of a private limited company for Snyder UK Investments Limited with the registrar of companies for England and Wales. On that certificate, the Snyders — both of whom are listed as company directors — name England as their usual place of residence.

Furthermore, the Synders’ son, Gerry Snyder, is no longer on the Appalachian State football roster, and Jones reports that Gerry is not enrolled at the school this semester. Dan Snyder has cleared out his ownership offices and has put one D.C.-area estate on the market.

In addition to Josh Harris, Steve Apostolopoulos, and Tilman Fertitta, there is a mystery fourth bidder in the mix, according to Jones, although the identity of that bidder is presently unknown. While the most recent reporting on the matter suggested that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos remains in play, Charles Gasparino of FOX Business Network says that Mark Cuban, the owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, has no interest in the Commanders (Twitter link). Interestingly, former Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III is interested in joining the Harris group, as the one-time face of the franchise said during a recent appearance on The Rich Eisen Show (via Madison Williams of SI.com).

Gasaprino also hears that reports of the Harris- and Apostolopoulos-led groups hitting the fully-funded $6 billion are a bit overstated. Instead, those bids come with contingencies, and the “real” number is actually closer to $5 billion (Twitter links). One way or another, Dan Snyder is going to realize quite a return on investment, as he purchased the club for $800MM back in 1999.

Another point to consider is that, regardless of the details of the final proposals, Dan Snyder does not have to sell the Commanders to the highest bidder, and can instead sell to the group he likes the most. For instance, Jones suggests that Snyder may not care for the fact that the Harris and Apostolopoulos groups have leaked reports of their ability to obtain the necessary cash for the purchase of his team when he himself has not even confirmed that the team is for sale. Similarly, the personal tension between Snyder and Bezos has been oft-cited as a reason why Bezos may not be able to acquire the franchise despite having the financial wherewithal to blow other candidates out of the water.

The pending sale also has some on-field ramifications. We had already heard about the delayed payouts of signing bonuses included in recent player contracts, and JP Finlay of NBC Sports Washington says that the status of DE Chase Young‘s fifth-year option could be impacted by the ownership situation (Twitter link). After a tremendous rookie campaign, Young sustained a torn ACL and patellar tendon in Week 10 of the 2021 season, which limited him to nine games that year and just three contests in 2022. However, because Young does have a Pro Bowl nod on his resume, his fifth-year option would check in at a fully-guaranteed $17.5MM.

A decision on Young’s option must be made by May 2. And, while the team is reportedly committed to 2022 fifth-rounder Sam Howell as its starting quarterback, head coach Ron Rivera said that a new owner’s viewpoints on the matter could alter the Commanders’ QB direction.

Latest On Desmond Ridder, Falcons’ QB Plans

The 2022 season saw the Falcons turn over their offense to rookie quarterback Desmond RidderWhile that has led to the expectation he will handle the No. 1 role moving forward, that has not formally been decided yet.

The third-rounder was one of several Day 2 selections during last spring’s draft, making Ridder part of the unheralded class of 2022 signal-callers. With veteran Marcus Mariota in place as the starter to begin the campaign, it was considered a matter of time before Ridder was installed as the No. 1. That ultimately took place during the team’s bye week, allowing him to play throughout the rest of the season.

Ridder went 2-2 in his four starts, putting up pedestrian numbers in terms of passing yards (708), yards per attempt (6.2) and completion percentage (63.5%). However, the former Bearcat went without an interception in his limited audition, something owner Arthur Blank noted as one of a few positives in his evaluation of the young passer.

“We’re very excited about Desmond Ridder,” Blank said, via ESPNs Michael Rothstein. “I think from the time he came into training camp, he showed great capabilities as a leader amongst the rookies and then amongst the vets… We’re committed to the position obviously, and we know we need a good leader there, and I think we have it in Ridder.”

Notably, both Blank and head coach Arthur Smith fell short of fully endorsing Ridder as their 2023 starter (in the sense that the Commanders with Sam Howell, for instance, have). Mariota is still on the books next year at a cap hit of $14.5MM, but Atlanta would see $12MM in savings by releasing him in place of more cost-effective competition for the starting role. The Falcons currently hold the eighth overall pick in this year’s draft, though they have plenty of other priorities coming off of a second straight 7-10 season.

Smith added that he and the rest of the organization “feel[s] good about where we’re at” with respect to the QB position. With more moves very likely to be made in the near future, however, Atlanta will be a team to watch as they continue to re-tool this offseason.

Haslam: Browns GM Proposed Fully Guaranteed Deshaun Watson Deal

The Browns’ decision to make a major quarterback upgrade has generated multifront pushback, given Deshaun Watson‘s off-field trouble and the contract structure’s effect on other teams’ future QB negotiations. The fully guaranteed $230MM did not surface until late in the process.

Watson initially rejected the Browns, and Jimmy Haslam said third-year GM Andrew Berry approached him with a radical idea to put the team back in the mix for the Pro Bowl passer. Berry pitched the idea of a fully guaranteed contract to move the needle, Haslam said. The result: a five-year deal that saw the Browns break the NFL’s record for fully guaranteed money authorized by $80MM.

I don’t how much Andrew knew,” Haslam said of other teams’ contract offers, via the Akron Beacon Journal’s Nate Ulrich. “First of all, I don’t know what’s accurate. [Berry] just said, ‘Would we consider fully guaranteeing it?’ OK. What’s that mean? When’s the money due? Do you do four versus five [years]. Can we make this work? And he got us comfortable with that.”

Although four teams were finalists for Watson, it appears just one was willing to go to this extreme place. Watson refusing to waive his no-trade clause for the Browns may well have centered on Cleveland’s weather compared to the three NFC South cities in this mix. Browns co-owner Dee Haslam said Wednesday she believed this was the case. While Berry’s fully guaranteed pitch is quite the step to convince a quarterback to play in northeast Ohio, Watson had three other teams pursuing him.

The Falcons were on the verge of landing the Atlanta-area native, appearing to finish second ahead of the Saints and Panthers in this unusual pursuit. The Panthers were not comfortable guaranteeing the final two years of Watson’s contract, Ulrich adds, and Arthur Blank did not make it sound like the Falcons were prepared to authorize this landmark guarantee, either. Blank said the Falcons were only doing due diligence when they met with Watson, though the team being later reported as on the verge of landing him would contradict the owner’s view of his team’s interest.

You have to leave that to Jimmy and Dee Haslam, to make their own judgment,” Blank said, via USA Today’s Jarrett Bell. “The fact it’s $80MM above the highest contract ever given, guaranteed, in the history of the league, 102 years old, says a lot. Whether most teams in the NFL or any other team in the NFL would have committed to that contract, I don’t know. That certainly is a huge commitment.”

It is interesting contract matters played into these talks, considering Watson had only played one season on the $39MM-per-year deal he signed with the Texans in 2020. Technically, Watson was tied to that contract for two years, since Houston deactivated him throughout the 2021 season. But that Texans deal ran through 2025. Watson having a no-trade clause gave him considerable power, and the bidding war led to the Browns making an offer he could not refuse.