Taylor Heinicke

Kirk Cousins Expects To Be Full-Go ‘Well Before’ Week 1; Grady Jarrett Eyeing Training Camp Return

Thrust into an unusual situation following the Falcons’ scrutinized decision to draft Michael Penix Jr. eighth overall, Kirk Cousins is also in the final stages of rehab from his first significant NFL injury. The high-priced Atlanta QB is not quite recovered from his Achilles setback.

Cousins is close, however, and the 13th-year veteran said (via The Athletic’s Josh Kendall) he expects to be operating at full speed well before Week 1. In the meantime, the new Falcons passer has taken every snap with the team’s first-stringers during the offseason program.

The Falcons gave Cousins a four-year, $180MM deal that includes $100MM in practical guarantees. While they then made the unexpected move to draft Penix, no doubts about the team’s 2024 starter have surfaced. Cousins, who will turn 36 in August, is locked into that role. Although Penix took third-team reps — behind Taylor Heinicke — during the Falcons’ Tuesday minicamp practice, Kendall notes the Falcons expect the rookie to be the backup this season. Heinicke accepted a pay cut to remain with his hometown team, doing so before the team picked Penix.

The Vikings lost Cousins for the season on Oct. 29. While the durable QB had missed two starts during his Minnesota tenure, they came due to COVID-19 or the team resting starters in a season finale. The Falcons are betting on the immobile passer’s track record before he went down, and Cousins has called himself ahead of schedule; he previously did not expect to participate in OTAs or minicamp. Training camp will begin nearly nine months after the injury.

Cousins is the Falcons’ highest-profile player rehabbing an injury, but the team’s longtime defensive line anchor is also coming back from a season-ending malady. Grady Jarrett sustained an ACL tear on same day Cousins went down, missing the final nine games of Atlanta’s season. Unlike Cousins, Jarrett is not participating in Atlanta’s minicamp. Going into his 10th NFL season, Jarrett said he is targeting a return by training camp.

That’s my goal,” Jarrett said, via the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Gabriel Burns. “Obviously with training camp, there’s always a ramp-up period. Mine might look a little different, but the bulk of it, my goal is to have most of my reps in and not too much special treatment on the side. That’s what I’m working for.

It would certainly not surprise to see Jarrett begin camp on Atlanta’s active/PUP list, a designation that keeps players sidelined until they are ready to practice. A stay on the reserve/PUP list — a regular-season designation that costs players at least four games — appears unlikely. ACL tears affect players differently, and it has not been uncommon to see some midseason knee injuries lead to early-season absences the following year. But more than 10 months will have passed between Jarrett’s injury and the Falcons’ Week 1 game. It should be expected the veteran D-lineman will be available for Atlanta’s opener.

Jarrett, 31, is working in a third defensive system in three years. After Dean Pees‘ retirement, the Falcons moving on from Arthur Smith effectively ensured DC Ryan Nielsen would be a one-and-done in Georgia. Raheem Morris and fellow ex-Rams assistant Jimmy Lake are now running the show. Two seasons remain on Jarrett’s three-year, $49.5MM extension.

Falcons QB Taylor Heinicke Accepts Pay Cut

Last year’s QB2 carousel featured Taylor Heinicke collecting more guaranteed money than most reserve passers. Only Andy Dalton and Jacoby Brissett fetched more money at signing than Heinicke, who collected $6.32MM guaranteed on a two-year, $14MM deal.

Heinicke, who logged a few starts last season as Desmond Ridder struggled, remains with the team. The Atlanta native, however, is now tied to a much lower 2024 salary. Heinicke accepted a pay cut to stay with the Falcons, ESPN.com’s Michael Rothstein notes. As Atlanta transitions to its Kirk Cousins era, its backup will carry a lower cap number this coming season.

The Falcons trimmed Heinicke’s 2024 base salary from $5MM to $1.21MM. With Heinicke’s cap number now down to $4.53MM, this transaction will save the team nearly $4.5MM in cap space. With many teams filling their backup jobs already — one of them (the Cardinals) doing so by trading for Ridder — Heinicke did not have a host of options if he declined the pay cut. As it stands, he remains on track to be Cousins’ backup.

As the Falcons transition to Zac Robinson‘s Rams-influenced offense, they plan to add another quarterback to compete with Heinicke for the backup gig. While Cousins has been one of the NFL’s most durable players during this period, his October Achilles tear does make Atlanta’s QB2 job a bit more important than it otherwise would have been.

Heinicke, who operated as the Commanders’ starter for most of the 2021 season and kept Carson Wentz on the bench at points in 2022, has 30 career starts on his resume. That includes a close loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Buccaneers in the 2020 wild-card round. Last season, the Falcons turned to Heinicke on multiple occasions. Despite showing tremendous confidence in Ridder during the 2023 offseason, Atlanta benched the 2022 third-round pick in Week 8 and again in Week 16. This led to four Heinicke starts. The final outing — a three-INT effort against the Bears — doomed Atlanta’s fleeting playoff hopes, swinging the door wide open for Arthur Smith‘s firing.

Heinicke, 31, only completed 54.4% of his throws last season. It would seem likely the Falcons use a draft choice to staff to add here, as Cousins is now tied to a $100MM practical guarantee. Cousins’ guarantees stretch into 2026. Heinicke’s deal will still expire after the season.

Falcons To Make Depth QB Addition; Desmond Ridder Did Not Request Trade

The top of Atlanta’s quarterback depth chart is set with Kirk Cousins in the fold. His addition has relegated Taylor Heinicke to backup duties as things stand, but the latter may not have the QB2 role by the time the 2024 campaign begins.

Heinicke will see competition for the backup gig brought in, head coach Raheem Morris said (via The Athletic’s Josh Kendall). The Atlanta native joined the team last offseason as a veteran insurance policy for Desmond Ridder. Neither passer performed well enough when on the field to justify being named the 2024 starter, however, fueling the aggressive pursuit of Cousins.

Atlanta currently has just $6.3MM in cap space, most of which will be needed to sign the team’s incoming rookie class. As a result, even a one-year deal with a veteran backup option (such as Ryan Tannehill or Carson Wentz) could prove to be too expensive. Next month’s draft will offer the opportunity to add a developmental passer at a lower cost.

To that end, the Falcons are amongst the teams which have a visit lined up with Michael Penix Jr. The 2023 Heisman runner up may not be in Atlanta’s range, though, provided the team uses the No. 8 pick on a position other than quarterback. Still, it comes as little surprise Heinicke will need to beat out a new arrival for the backup job in training camp. The 31-year-old has one year left on his re-worked contract, and a release would create $1.21MM in cap savings along with a $3.32MM dead cap charge.

Not long after the Cousins deal was in place, Ridder was dealt to the Cardinals. That swap – which yielded receiver Rondale Moore in return – allowed the 2022 third-rounder to receive a fresh start after an underwhelming time as a starter with Atlanta. The trade did not come about based on Ridder’s desire to leave, though.

“Desmond is a great kid,” Morris said, via D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution“He did not come to us and demand a trade. He did not come to us and do anything like that… The opportunity presented itself for us to add speed to our [receivers group]. Desmond went out with class.”

Ridder will now turn his attention to backing up Kyler Murray in Arizona. While the Cardinals’ QB depth chart (which also includes Clayton Tune) is now set, that of the Falcons is set to see an addition relatively soon.

Falcons Intend To Start Taylor Heinicke For Rest Of Season

DECEMBER 20: If the Falcons are to make a late run to the playoffs, Heinicke will be leading the way. Smith said the team will go with the former Washington starter the rest of the way. When Smith benched Ridder the first time, he kept the door open for a return. While the Falcons reinstalled Ridder as their starter, it appears the second-year passer — anointed as the starter back in March — is not in the team’s plans to close out this season. With Smith uncertain to be retained for 2024, plenty rides on Heinicke.

DECEMBER 19: In the aftermath of the Falcons’ loss on Sunday, head coach Arthur Smith said a quarterback change was being contemplated. After going back to Desmond RidderAtlanta is now set to hand the reins to Taylor Heinicke once again.

The latter will get the start in Week 16, Josh Kendall and Jeff Schultz of The Athletic report (subscription required). That comes as no surprise after Smith’s remarks left the door open to Heinicke being reinstalled as the No. 1 for at least the time being. Ridder was given the starting role back after the Falcons’ bye week, and the team intended for that decision to apply through the remainder of the campaign.

However, the 2022 third-rounder has not improved as hoped during his second stint as a starter. Ridder has committed 16 turnovers this season, including six in the red zone. As a result, Atlanta sits at 6-8 on the year and is in danger of missing out on the postseason. A late switch back to Heinicke could provide more stability under center down the stretch.

After putting Ridder atop the depth chart for the final four games of his rookie season, the Falcons gave him a vote of confidence. The decision to sign Heinicke to a two-year, $14MM deal in the offseason was aimed at providing experienced depth, although the starter’s job was certainly not set in stone entering the season. With Ridder struggling to make the Year 2 jump, Heinicke earned a pair of starts midway through the season after replacing Ridder at halftime the game before.

In his time at the helm (which was cut short by a hamstring injury), Heinicke posted a passer rating of 84.2, the second-lowest of his career. The former Commanders starter committed only one turnover in that span, however, so he could provide a higher floor than Ridder against the Colts this week. Fighting for both the top spot in the NFC South as well as a wild-card spot, the Falcons will need a rebound from last week’s poor offensive showing to keep their postseason chances alive.

The team faces the possibility of missing the playoffs for a third straight season under head coach Arthur Smith. In spite of that, the latest reporting on the matter points to Atlanta retaining him for next season. As The Athletic report notes, however, Smith’s job security may become dependent on a plan to acquire a new starter under center despite both Ridder and Heinicke being on the books beyond 2023. Neither passer has done enough to lay claim to a permanent No. 1 role to date, but Heinicke will get another opportunity to do so this Sunday.

Falcons Undecided On Week 16 Starting QB

The Falcons’ decision to give the starting role back to Desmond Ridder after their bye week was intended to put the team’s quarterback questions to rest for the rest of the season. In the wake of yesterday’s loss, however, that may not be the case.

Ridder was benched in place of Taylor Heinicke after struggling to make the Year 2 jump many young passers experience. The former has received the confidence of Atlanta’s staff, however, and he was reinstalled as the No. 1 for Week 12 and beyond. Ridder underwhelmed in Sunday’s loss to the Panthers, and a late red zone interception set up Carolina’s game-winning field goal.

That continued a concerning trend in the turnover department for Ridder, who has thrown at least one interception in nine games this season and each of his last four. The 2022 third-rounder has also fumbled 11 times, adding to the argument Atlanta should seek out a replacement this offseason. For the time being, another evaluation will take place at the position, head coach Arthur Smith said on Monday.

Smith answered no when asked if third-stringer Logan Woodside was under consideration to get the start in Week 16, and he confirmed the same is true of an outside addition. Just like earlier in the year, therefore, the current decision will come down to Ridder or Heinicke as Atlanta looks to remain in contention for an NFC playoff berth. The latter has put up underwhelming numbers when on the field in his debut Falcons season (55.4% completion percentage, 498 passing yards, three touchdowns, one interception).

A hamstring injury ended Heinicke’s run as starter, but he is healthy now. The former Commanders starter has more experience than Ridder, and the team could opt to give him the starter’s role down the stretch in a bid to reduce turnovers while competing for the NFC South title. The Falcons sit at 6-8, one game behind both the Buccaneers and Saints. They are also in the mix for a wild-card spot, but improvement on offense will likely be needed to reach the postseason.

Heinicke is on the books through 2024 after he signed an incentive-laden deal this past offseason. Ridder’s rookie contract, meanwhile, runs one year longer. With commitments to both passers beyond this season, Atlanta’s plans for the immediate future will be worth watching closely.

Falcons QB Desmond Ridder To Start In Week 12

When the Falcons return from their Week 11 bye to take on the Saints next Sunday, Desmond Ridder will be under center. Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reported this morning that Atlanta is turning back to Ridder with the expectation that he will remain the starter for the rest of the season.

Ridder, who started the Falcons’ first eight games of the year, exited the team’s Week 8 loss to the Titans to be evaluated for a concussion. While he quickly cleared the concussion protocol, head coach Arthur Smith said afterwards that he “didn’t think Des was right” and therefore allowed QB2 Taylor Heinicke to finish the game. Smith hoped to convey that Ridder was not kept on the sidelines for performance reasons, though Heinicke was named the Week 9 starter shortly thereafter.

At the time, we heard that the Falcons had not lost faith in Ridder, whom they selected in the third round of the 2022 draft, and were merely looking for a spark. It seems that the plan was always to reassess the situation during the bye week, and that reassessment has led Atlanta back to its second-year passer.

Heinicke suffered a hamstring injury during the club’s loss to the Cardinals last week, which forced Ridder back into the lineup. Rapoport makes it clear, however, that Heinicke’s injury was a low-grade one, so the decision to tap Ridder as the starter moving forward was not made for health reasons.

Although the Falcons are 4-6, they are just one game out of first place in the weak NFC South. And since Smith is in his third year at the helm and has missed the playoffs in each of his first two seasons, his job could be in jeopardy if his club fails to qualify for the postseason in 2023. Even if his seat is not as hot as some recent reports have indicated, he obviously will need to start winning soon to remain in Atlanta for the long haul. The fact that he is handing the keys to Ridder for a Week 12 battle with the division-leading Saints and for the home stretch of the season is something of a testament to his belief in the Cincinnati product.

“Sometimes you need a fresh perspective,” Smith said of Ridder this past week. “That’s what I think helped him. The reset, the refocus and working on things that I thought could help him, he’s done that.”

Ridder has flashed at times in 2023, but he followed up one of his strongest perfomances of the season in a Week 5 win over the Texans with a three-interception showing against the Commanders in Week 6, and he lost three redzone fumbles in the Falcons’ Week 7 win over the Buccaneers. He did play well when pressed into relief duty last week, completing four of six passes for 39 yards and piloting the offense to a touchdown that gave the Falcons a late lead.

For the season, Ridder has completed 65.4% of his passes for six touchdowns against six interceptions (which amounts to a subpar 84.1 quarterback rating, slightly below the mark he posted as a rookie). He has added 32 carries for 150 yards and four rushing scores.

NFL Injury Roundup: Saints, Watson, Heinicke, Thibodeaux

The Saints played much of the second half of their loss to the Vikings today without quarterback Derek Carr after the veteran passer took a nasty-looking hit from Danielle Hunter. It was announced that he was out for the remainder of the game with an injury to his throwing shoulder and that he was being evaluated for a concussion, according to Tom Pelissero of NFL Network.

Further reports, provided by Nick Underhill of NewOrleans.Football, claimed that while the initial belief is that Carr avoided a major shoulder injury, he will undergo more tests in order to determine the severity. Head coach Dennis Allen told the media that Carr was only held out of the game because of a concussion, per ESPN’s Katherine Terrell, and refused to comment any further on the situation.

In Carr’s absence, former starter Jameis Winston performed admirably. He only completed just over half of his pass attempts for 122 yards and threw two interceptions, but he also threw the team’s two touchdowns in order to bring the Saints within spitting distance of the Vikings. Despite Winston’s seemingly superior effectiveness, Allen assured the media that, when Carr is healthy, there is no quarterback competition.

Lastly, veteran cornerback Marshon Lattimore left the game, as well, with what is believed to be an ankle sprain, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network. He will undergo an MRI tomorrow in order to determine the severity of his ankle injury.

Here are a few other injury updates from around the NFL:

  • Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson was forced to leave the field at times today during the Browns come-from-behind victory over the division-rival Ravens. He suffered an ankle injury late in the first half of the contest and, though he remained in the game for stretches at a time, he was noticeably limping at times. After the game, Mike Garafolo of NFL Network reported that Watson was in a walking boot. Watson claimed that while “he doesn’t feel great now…(he’ll) be fine” and should be ready to go next weekend.
  • Yet another quarterback was forced to leave their game today due to injury when the Falcons‘ new starting passer, Taylor Heinicke, was forced to leave early in the fourth quarter with a hamstring injury, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN. This required Atlanta to return to former starter Desmond Ridder for the remainder of the contest. Ridder was fairly effective, leading the Falcons on a touchdown drive before failing to convert the two-point attempt that would’ve given the team a three-point lead. The team would go on to lose by those two points after Arizona kicked a game-winning field goal. This likely doesn’t change the team’s quarterback situation, if Heinicke is healthy enough to play, but hamstring injuries can be lingering and might open up more opportunities for Ridder.
  • In a blowout loss to Dallas this afternoon, Giants outside linebacker Kayvon Thibodeaux was knocked out of the game with a concussion, per NFL Network’s Jane Slater. Thibodeaux’s absence opened up some playing opportunities for Boogie Basham, who saw an increased role due to injuries last week, as well.

Taylor Heinicke To Remain Falcons’ Starter In Week 10; Team Will Evaluate QB Depth Chart During Bye

The Falcons made a switch at the quarterback spot ahead of their Week 9 game, inserting Taylor Heinicke into the starting lineup. The veteran will remain atop the depth chart for at least one more game, and a more permanent course will be charted during the team’s bye week.

Head coach Arthur Smith confirmed, via ESPN’s Michael Rothstein, that Heinicke’s performance against the Vikings was enough to earn him another start. The latter took over for Desmond Ridder during the second half of the previous game, a move which Smith initially indicated was not performance-related. However, Heinicke was tapped as the Week 9 starter in an illustration of Ridder’s Year 2 struggles.

Ridder drew praise during his four-game run at the end of last season, and he entered the 2023 campaign as the undisputed No. 1 option. The former third-rounder has not progressed as expected, though, posting a passer rating of 84 and a 6:6 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Heinicke had an encouraging showing in the second half against the Titans in Week 9, though his follow-up against the Vikings (21-of-38 passing, one touchdown, one interception) left plenty to be desired as well.

Smith made it clear that during Atlanta’s bye week evaluations, one passer will be chosen as the starter moving forward (as opposed to a rotation at the QB spot or an ongoing weekly decision on whom to place atop the depth chart). Electing to go back to Ridder would mark another sign of confidence in the 24-year-old, who has two more years remaining on his rookie contract. Carrying on with Heinicke, signed to a two-year, $14MM deal in March, would on the other hand deal a blow to Ridder’s chances of earning another chance for the starter’s gig in Atlanta.

“That’s kind of where we’re at and everything that’s going on,” Smith said. “That bye will be a good time to assess, and you certainly don’t plan on it being so week-to-week after that. But we need to do everything we can to go get this win out in Arizona. That’s going to be our ultimate focus this week.”

The 4-5 Falcons sit in second in the NFC South despite ranking 25th in the league in points per game (18.4). Their passing attack has plenty of room for improvement with an average of 241 yards per contest through the air, and an uptick in production would help Atlanta’s postseason chances while also, potentially, quieting the criticism Smith has increasingly received this season. It will be interesting to see how Heinicke performs against a Cardinals team which will have Kyler Murray in uniform and how the Falcons choose to proceed after their bye week.

Falcons To Start Taylor Heinicke In Week 9

QB shuffling will not be confined to the AFC West on Wednesday. The Falcons are also shaking up their depth chart, with Arthur Smith indicating Taylor Heinicke will start over Desmond Ridder in Week 9.

The Falcons moved Heinicke into the lineup to start the second half. While Smith said that decision was not performance-related, the free agency addition will still receive the call against the Vikings on Sunday. Rather than Ridder-Kirk Cousins, that matchup will feature Heinicke and fifth-round Minnesota rookie Jaren Hall. Once again, Smith attempted to protect Ridder by emphasizing this switch was “just for this week,” via SI.com’s Albert Breer, pointing to the team revisiting this issue soon after. Dianna Russini of The Athletic (subscription required) added that the Falcons still have a “strong belief” in Ridder and that they are simply hoping for a spark with the switch to Heinicke.

Throughout the offseason, the Falcons placed their bet on Ridder. They did not pursue Lamar Jackson during his franchise-tagged period, despite the team being on the cusp of trading for Deshaun Watson in 2022. Arthur Blank cited an interest in saving money via a rookie-QB contract, and Ridder’s four-game starter sample last season became enough for the Falcons, who proclaimed the 2022 third-rounder the starter back in March. Ridder replaced Marcus Mariota in Week 15 of last season but will return to the bench.

Ridder has submitted uneven work as Atlanta’s starter, as he did during his smaller rookie-year sample. The Cincinnati product was in place during a 4-3 start but has a 6-to-6 TD-INT ratio and is averaging 7.1 yards per attempt. QBR slots Ridder 25th. Unlike the Raiders’ Jimmy Garoppolo benching, this might not be the end of the line for Ridder, who is contracted through 2025. But Heinicke will be asked to take over — as he was in both 2021 and ’22 in Washington. After Howell threw for 71 yards and lost a fumble in the first half, Heinicke posted 175 yards and a touchdown pass.

Being called upon to match up with Tom Brady in the 2020 wild-card round, Heinicke surprisingly held his own in that matchup. Washington had signed the former UDFA late in the season. The team then needed Heinicke again in 2021, when Ryan Fitzpatrick went down 16 plays into his Washington stint. Heinicke started 15 games that season and became needed once again after a Carson Wentz hand injury sidelined the Commanders’ handpicked 2022 starter. Ron Rivera stuck with Heinicke for an extended stretch, despite Wentz returning to full strength, and the team rallied back into the wild-card race after a 1-4 start. But Rivera demoted Heinicke once again near the end of last season — first for Wentz and then for Sam Howell. After Howell impressed the team during a Week 18 one-off, Washington cut Wentz and let Heinicke walk in free agency.

An Old Dominion alum, Heinicke ranked 23rd in QBR two years ago, when he threw 20 TD passes and 15 INTs while averaging 6.9 yards per attempt. While Heinicke’s completion percentage dropped (to 62.2%), he finished with a 12-6 TD-INT ratio last season and led the Commanders to a 5-3-1 record as a starter. The Falcons gave Heinicke a two-year, $14MM deal in March. Although Jacoby Brissett received more per year, this marked the most money in total a backup QB signed for this offseason. The 30-year-old passer represented insurance, and the Falcons will go to that well early.

Falcons Replace Desmond Ridder With Taylor Heinicke At QB

In the midst of another disappointing offensive output, and after being evaluated for a concussion, Desmond Ridder has seen an interruption to his time as the Falcons’ starting quarterback. Taylor Heinicke has stepped in under center for the second half of Atlanta’s Week 8 contest.

Ridder got the start once again, continuing the QB1 status he has had throughout his second year in Atlanta. The Falcons managed just three points in the first half of their ongoing game against the Titans, however, and Ridder suffered an injury which prompted a concussion evaluation. The 24-year-old has been cleared, but in spite of that the team has turned to Heinicke in search of a spark.

The latter signed a two-year, $14MM deal this offseason after a his three-year spell in Washington, one during which he had an extended run as a starter in 2021. At a minimum, the veteran of 33 games and 25 starts was acquired to provide an experienced insurance option behind Ridder in the event of missed time. Instead, performance issues have prompted a switch for at least the remainder of this week’s contest.

Ridder went 8-for-12 passing for 71 scoreless yards before receiving the hook. On the season, the 2022 third-rounder has put up a similar completion percentage (65.4%) to his rookie campaign, but his six interceptions have marked a regression from the ball security he demonstrated last year. His passer rating has taken a slight step back from his limited action in 2022, despite eclipsing 300 passing yards twice this year.

Expectations were tempered for Ridder and the Falcons’ offense given the uncertainty surrounding Ridder. The Cincinnati product took over for Marcus Mariota for the final four games last year, but questions surrounded his ability to lead an improvement in the passing game. Entering Week 8, Atlanta ranked mid-pack with an average of 236 yards through the air, while remaining strong in the ground game as expected. For now, at least, Heinicke will receive the opportunity to take charge of the offense as the Falcons look to remain atop the NFC South.

Heinicke has a 12-12-1 carer record, having established himself as a high-floor, low-ceiling option at the QB spot. It will be interesting to see how he fares in the second half today, and how the team approaches Ridder’s status as the starter moving forward.