Atlanta Falcons GM doesn’t rule out selecting 1st-round QB in 2021 NFL Draft

Atlanta Falcons GM doesn't rule out selecting 1st-round QB in 2021 NFL Draft
Jan 3, 2021; Tampa, Florida, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) throws the ball against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first quarter at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot is in his first year on the job after leaving the NFC South rival Saints’ front office, and is already drumming up intrigue with his recent remarks about potentially selecting a quarterback in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft.

Although Fontenot didn’t say verbatim that the Falcons would be in the QB market with the fourth overall pick, he didn’t exactly rule it out either.

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Atlanta Falcons GM Terry Fontenot on creating QB competition

Despite the sustained success incumbent signal-caller Matt Ryan has enjoyed during his tenure in Atlanta, Fontenot said in an interview with NFL Network’s Jim Trotter and Steve Wyche on their Huddle & Flow podcast that he’s not exactly averse to bringing in another QB to push the veteran Matty Ice (h/t NFL.com for the quotes).

“We want a culture of competition,” Fontenot said. “And we’re going to do that at every position, whether it’s [quarterback] or whether it’s [wide receiver]. You look at (former Packers GM) Ron Wolf. You always bring in quarterbacks.”

Fontenot is determined to rebuild the Falcons quickly, but it doesn’t seem like building on strengths like quarterback and receiver would be the fastest way to do something like that. Yes, star players like Ryan and receiver Julio Jones are on the back nine of their careers, yet they haven’t been the problem in Atlanta of late.

With all the needs the Falcons have on the defensive side of the ball, it’s at least a little puzzling that Fontenot wouldn’t put to bed the notion that Atlanta will try to bring in Ryan’s successor early in the 2021 draft. Then again, it could be part of a larger scheme to drive up interest in a potential trade down with a team that needs a quarterback solution.

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How can Atlanta Falcons add to QB depth chart in 2021 offseason?

Dec 6, 2020; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) runs to escape a tackle by New Orleans Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan (94) during the second half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

There’s always the chance that Ryan gets traded. However, he’s been in Atlanta for his entire NFL career since the franchise drafted him third overall in 2008 and has missed only three starts in his 13 years under center. It’s hard to replace that type of consistency and durability at the most important position on the field, but with Fontenot and new head coach Arthur Smith sparking a regime change, there’s always a chance the Falcons could go in a different direction philosophically.

Fontenot appears to be bullish on Ryan and Jones regarding their outlook for the 2021 campaign, but as the Falcons try to build a sustainable winner, it’s possible a solution in the draft, free agency, or trade market could allow Atlanta to move on from Ryan, who will turn 36 in May.

Presuming Ryan stays, though, barring a crazy trade scenario, the Falcons may have their pick at either the second- or third-best quarterback in the 2021 draft class. Whether they like someone enough in that spot to pull the trigger on the pick is another matter entirely.

What’s been great about Ryan is that he’s never been injured to the point where Atlanta has had to worry about a backup QB. The longer he plays, the more of a concern it should be. Perhaps the Falcons could trade a Day 2 draft choice to the New York Jets to land someone like Sam Darnold, who wouldn’t immediately press Ryan for playing time and could take his time to learn a system that suits his strengths.

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Since Fontenot was just in New Orleans’ front office and had to have a hand in acquiring Jameis Winston last offseason, perhaps he could convince Winston to leave the Saints and join Atlanta, with the eventual aim to overtake the reins form Ryan when the time is right. But with Drew Brees likely retiring, Winston could compete for the Saints’ starting gig in 2021 if things fall right.

There just aren’t a lot of options beyond the draft for the Falcons, and if a young QB is drafted high, the increasing expectation in the modern NFL is that he plays right away. Fontenot might do well to ingratiate himself with the Falcons to just flat-out say Ryan is the guy for 2021, but again, he could just be driving draft night trade interest.

The best-case Falcons draft scenario? Atlanta trades down from fourth overall and lands a defensive player it might’ve drafted anyway.

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