Marcus Mariota

Marcus Mariota To Undergo Knee Surgery

The Falcons’ swiftly changing Marcus Mariota situation will now include a knee surgery. The recently displaced starter will be shut down due to a knee operation, Arthur Smith said Wednesday (via The Athletic’s Josh Kendall, on Twitter).

This surgery will take place next week, and Smith confirmed Atlanta’s would-be backup is going on IR today. This is a bit more standard NFL fare compared to the previous Mariota story that surfaced. Smith said Tuesday that the former Heisman winner had left the team to have his knee evaluated.

“[The knee] is nothing that has been an issue this season, but that’s [Mariota’s] prerogative so …” the second-year Falcons HC said. “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.”

A day after Smith said Mariota was dealing with a chronic knee injury, the report of the Oregon product leaving the team emerged. Smith made it clear Wednesday that Desmond Ridder leapfrogged Mariota regardless of injury. The third-round rookie is set to make his first start against the Saints in Week 15. It does not appear the Falcons and Mariota are on the same page any longer, but this was always viewed as a short-term stay for the former No. 2 overall pick.

Ridder’s promotion already reduced the chances Mariota would be back with the Falcons next season. This week’s odd drama, which Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk notes has confused executives around the league, certainly points to the eighth-year passer being elsewhere in 2023. Mariota’s malady comes out of nowhere, with Florio adding the Falcons have not included it on an injury report at all this season. With four games remaining, Mariota cannot return to Atlanta’s active roster during the regular season. The Falcons would need to make the playoffs for Mariota to dress again.

Given the events of this week, it seems extremely unlikely Mariota suits up for the Falcons going forward. Stranger things have obviously occurred, with the Rams’ Cam Akers developments providing a recent example of an imminent divorce reversing course, but Mariota was always viewed as a bridge to Ridder or the next Falcons starter.

Smith has now benched Mariota twice. The first instance occurred in 2019, when Smith was in his first season as the Titans’ OC. That October, Smith ended Mariota’s four-plus-season run as Tennessee’s starter by sitting him for Ryan Tannehill. The Titans are now in Year 4 of Tannehill as their starter, while Mariota has since bounced to Las Vegas and Atlanta. Smith reunited with Mariota and kept him installed as the Falcons’ starter longer than most expected, but that chapter has ended.

The Falcons can save $12MM in 2023 by releasing Mariota, who agreed to a two-year deal worth $18.75MM shortly after the franchise shipped Matt Ryan to the Colts. To save the $12MM, the Falcons must move on from Mariota before Day 3 of the 2023 league year.

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 Expected To Place Marcus Mariota On IR

Coming off of the team’s bye week, Falcons head coach Arthur Smith confirmed reports that a new quarterback will be at the helm for the final four games of the season. In addition, though, Atlanta’s initial No. 1 is unlikely to see the field again during at least the regular season.

Marcus Mariota is dealing with what Smith called a “chronic knee injury.” As a result, he indicated, via the team’s website, that the veteran is likely to be placed on IR. Such a move would guarantee at least a four-week absence, and leave Mariota unavailable for the team’s final contests.

When speaking to the media, Smith made clear that recent decision to turn to rookie Desmond Ridder as the starting quarterback was made before the extent of Mariota’s injury was known. It was strictly for “performance-based” reasons, he said, that the Bearcats alum will take over and attempt to make a playoff push. The 5-8 Falcons sit one game behind the Buccaneers for top spot in the NFC South, and have a divisional contest against the Saints next up on their schedule.

“Desmond Ridder will be the starter,” Smith added. “We talked last time about getting over the hump in some of these close games and where we try to push the offense. We feel like it’s the best decision with where he’s at [and] the team’s at as we prepare to go down to New Orleans.”

Mariota signed a two-year deal in free agency to operate as a bridge starter while Atlanta searched for a permanent Matt Ryan successor. He had received a vote of confidence to continue as the No. 1 less than one month ago, but the team has struggled mightily in the passing game throughout the season. That has increasingly led to calls for a change, and now Ridder will make his first NFL appearances with the opportunity to make a positive impression in both the short- and intermediate-term future.

With Mariota presumed to be sidelined for the foreseeable future, the Falcons’ signing of Logan Woodside off the Titans’ practice squad over the weekend comes as little surprise. The former seventh-rounder has a connection to Smith from their time together in Tennessee, and will likely dress as Ridder’s backup as the team begins what could be a new era under center.

Falcons To Start Desmond Ridder In Week 15

Increasingly in the spotlight due to passing-game limitations, the Falcons’ quarterback situation will undergo a change when the team next takes the field. Atlanta is benching Marcus Mariota for rookie Desmond Ridder, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets.

The second quarterback chosen this year, Ridder has not taken any snaps as a pro yet. The Falcons will begin the Cincinnati product’s audition following their bye week. Atlanta faces New Orleans in Week 15.

While Mariota’s longest run as a starter since 2018 has resulted in a potent Falcons ground attack, the team has not offered much through the air. Mariota has not topped 200 passing yards since Week 8; the Falcons rank 31st in passing. They are 5-8 and 1.5 games behind the Buccaneers, who have used two game-winning drives to take control of the NFL’s worst division this year. A recent report indicated the Falcons would stick with Mariota as long as they were in contention. But Arthur Smith said following Sunday’s home loss to the Steelers everything was on the table at this position.

Atlanta pulled the plug on the Matt Ryan era in March, unloading its 14-year starter after seeing its Deshaun Watson pursuit finish in what was believed to be the silver-medal position. The Browns’ unprecedented contract offer — five years for a fully guaranteed $230MM — enticed Watson to nix believed plans to play in his home state and waive his no-trade clause for Cleveland. The Falcons traded Ryan to the Colts soon after, and Smith then reunited with Mariota via a two-year, $18.75MM deal.

Although Smith had benched Mariota midway through his first season as Titans OC, he designed his second Falcons offense around the former No. 2 overall pick. Mariota’s contract calls for $12MM in 2023. Of that total, $3MM is due via a roster bonus on the fifth day of the 2023 league year, Tom Pelissero of NFL.com tweets.

Mariota, who backed up Ryan Tannehill for most of 2019 and served as Derek Carr‘s backup from 2020-21, does have a 15-to-9 touchdown pass-to-interception ratio and ranks 14th in QBR. But the Falcons used top-10 picks on pass catchers in each of the past two drafts. They have remained a run-oriented offense, putting the likes of Cordarrelle Patterson and Tyler Allgeier to work. That plan resulted in inconsistent years for Drake London and, especially, Kyle Pitts. The latter finished his abbreviated season with 28 receptions for 356 yards; this came after Ryan helped Pitts become only the second rookie tight end in NFL history to surpass 1,000 yards.

A four-year starter at Cincinnati, Ridder impressed as both a passer and runner at the American Athletic Conference program. The 6-foot-4 QB topped 500 rushing yards in three of his four Bearcats seasons and showed progress through the air as a senior. After failing to exceed 2,500 passing yards from 2018-20, Ridder threw for 3,334 yards and 30 touchdowns to help Cincinnati become the first Group of Five school to crash the College Football Playoff last season.

The Falcons stopped Ridder’s freefall at No. 74, selecting the experienced college passer ahead of Malik Willis and Matt Corral, and saw their draftee flash during the preseason. Atlanta’s delay in benching Mariota for Ridder confounded some around the league for weeks. The team, which took on extensive dead money to move Ryan and Deion Jones in trades, was not expected to contend this season. Were the Falcons in another division, it is worth wondering if they would have made the Ridder decision earlier. But they will begin this examination with four games remaining. While it is a bit later than most expected coming into the season, this stretch will help determine how the Falcons proceed at quarterback in 2023.

Falcons Considering QB Change?

Entering the season, the Falcons were one of a few teams which were expected to transition away from a veteran quarterback to a rookie at some point during the campaign. That has yet to take place, but the team’s circumstances could change during the bye week.

When asked about the situation under center, Falcons head coach Arthur Smith said that “everything is on the table” following Sunday’s loss to the Steelers (Twitter link via Jeff Schultz of The Athletic). The options he and the coaching staff will weigh during the week off is allowing Marcus Mariota to remain in place as the starter, or handing the reins over to third-round rookie Desmond Ridder.

Mariota, 29, signed a two-year deal this offseason to join the Falcons after they moved on from Matt Ryan and came up short in the bidding war for Deshaun Watson. That allowed him to serve as a No. 1 for the first time since 2019, his final year with the Titans. The former second overall pick has put up numbers essentially in line with his career averages so far, while leading the team to a 5-8 record.

That level of performance led to questions around the league about why he had not been benched yet in favor of Ridder. Widely seen as a temporary hold-in as the starter, Mariota has overseen a run-heavy offense and averaged just over 170 passing yards per game. While the Falcons were able to tread water to begin the year, they have now lost four of their last five.

Nevertheless, Smith indicated just two weeks ago that Mariota would remain the starter as long as Atlanta was in playoff contention. Given the landscape of the NFC South, that may remain the case for several more weeks if the Buccaneers are unable to pull away with their division lead. With four games remaining on the schedule, though, the potential of a postseason berth could add urgency to a swap under center.

Ridder led the Bearcats to an historic CFP playoff appearance last season, but was a member of the underwhelming 2022 class of QB prospects. While that has led to questions about his NFL ceiling, the time for him to begin answering those questions may be coming in the near future.

Falcons To Start Marcus Mariota At QB While In Playoff Hunt

After back-to-back losses featuring subpar performances from quarterback Marcus Mariota, there has been some speculation that Atlanta could bench the 2015 first-rounder in favor of third-round rookie Desmond Ridder. However, as long as the Falcons remain in the playoff hunt, they will continue to deploy Mariota under center, as Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reports.

At 4-6, Atlanta’s postseason hopes are a function of the weak NFC South. The club is just one game back of the Buccaneers for the division lead, and with the playoffs still within reach, it is believed that benching Mariota would send the wrong message to the locker room. Indeed, when asked about the Falcons’ quarterback situation this week, head coach Arthur Smith said, “there is no situation. There was never a situation — ever.”

While it is true that Atlanta’s run-heavy offense minimizes the impact of recent Day 1 draftees Kyle Pitts and Drake London, it is also worth mentioning that, prior to the current two-game losing streak, Mariota had posted QB ratings of over 100.0 in three straight contests. His own rushing ability is also key to the team’s offense, as he has carried the ball 63 times for 347 yards (5.5 YPC), three touchdowns, and 23 first downs. He is largely giving the Falcons what they expected when they signed him as a bridge option this offseason, and on the balance, he has helped keep Atlanta competitive despite an ugly salary cap situation that has led to an overall talent shortage.

That is not to say that the team is unhappy with Ridder’s development. According to Rapoport, the Falcons — who were confident enough in Ridder to install him as Mariota’s backup to start the season and forego a veteran option — have been quite pleased with how the Cincinnati product has progressed. If the team falls out of contention in the coming weeks, Smith may choose to give the rookie passer his first regular season snaps.

Until then, however, Mariota will remain the QB1. He will look to right the ship on Sunday against the 3-7 Bears.

NFC South Notes: Mariota, Saints, Bucs

Marcus Mariota did not acquit himself well during the Falcons‘ Week 10 loss to the Panthers, and Jason La Canfora of the Washington Post notes the eighth-year passer’s status as Atlanta’s starter past the midseason point has befuddled various NFL staffers. Mariota’s style has led Arthur Smith to lean heavily on his ground attack (23.1 pass attempts per game), and while that has been fairly effective for the Falcons, the team’s top-10 picks over the past two years — Kyle Pitts and Drake London — are being limited by this offense. Some execs are wondering why it is taking the Falcons so long to bench Mariota for rookie third-rounder Desmond Ridder, La Canfora adds. Pitts, who became only the second rookie tight end in NFL history to surpass 1,000 yards (behind Mike Ditka, 1961), has topped 30 yards in just two games this season. This year’s first wideout taken, London has not exceeded 50 yards in a game since Week 3.

It is certainly possible the Falcons, who are rebuilding yet also competing in a weak NFC South, do not view Ridder as ready. But this situation is raising eyebrows around the league. Here is the latest from the NFL’s lone division without an above-.500 team:

  • Pete Werner missed the Saints‘ Week 10 game due to an ankle injury, and it does not sound like he will return anytime soon. The second-year linebacker underwent surgery, Nick Underhill of NewOrleans.football tweets. Werner remains on New Orleans’ active roster, oddly, though it seems likely the team moves him to IR soon. The Saints are not ruling Werner out from a return this season, Underhill adds. After working as a part-time starter last season, the former second-round pick has been a three-down player this year. The Ohio State product has made a career-high 74 tackles and ranks as a top-30 linebacker, per Pro Football Focus.
  • The Saints should be expected to augment their running back situation in 2023, Mike Triplett of NewOrleans.football tweets. Mark Ingram will turn 33 soon, and his contract expires at season’s end. Alvin Kamara will likely be suspended for his role in an alleged assault; the five-time Pro Bowler’s case has been delayed multiple times and is now tabled to January 2023. The Saints will likely have a bevy of options to choose from to find a Kamara complement/fill-in option. While certain free agency-eligible backs (Saquon Barkley chief among them) will not hit the market, many will. The contingent of starters or key contributors who are eligible for 2023 free agency includes Kareem Hunt, Josh Jacobs, Miles Sanders, David Montgomery, Damien Harris, Tony Pollard, Devin Singletary and D’Onta Foreman. Although the Saints could obviously look to the draft here, this is shaping up as a buyer’s running back market.
  • Rob Gronkowski‘s second retirement following O.J. Howard‘s free agency departure led to a near-overhaul for the Buccaneers at tight end. While longtime contributor Cameron Brate remains, he sustained a concussion recently. During Brate’s injury hiatus, the Bucs explored adding a tight end at the deadline, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com tweets. However, the team stood pat and has since used fourth-round rookie Cade Otton frequently. Otton, who caught Tom Brady‘s game-winning toss to beat the Rams earlier this month, and Brate have played in front of offseason addition Kyle Rudolph. Brate’s Week 10 return left the 12th-year vet a healthy scratch.

Falcons Name Marcus Mariota Starting QB

This will not qualify as particularly surprising news, but the Falcons have named Marcus Mariota their starting quarterback. On the first day of training camp earlier this week, quarterbacks coach Charles London confirmed that Mariota will serve as Atlanta’s QB1, while third-round rookie Desmond Ridder will begin his pro career as Mariota’s backup.

“Obviously, we’ve got a plan for each of them,” London said. “Marcus is the starter. That’s how we’re going into this thing” (via Josh Kendall of The Athletic (subscription required)).

Mariota, the No. 2 overall pick of the Titans in the 2015 draft, showed some promise during his five years in Tennessee, including a 2016 campaign in which he threw for 26 TDs against nine interceptions and rushed for 349 yards and a pair of scores. But Ryan Tannehill supplanted Mariota as the Titans’ starter midway through the 2019 season, and Mariota has spent the last two years with the Raiders as Derek Carr‘s backup.

During that time, he saw extended action in only one game, a Week 15 contest in 2020 in which he completed 17 of 28 passes for 226 yards, including a touchdown and an interception, and rushed nine times for 88 yards and a score. That performance was enough to generate trade interest the following offseason, but the structure of Mariota’s contract prevented a deal from being consummated. He ultimately remained with Las Vegas on a reworked pact, and he wound up throwing just two passes in 2021 (though he was occasionally brought in on special packages and rushed 13 times for 87 yards and a TD).

After trading franchise icon Matt Ryan to the Colts in March, the Falcons signed Mariota to a two-year, $18.75MM contract. Even after that signing, the club was said to be considering using its No. 8 overall pick on a collegiate passer, though Atlanta chose to wait until the third round to select a QB. Ridder completed just under 65% of his passes for 30 TDs and eight picks in 2021 — a season in which he took Cincinnati to the College Football Playoff — and has the chance to become the long-term answer for Atlanta under center.

He may be working with the second team as he acclimates to the NFL, but he will be getting plenty of reps. We heard last month that the Falcons would be deploying Feleipe Franks, the only other quarterback on the roster, in more of a hybrid role, and Kendall confirmed that Franks will practice as a tight end for most of camp.

Falcons Notes: QB Camp Reps, RB, NT Competitions

For the first time since 2008, the Falcons will have a starting quarterback not named Matt Ryan when the upcoming season begins. The team added Marcus Mariota as a short-term solution at the position, then drafted Desmond Ridder as a long-term option to succeed him.

The former has starting experience dating back to his time with the Titans, and will look to establish himself as a No. 1 again after two years as a backup with the Raiders. The latter, meanwhile, had an historic career at Cincinnati, leading the Bearcats to the CFP playoffs in 2021. Their lack of a track record at the NFL level made the Falcons a candidate to add a camp arm, but the team is investing fully in their top two passers.

As detailed by D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, training camp reps will be split between Mariota and Ridder, with Feleipe Franks primarily focusing on his transition to TE. “When you look at it in terms of the quarterbacks for live periods of practice, there is not a lot [of] taxing amount of periods where the ball is being thrown,” said offensive coordinator Dave Ragone when speaking about a concentrated workload for the pair. With little expected of the team in 2022, dividing the reps only two ways is a sensible step for the Falcons as they search for a new franchise signal-caller.

Here are a few other notes from the Peach State, both from Ledbetter’s positional breakdowns:

  • The Falcons ranked 31st in the league in rushing last season, so their attempts at improving their ground game will be the subject of much attention this year. Cordarrelle Patterson is set to return, after he totalled a career-best 1,166 scrimmage yards in 2021. He will not enter camp as the undisputed No. 1 back, however; RBs coach Mike Pitre said that there will be a “wide open” competition involving the veteran Swiss Army knife, free agent signing Damien Williamsand younger options like rookie Tyler Allgeier and Avery Williamswho is converting from cornerback. Head coach Arthur Smith did add, however, that the Falcons will “continue to try to enhance ” Patterson’s overall role in the offense.
  • On the defensive side of the ball, nose tackle will be another positional battle to watch. Either Vincent Taylor 0r Anthony Rush will earn a starting spot alongside Grady Jarrett in the heart of the d-line. Eddie Goldman was the most experienced option for a first-team role until his unexpected retirement decision was confirmed earlier this week. Taylor and Rush have each bounced around to multiple teams in their careers, but will have an opportunity for significant snaps in their debut seasons with the Falcons, who ranked 27th against the run in 2021.

Falcons Eyeing QBs With No. 8 Pick?

The post-Matt Ryan era has started in Atlanta, and while the organization may have inked Marcus Mariota to a deal, there’s a good chance the organization selects a quarterback in the upcoming draft. League sources expect the Falcons to select a signal-caller with the No. 8 pick in the NFL Draft, according to Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports.

[RELATED: QB Matt Corral To Visit Five Teams]

Who would the Falcons ultimately select with that pick? Per ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler (on Twitter), the Falcons are a potential landing spot for Liberty quarterback Malik Willis. The reporter notes that most scouts believe Willis is more of a project and won’t be ready to start during his rookie campaign, which would make him an ideal pairing with someone like Mariota.

Of course, with a handful of QB-needy teams ahead of them in the draft (including the Panthers at No. 6, who Fowler also mentions as a suitor for Willis), the Falcons front office can’t put all of their eggs in one basketball in pursuit of the Liberty QB. We heard recently that the team met with Ole Miss alum Matt Corral. North Carolina’s Sam Howell was the third QB to earn a top-3o visit with the Falcons.

After losing out on Deshaun Watson and trading away Ryan, the Falcons signed Mariota to a two-year contract. The former Titan and Raider is in line to start for the first time since 2019, but he would likely provide a short-term solution at the position at best. Mariota went 2-4 during his six-game stint as Tennessee’s starter in ’19, although he did toss seven touchdowns vs. only two interceptions.