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Marcus Mariota steps away from Atlanta Falcons after getting benched

Back in March, the Atlanta Falcons signed quarterback Marcus Mariota to a two-year, $18.7 million contract. In doing so, the 29-year-old was reuniting with head coach Arthur Smith, who coached the Tennessee Titans for the first five seasons of Mariota’s career.

It appeared to be a good fit for the No. 2 overall pick of the 2015 NFL Draft, giving him a chance to rejuvenate his career after two seasons as a backup with the Las Vegas Raiders.

Yet, just a month after signing on the dotted line, the Falcons selected Cincinnati QB Desmond Ridder in the third round, with the 74th pick in the draft. This led some to speculate that Mariota was simply serving as a bridge quarterback, which was likely always the plan.

While Mariota was essentially handed the keys to the offense early on, after falling to 5-8, coach Smith decided to make a QB change, noting Ridder would be taking over under center, citing “performance” as the reason why. After 13 starts, Mariota heads to the bench.

It’s undoubtedly an unfortunate turn of events for the former Oregon star, but he’s not exactly handing the situation with grace.

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Marcus Mariota quits on Atlanta Falcons, could hit IR, or waivers

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Washington Commanders
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

While the Falcons QB is also dealing with a knee injury, it’s not believed to be one serious enough to keep him out of action if he were still set to play. But with Ridder promoted to the starting spot, Mariota has suddenly bailed on his teammates, stepping away from the Falcons altogether.

According to Josh Kendall of The Athletic, the organization “doesn’t know if Mariota will be back.”

The Falcons are instead expected to place Mariota on injured reserve, which would ensure he’s out of commission until Week 18 at the earliest, which is the final game of the regular season.

Another potential option is opting to release Mariota, giving him a chance to pass through waivers. In this scenario, it’s possible a team vying for a playoff spot would give him a chance, or maybe another non-contender would prefer gambling on Mariota creating a late-season spark.

There are plenty of teams who are scrambling at QB late in the year, with the Houston Texans employing an extremely rare rotation and the Baltimore Ravens down to their third-string QB Anthony Brown. The San Francisco 49ers may also have interest in Mariota as a backup to sudden rookie sensation Brock Purdy.

No matter what, landing with a new crew would be better than wasting away on IR for the rest of the year. The Falcons have since signed Logan Woodside to be Ridder’s immediate backup. Feleipe Franks also still lingers, but he has since switched to tight end.

Who knows what happens with Marcus Mariota, but for now, the Atlanta Falcons are Desmond Ridder’s team.

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