Arthur Smith

Falcons QB Marcus Mariota Leaves Team

Desmond Ridder will be under center for the Falcons going forward, especially considering news that quarterback Marcus Mariota was eyeing a potential IR trip. However, there’s more to Mariota’s rapidly declining role in Atlanta.

[RELATED: Falcons Expected To Place Marcus Mariota On IR]

Coach Arthur Smith revealed today that Mariota has left the team to have his “chronic” knee issue evaluated, per Josh Kendall of The Athletic. It’s uncertain when or if the veteran QB will return to the Falcons. Kendall writes that Mariota was notified of his benching on Thursday, and the Falcons learned that the QB would be stepping away on Friday.

“[The knee] is nothing that has been an issue this season, but that’s [Mariota’s] prerogative so … ” Smith said (via Kendall). “Of course, you want all your guys to be here, but guys have to make decisions. It’s part of professional sports. You have to have contingency plans.”

As Kendall notes, this isn’t the first time that Smith has played a role in Mariota’s benching. When Smith was the offensive coordinator with the Titans, Mariota was demoted to backup. Atlanta inked the 29-year-old to a two-year, $18.75MM deal this past offseason. If he’s cut following the season, the organization could save around $12MM against the cap.

Mariota has gone 5-8 in his 13 starts this season, completing 61.3 percent of his passes for 2,219 yards, 15 touchdowns, and nine interceptions. He’s also added 438 yards and four scores on the ground. The decision to pivot to Ridder was “performance-based,” according to Smith, and the head coach also seemed to hint that it was always the team’s intention to eventually turn to the rookie third-round pick.

“We’ve talked about trying to get over the hump in some of these close games and where we’re trying to push the offense,” Smith said. “We feel like it’s the best decision where [Ridder] is at and where the team’s at. I wouldn’t have made this decision if I didn’t think it was in the best interest of this team, not only short term but probably long term as well.”

The team started preparing for Mariota’s absence earlier this week when they signed QB Logan Woodside off the Titans practice squad.

Falcons, Jaguars Discussed Calvin Ridley Trade For Months

The trade which sent Calvin Ridley from Atlanta to Jacksonville this past Tuesday caught many around the NFL off guard. With the suspended wideout ineligible to play this season, the timing of the deal came as a surprise, but the teams had been in talks regarding a swap dating back months.

As detailed by ESPN’s Michael Rothstein, Jacksonville identified Ridley as a potential target during this past offseason. The Jaguars entered the spring with a new head coach in Doug Pederson, and a need to add at the skill positions around second-year quarterback Trevor Lawrence. That resulted, most notably, in the high-priced free agent addition of Christian Kirk, but the possibility of acquiring Ridley was a topic of conversation.

“These discussions have been ongoing for a long time and everything we do here, we understand there’s a lot of parties involved in it,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. “[There’s] a cause and effect in a tough business and [we] always do everything in the best interest of the team and in regards to the players we got.”

The Jaguars certainly weren’t the only interested party in Ridley. It became known days after the 27-year-old was issued a year-long gambling suspension in March that Philadelphia almost completed a deal to acquire him. That near-trade demonstrated Atlanta’s willingness to part ways with the 2018 first-rounder, whose final Falcons season ended after he stepped away from the team for mental health reasons.

As Rothstein notes, the effect Ridley’s suspension had on his contract likely played a part in the Falcons being able to move him. The Alabama product is due $11.1MM on the fifth-year option in 2023 (assuming he is reinstated in time to play next season). That final year of his rookie deal tolled as a result of the suspension, but the figure is also no longer guaranteed. Atlanta has made a number of cost-cutting moves this year, including the deals sending away quarterback Matt Ryan and linebacker Deion Jones. Clearing Ridley’s 2023 cap hit will give the team some added financial flexibility as they pivot to first-round rookie Drake London to lead their WR room, while closing the book on Ridley’s time in Atlanta.

“This wasn’t something that happened at the trade deadline,” Smith further explained. “It was a long process. So leave it at that.”  

The NFL’s Longest-Tenured Head Coaches

The NFL experienced a busy offseason on the coaching front. A whopping 10 teams changed coaches during the 2022 offseason, with the Buccaneers’ late-March switch pushing the number into double digits.

Fourteen of the league’s 32 head coaches were hired in the past two offseasons, illustrating the increased pressure the NFL’s sideline leaders face in today’s game. Two of the coaches replaced this year left on their own. Sean Payton vacated his spot in second on the longest-tenured HCs list by stepping down from his 16-year Saints post in February, while Bruce Arians has repeatedly insisted his Bucs exit was about giving his defensive coordinator a chance with a strong roster and not a Tom Brady post-retirement power play.

While Bill Belichick has been the league’s longest-tenured HC for many years, Payton’s exit moved Mike Tomlin up to No. 2. Mike Zimmer‘s firing after nine seasons moved Frank Reich into the top 10. Reich’s HC opportunity only came about because Josh McDaniels spurned the Colts in 2018, but Indianapolis’ backup plan has led the team to two playoff brackets and has signed an extension. Reich’s seat is hotter in 2022, however, after a January collapse. Linked to numerous HC jobs over the past several offseasons, McDaniels finally took another swing after his Broncos tenure ended quickly.

As 2022’s training camps approach, here are the NFL’s longest-tenured HCs:

  1. Bill Belichick (New England Patriots): January 27, 2000
  2. Mike Tomlin (Pittsburgh Steelers): January 27, 2007; extended through 2024
  3. John Harbaugh (Baltimore Ravens): January 19, 2008; extended through 2025
  4. Pete Carroll (Seattle Seahawks): January 9, 2010; extended through 2025
  5. Andy Reid (Kansas City Chiefs): January 4, 2013; extended through 2025
  6. Sean McDermott (Buffalo Bills): January 11, 2017; extended through 2025
  7. Sean McVay (Los Angeles Rams): January 12, 2017; extended through 2023
  8. Kyle Shanahan (San Francisco 49ers): February 6, 2017; extended through 2025
  9. Mike Vrabel (Tennessee Titans): January 20, 2018; signed extension in February 2022
  10. Frank Reich (Indianapolis Colts): February 11, 2018; extended through 2026
  11. Kliff Kingsbury (Arizona Cardinals): January 8, 2019; extended through 2027
  12. Matt LaFleur (Green Bay Packers): January 8, 2019
  13. Zac Taylor (Cincinnati Bengals): February 4, 2019; extended through 2026
  14. Ron Rivera (Washington Football Team): January 1, 2020
  15. Matt Rhule (Carolina Panthers): January 7, 2020
  16. Mike McCarthy (Dallas Cowboys): January 7, 2020
  17. Kevin Stefanski (Cleveland Browns): January 13, 2020
  18. Robert Saleh (New York Jets): January 15, 2021
  19. Arthur Smith (Atlanta Falcons): January 15, 2021
  20. Brandon Staley (Los Angeles Chargers): January 17, 2021
  21. Dan Campbell (Detroit Lions): January 20, 2021
  22. Nick Sirianni (Philadelphia Eagles): January 21, 2021
  23. Nathaniel Hackett (Denver Broncos): January 27, 2022
  24. Matt Eberflus (Chicago Bears): January 27, 2022
  25. Brian Daboll (New York Giants): January 28, 2022
  26. Josh McDaniels (Las Vegas Raiders): January 30, 2022
  27. Kevin O’Connell (Minnesota Vikings): February 2, 2022
  28. Doug Pederson (Jacksonville Jaguars): February 3, 2022
  29. Mike McDaniel (Miami Dolphins): February 6, 2022
  30. Dennis Allen (New Orleans Saints): February 7, 2022
  31. Lovie Smith (Houston Texans): February 7, 2022
  32. Todd Bowles (Tampa Bay Buccaneers): March 30, 2022

Colts GM: Matt Ryan To Start For At Least Two Seasons

The Colts will soon be one of the few teams in NFL history to deploy a different Week 1 starting quarterback in six straight seasons, but Chris Ballard communicated with his new starter he will be the one to stop the merry-go-round.

Indianapolis’ sixth-year GM told Matt Ryan he will be the Colts’ starting quarterback for at least two seasons, before the team determines its next path. Ryan’s 2018 extension agreement runs through 2023.

I wanted to make sure Matt knew that there’s no doubt it’s going to be two years,” Ballard said, via the Indianapolis Star’s Joel Erickson. “And I think we’ll go from there. I think we’ll know. I think both parties will know as we move forward.”

Ryan, 37 in May, has not indicated retirement resides on his near-future radar. The Colts acquired Ryan’s Falcons contract last week, and after the 15th-year passer entered March with what would have been an NFL-record $48.7MM cap number, his 2022 Indy figure comes in at just $18.7MM. The Falcons absorbed a league-record $40MM dead-money hit, and Erickson tweets the Colts converted some of Ryan’s money to a $12MM signing bonus. Ryan’s 2023 cap figure, thanks to a $10MM roster bonus currently guaranteed for injury, checks in at $35.2MM.

The Colts began the past five seasons with Scott Tolzien, Andrew Luck, Jacoby Brissett, Philip Rivers and Carson Wentz, respectively, at quarterback. Brissett logged the most snaps, replacing Tolzien early in 2017, but the team has not started the same passer in back-to-back seasons under Ballard. The Colts traded Wentz shortly after the Combine, where they did some legwork on Ryan at the Indy-stationed gathering. The Falcons discussed Ryan’s trade value at the Combine, Albert Breer of SI.com notes. They were told Ryan’s contract made anything more than a fourth-rounder difficult, and when the Colts-Falcons trade talks commenced in earnest, Ballard said that was the best he could do. The Falcons talked the Colts up to a third-rounder (No. 82 overall).

Atlanta’s Deshaun Watson investigation process began last season, when the team heard the disgruntled Texans quarterback had interest in playing for his hometown team. The Falcons did not communicate their Watson interest to Ryan until the former was cleared by the first of the two grand juries involved in this saga, Breer adds, noting that the Colts as a Ryan trade suitor before Watson had made his decision. Shortly after Watson chose the Browns, Arthur Smith asked Ryan if he would be interested in the Colts. Ryan soon confirmed he was, leading to the teams’ March 21 deal.

Indianapolis does not have a first-round pick this year, but the team could be back on the radar for a Round 1 QB prospect in 2023. But the Colts and Ryan are hopeful he can play beyond that point.

If we decided to make a move on a quarterback, that’s definitely a conversation we would have,” Ballard said, via Erickson, of keeping Ryan informed on his potential successor. “In the world that I’ve been living in since Andrew retired, the whole organization, it’d be nice to get some stability where we have a guy for two, three, four years that can play and give us some continuity.”

Falcons HC Arthur Smith Wants Matt Ryan To Still Be Starting QB

If Arthur Smith has his way, Matt Ryan will be the Falcons starting quarterback in 2022. Per Chris Mortensen (on Twitter), the Falcons HC is a proponent of Ryan and wants him under center next season.

Specifically, Smith wanted Ryan as his QB when he joined the organization last offseason. Per Mortensen, the coach has made his fondness for Ryan clear to owner Arthur Blank and general manager Terry Fontenot.

It’s been four seasons since Ryan and the Falcons finished with a winning record, but the veteran QB was still managing to put up numbers. That wasn’t necessarily the case in 2021, as the 36-year-old’s 3,968 passing yards and 20 touchdowns were among the lowest of his career. To top it all, the Falcons once again finished below .500 at 7-10.

There have been rumblings that the Falcons could pursue a replacement at the position, with many pundits believing the organization could look toward the draft. The team avoided the position during last year’s draft, and while they could reconsider during the 2022 draft, the rookie class isn’t filled with a bunch of future starting QBs. Further, considering the money that the Falcons still owe to Ryan, the team might not even have a choice when it comes to the former MVP’s future with the organization; rather, they might just be stuck with him.

Arthur Blank ‘Fascinated’ By Draft’s Top QBs

Falcons owner Arthur Blank referenced the Chiefs’ Alex Smith-to-Patrick Mahomes baton pass in February, when discussing his team’s quarterback situation. Blank appears interested in his franchise traversing such a path.

The Falcons hold their highest draft choice since selecting Matt Ryan 13 years ago, and NBC Sports’ Peter King reports Blank is “fascinated” by this year’s top crop of quarterbacks. The prospect of the Falcons capitalizing on their rare top-five pick to acquire Ryan’s heir apparent has factored into Blank’s thinking here.

[RELATED: Teams Expect Falcons To Draft Kyle Pitts?]

While the longtime Atlanta owner could throw his weight around and insist his new regime go for a quarterback at No. 4 overall, King adds that Blank will not push Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith in a direction. Smith is also believed to be intrigued by this QB class, King notes, but the first-year Falcons HC also believes Ryan still has quality football left. When a report surfaced indicating Smith and Fontenot disagreed on how the team should proceed with the No. 4 pick, Smith was said to prefer drafting a non-quarterback. Fontenot, however, was believed to be leaning closer to the Falcons indeed selecting Ryan’s successor.

Despite a subsequent report indicating Smith and Fontenot came to an understanding on what they will do at 4, Blank and his new GM being linked to QB interest could throw a wrench into this year’s draft. The Falcons are entertaining all options at 4 and have received calls. Should they select a quarterback, not only would this be the first draft ever to begin with four straight QBs being chosen, but the rest of the QB-seeking lot — a list that includes several teams — would be down to one of this year’s top five passers for which to vie. This would apply pressure on the likes of Denver, New England, Washington and Chicago.

The Falcons sent three staffers — assistant college scouting director Dwaune Jones, QBs coach Charles London and passing-game specialist T.J. Yates — to Trey Lance‘s second pro day, Albert Breer of SI.com notes. They also sent the maximum three staffers to Justin Fields‘ second pro day last week. While the 49ers will control which quarterbacks are available for the Falcons at 4, the latter team could follow San Francisco’s QB pick with one of its own.

Falcons HC, GM Aligned On No. 4 Pick?

It’s no longer a house divided. Falcons GM Terry Fontenot and head coach Arthur Smith are now “aligned” on what to do with the No. 4 overall pick in the draft, according to D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Earlier this week, we heard that Fontenot was pushing for a quarterback. Meanwhile, Smith wanted to stay the course with Matt Ryan. Ryan is on the verge of his 36th birthday, but he’s been durable and fairly steady.

Of course, we don’t know where the Falcons ultimately landed, and we probably won’t know for sure until the draft kicks off on April 29th in Cleveland. The Falcons are in an enviable position — the Jaguars, Jets, and 49ers are all expected to tap quarterbacks with the first three picks, which would allow them to take the best non-quarterback in this year’s class. They could also trade down and parlay that pick into a wealth of ammo for 2022 and beyond.

If they resist the urge to take a QB, the Falcons could select Florida tight end Kyle Pitts, Oregon offensive tackle Penei Sewell, LSU wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, or Alabama cornerback Patrick Surtain II. Or, if they stand pat to grab Matt Ryan’s successor, they could come away with Trey Lance — the North Dakota State product who could have more upside than Zach Wilson and Mac Jones (basically, a higher ceiling than any passer not named Trevor Lawrence).

Falcons GM, HC Split On Drafting QB?

Earlier this morning, we heard that the Falcons were open to moving down from the fourth overall pick. Now, we have some more details on what’s happening inside the building.

Atlanta’s new GM Terry Fontenot apparently favors drafting a quarterback, while new head coach Arthur Smith does not, Chris Mortensen of ESPN reported recently, via Evan Birchfield of The Falcoholic. “What I’m hearing is that [Terry] Fontenot is more focused on quarterback, and Arthur Smith believes that Matt Ryan does have two or more years left,” Mortensen said.

While that big split between a GM and head coach in their first year together might not be ideal, it doesn’t sound like the situation has turned toxic or anything. The fact that Atlanta is open to moving the pick would seem to indicate that Smith’s view might be winning out.

He has no real medical history, he hasn’t missed many games in his career and there hasn’t been a big drop off in his play,” Mortensen said of Smith’s view of Ryan. Interestingly, Mortensen also had some info on who the Falcons might pick if Fontenot gets his way.

One thing I do hear though is that if they do go quarterback at No. 4, then Trey Lance is probably the guy,” he said. It sounds like there’s a real possibility that Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Mac Jones, and Lance go 1-4. Ryan, 36 next month, is signed through the 2023 season.

 Running it back for at least one more cycle with Ryan and Julio Jones, now 32, still seems like the most likely scenario. This will be one of the most interesting dynamics to watch in the lead up to the draft.

Falcons Hire Arthur Smith As Head Coach

Arthur Smith accepted the Falcons’ offer to become their head coach. The Falcons announced Friday afternoon they have hired the Titans offensive coordinator.

After two years as Tennessee’s OC, Smith received widespread interest. Every team with a head coaching vacancy reached out to the young coach for an interview. The Falcons landed him and will move forward with the breakout play-caller in charge.

Tennessee’s tight ends coach prior to being promoted in 2019, Smith will become the second straight Titans OC to make the leap to a head coaching job. The Packers hired Matt LaFleur in 2019, but Smith’s Titans work exceeded his predecessor’s. Ryan Tannehill revived his career under Smith, posting a historic 9.6 yards-per-attempt figure in 2019 and finishing with a 33-7 TD-INT ratio this season. Both years ended with Titans playoff berths, and each involved Derrick Henry rushing championships.

Riding their retooled offense, the Titans made a run to the 2019 AFC championship game. Henry became the first player to win back-to-back rushing titles since LaDainian Tomlinson in the 2000s, and the 2020 rushing champ’s 2,027-yard performance ranks fifth all time. After making just one playoff berth between 2009-18, the Titans went 2-for-2 in postseason qualification during Smith’s two seasons as their OC. Smith, 38, began his NFL coaching career as a low-level assistant in Washington in 2007 but was with the Titans since 2011.

This will mark a change for the Falcons, who have used defensive-oriented head coaches throughout Matt Ryan‘s career. Atlanta hired Mike Smith in 2008 and Dan Quinn in 2015. Smith will now oversee the final chapter of Ryan’s Falcons career. After an MVP season under Kyle Shanahan in Atlanta’s 2016 NFC championship season, Ryan has not made a Pro Bowl since.

The Falcons remain in search of a GM, though former GM Rich McKay played a key role in hiring Smith. Both Atlanta power brokers will now turn their attention to bringing in Thomas Dimitroff‘s successor. The Falcons are believed to be favoring Saints GM Terry Fontenot for that job. This new regime will be tasked with restoring the Falcons to contender status. They fell well off the pace late in Quinn’s tenure, starting 1-7 in 2019 and 0-5 this year.

2021 NFL Head Coaching Search Tracker

Exiting the regular season, six teams are searching for new head coaches. That number is up from last season but not quite as high as 2019, though there may well be more vacancies that emerge during the playoffs.

Listed below are the head coaching candidates that have been linked to each of the teams with vacancies, along with their current status. If and when other teams decide to make head coaching changes, they’ll be added to this list. Here is the current breakdown:

Updated 1-27-21 (7:05pm CT)

Atlanta Falcons

Detroit Lions

Houston Texans

Jacksonville Jaguars

Los Angeles Chargers

New York Jets

Philadelphia Eagles