Losers of four of their last five games and potentially in the mix for a top pick in April’s draft, the Atlanta Falcons (5-8) are planning to start third-round rookie Desmond Ridder at quarterback against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday. In a corresponding move, former starter Marcus Mariota has left the team and may just be done with football entirely after being selected second overall by the Tennessee Titans in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Mariota, who was a backup with the Raiders for two seasons after losing his starting job in Tennessee to Ryan Tannehill in 2019, signed a two-year deal with the Falcons that included a fully-guaranteed salary of $1.75 million for the 2022 season and a $5 million signing bonus. The decision to bench the 29-year-old quarterback for Ridder was “performance-based,” according to Falcons head coach Arthur Smith. Atlanta is not sure if Mariota, who started the first 13 games of the season, will return to the team and it seems the club plans on placing him on injured reserve.
Never a star player despite his high draft position, Mariota was 184-for-300 passing for 2,219 yards, 15 touchdowns and nine interceptions this season with an 88.2 passer rating (21st in the league). While far from overwhelming, those numbers are actually fairly decent considering the only real offensive playmaker he was throwing the ball to was tight end Kyle Pitts, who is now on injured reserve.
“There is risk anytime you make a move, but you have to be willing to take that if you want to break through,” Smith said. “We have been in a lot of close games, made a lot of progress, but our objective is to get over that hump. If it benefits us in the long term, that’s a really good thing for us.”
As for Mariota, his status moving forward with the team remains unclear but it seems like a fairly good bet that Atlanta will release him. Should that happen, it will be interesting to see if another NFL takes a chance on Mariota or if he decides that enough is enough and moves on from the league. (If he does stick around, the Cardinals could use him.)
When Ridder starts against the Saints on Sunday, he’ll become the sixth rookie quarterback to start a game during the 2022 season. It will be the seventh consecutive season in which at least six rookie quarterbacks started at least one game. Logan Woodside, a seventh-round draft pick in 2018, will serve as Ridder’s backup against New Orleans.
Along with the Panthers (5-8), the Falcons trail Tampa Bay (6-7) for first place by one game in the putrid NFC South.