Guest of the League
Best Ball Championship 13191
FFL: Offseason | NFL: Superbowl

Mariota or Ridder? Slumping Falcons ponder change at QB

Thu Dec 8 6:45pm ET
By PAUL NEWBERRY
AP Sports Writer

Related photo caption below

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder (4) throws the ball before the start of an NFL football game against the Washington Commanders, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022, in Landover, Md. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)


Related photo caption below

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin speaks with Atlanta Falcons head coach Arthur Smith after an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022, in Atlanta. The Pittsburgh Steelers won 19-16. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)


Related photo caption below

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota (1) passes the ball as Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Devin Bush (55) makes a hit during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)


Related photo caption below

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota (1) works in the pocket against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)


ATLANTA (AP) Mired in a monthlong slump but somehow still in playoff contention, the Atlanta Falcons are definitely planning changes during their bye week.

Some will be subtle. Perhaps a tweak of a scheme, some different formations, a new play or two.

But one could be a really big deal.

A switch at quarterback.

Marcus Mariota has taken every snap for the Falcons this season, showing flashes of reviving his floundering career, but it's clear coach Arthur Smith is looking for more from his offense heading into the final quarter of the season.

If Smith decides to bench Mariota, rookie Desmond Ridder is the next man up.

While Atlanta fans have been clamoring to get a look at the third-round pick who led Cincinnati to the College Football Playoff a season ago, Smith is mindful of the gamble he'd be taking by going with an untested player in such a prominent role at this late stage of the year.

Especially when the Falcons, despite losing four of their last five games to drop to 5-8, are just 1 1/2 games behind Tampa Bay (6-6) in the NFC South and will close the regular season at home against the Buccaneers.

''You want to make sure you're bringing guys along the right way,'' Smith said. ''There have been guys that have gone out there, maybe too early, and it probably altered their career. There have been other guys that you could make a strong argument they probably should have been out there a little bit earlier.''

The Falcons are in the middle of the NFL pack in scoring, ranking 15th at 22.2 points a game, but a strong running game is the primary reason for their offensive success.

Atlanta ranks second in the league at 158.9 yards rushing per game, but the passing game is next-to-last at 155.7 yards. That's not entirely Mariota's fault, since Smith has gone with a ball-control offense in an attempt to cover the Falcons' weaknesses, but that strategy has done little more than keep games close over the past five weeks.

The last four losses have been by a total of 22 points, three of them coming down to the last possession.

Two of those ended with Mariota throwing interceptions, undoubtedly causing Smith to wonder if he's got the right guy at the top of the QB depth chart.

The coach said Ridder has shown plenty of improvement at practice, but he's yet to get on the field in a game that counts.

''There are things that we've tried to do with all of our young players, things that we do behind the scenes that we add into practices,'' Smith said. ''Some of the things that we do to try to make it hard on them to try to see where their progress is at. With a lot of our young guys, we feel pretty damn good about where they are.''

He wouldn't go into specifics about Ridder, clearly not wanting to tip his hand. Smith will hold out until Monday, when the players return from their off week, to announce any personnel changes.

Mariota said he's not concerned about losing the No. 1 job, which already happened to him once in his career.

''That's not where my mind is at,'' he said after the latest setback, a 19-16 loss to the Steelers. ''At the end of the day, they have to make a decision that's best for the team, and whatever happens, happens.''

The No. 2 overall pick by Tennessee in the 2015 draft, Mariota started 61 games over his first 4 1/2 seasons before being benched by the Titans.

In 2020, he moved on to Las Vegas, where he barely played at all for the Raiders over the last two seasons. Mariota got a second chance with the Falcons and Smith, a former Titans assistant who handed him the job after longtime starter Matt Ryan was dealt to the Colts in a cost-cutting move.

Smith stood by Mariota over the first 13 weeks, but that support seems to be wavering with the Falcons averaging just 17.6 points in their last five games.

''We'll evaluate everything,'' the coach said. ''Every job.''

Mariota blamed the Falcons' offensive woes on third down. Over the last five games, Atlanta has converted just a third of the time in those situations (17 of 51) while often facing long yardage.

''It starts on third down,'' Mariota said. ''If we're not able to convert third downs, we're not getting any more plays, we're not allowing ourselves opportunities to score points. So, it always kind of starts there for the quarterback position.''

While the playoffs weren't really on the Falcons' radar at the beginning of what was supposed to be a rebuilding season, the weakness of the NFC South - where the four teams have a cumulative record of 19-31 - has opened an unexpected door.

The Falcons, whose next game is at division rival New Orleans on Dec. 18, are running out of opportunities to walk through it.

''Unless you literally don't have a phone ... yeah, you're aware of it,'' Smith said of the playoff possibilities. ''We need to get a win. So, whatever we have to do, we have to find a way to try to beat New Orleans down there.''

Even it means a change at quarterback.

Top Headlines
The Paur Report

Interview with TFC Winner

Player Notes
Nathaniel Hackett Feb 4 9:40pm ET
Nathaniel Hackett

The Denver Broncos are allowing Ejiro Evero out of his contract, according to NFL.com's Ian Rapoport. In simpler terms, the two sides are parting ways. On one hand, this move comes as a surprise considering the Broncos want to form a mega-staff under Sean Payton and Evero, who received several head coaching interviews, is viewed as a defensive mastermind. On the other hand, Evero was a member of Nathaniel Hackett's coaching staff and turned down Denver's interim head coaching job after Hackett was fired. As a result, it became clear that Evero did not see himself remaining with the Broncos long-term. Rapoport notes that the Vikings, who have a vacancy at defensive coordinator, are viewed as a possible landing spot for Evero. The same goes for the Panthers, who interviewed Evero for their head coaching job before hiring Frank Reich.

From RotoBaller

Mike McCarthy Feb 4 9:30pm ET
Mike McCarthy

The Dallas Cowboys have hired Brian Schottenheimer as their offensive coordinator, according to Michael Gehlken of the Dallas Morning News. The team needed to fill the vacancy after firing Kellen Moore. Schottenheimer most recently served as a Cowboys consultant in 2022 but does have experience as an offensive coordinator, filling that same role for the Seahawks from 2018 to 2020. Interestingly, although Schottenheimer will be in charge of the offense, head coach Mike McCarthy intends to call plays next season.

From RotoBaller

Josh Jacobs Feb 4 9:30pm ET
Josh Jacobs

Las Vegas Raiders impending free agent running back Josh Jacobs "wants to be back but won't settle," according to Tashan Reed of The Athletic. There is mutual interest in keeping Jacobs in Las Vegas long-term, but the reigning rushing champion won't come cheap. Jacobs timed everything just right, compiling impressive stats in a contract year. The 24-year-old ultimately finished 2022 with 1,653 rushing yards, 400 receiving yards, and 12 touchdowns, all of which are career-highs. Jacobs' outlook for next season is contingent on where he signs, but if he does return to Vegas, we can consider him a strong RB1 option heading into fantasy football drafts.

From RotoBaller

Frank Reich Feb 4 2:50pm ET
Frank Reich

Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero has been a hot commodity in this year's coaching carousel, interviewing for head-coach openings with the Carolina Panthers, Arizona Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Houston Texans. Now that the Panthers have hired Frank Reich, they have requested to interview Evero again, but this time for the team's vacant defensive coordinator position. The Minnesota Vikings would also like to interview Evero for their defensive coordinator job, but Denver has not yet granted either team permission. The 42-year-old Evero remains firmly in the mix as a candidate for Arizona and Indianapolis, but because he is still under contract with the Broncos, it seems that the organization would be reluctant to let him go should he not be hired elsewhere as a head coach.

From RotoBaller

Bijan Robinson Feb 4 2:20pm ET
Bijan Robinson

University of Texas running back Bijan Robinson is widely considered to be the best prospect at his position in the 2023 NFL Draft class. Although a running back has not been selected higher than pick 24 since Saquon Barkley in 2018, ESPN's Mel Kiper stated that he believes Robinson will be drafted in the first round. Kiper went on to describe Robinson as "top-10 caliber" in this year's draft. The 21-year-old possesses an elite three-down skillset, posting 3,410 rushing yards, 60 receptions, 805 receiving yards, and 41 total touchdowns in his three collegiate seasons. Robinson figures to make an immediate impact on any team willing to spend up to get him on April 27th.

From RotoBaller

Zach Wilson Feb 4 12:13pm ET
Zach Wilson

Dynasty | Zach Wilson will likely remain with the Jets organization in hopes that he can develop in a backup role Dynasty Analysis: The article plainly points out that the Jets have exactly two choices: 1) Release him or, 2) Keep him; Wilson has no trade value. With a very palatable $3.8M expense for 2023, there's little reason for the team to move on and Wilson, for his part, appears determine to get better. There's a big difference between NFL reality and fantasy reality. A veteran backup would also exceed the cost of Wilson. He's been so bad under-center and without blue skies on the horizon, he's a difficult hold in dynasty. Amazingly, Wilson still possesses a QB25 ranking but is in steep decline and he'll likely fall as the quarterback situation in New York becomes more clear. At this juncture, Zach Wilson is a fading dynasty asset and, arguably, may only be a roster candidate in deeper dynasty leagues.

From Dynasty League Fantasy

Geno Smith Feb 3 9:30pm ET
Geno Smith

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith is fresh off a career-best season and is now in pursuit of a long-term contract as a pending free agent. It has been reported for a few weeks that the Seahawks are expected to bring the 32-year-old back, and the two sides have begun negotiations since falling to the San Francisco 49ers in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. "It's looking very good," Smith said of his contract discussions with Seattle on Pro Bowl Live on SiriusXM NFL Radio. Smith also stated that he has a great relationship with the organization and loves the city. Assuming talks continue trending in a positive direction, a deal is likely to get done before March 15th, when free agency officially begins.

From RotoBaller

Lamar Jackson Feb 3 6:40pm ET
Lamar Jackson

The Baltimore Ravens interviewed Georgia offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Todd Monken for a second time on Friday for their offensive coordinator opening, according to sources. Monken is one of a handful of candidates that have received a second interview with the Ravens, and he also interviewed for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' open offensive coordinator position. Other candidates that the Ravens have been considering include Eric Bieniemy, Dave Canales, Doug Nussmeier, Zac Robinson, Justin Outten, Chad O'Shea, James Urban and George Godsey. Monkey previously served as an offensive coordinator for the Buccaneers and Cleveland Browns. Baltimore's next OC will get to work with one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the league in Lamar Jackson.

From RotoBaller

Russell Wilson Feb 3 6:30pm ET
Russell Wilson

The Denver Broncos officially signed new head coach Sean Payton to a five-year deal on Friday, tying him to the team through the 2027 season, according to sources. In order to pry Payton away from the New Orleans Saints, who he was still under contract with, the Broncos had to fork over a 2023 first-rounder and a 2024 second-rounder to the Saints. Denver fired first-year head coach Nathaniel Hackett midway through the 2022 season after a disappointing start that saw quarterback Russell Wilson have the worst season of his career. While the Broncos still have some interesting weapons on offense and a solid unit on defense, Payton will have plenty of work to do to get Wilson back on track in 2023 and beyond.

From RotoBaller

Brandon Aiyuk Feb 3 6:20pm ET
Brandon Aiyuk

The Athletic's Matt Barrows writes that he'd be very surprised if the San Francisco 49ers trade wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk this offseason. The Niners are light on receivers, and Danny Gray didn't light up the stat sheet in 2022. If the team picks up Aiyuk's fifth-year option in May, he'll be under contract for two more years. Barrows thinks the 49ers will hold tight in 2023 and start considering a contract extension in 2024. The 24-year-old posted career-highs in catches (78), targets (114), receiving yards (1,015) and touchdowns (eight) in 17 regular season starts in his third NFL season while working with quarterbacks Trey Lance, Jimmy Garoppolo and Brock Purdy. With more stability under center potentially in 2023, Aiyuk could be just as good, if not better, for fantasy managers.

From RotoBaller

Derek Carr Feb 3 6:10pm ET
Derek Carr

The Las Vegas Raiders have already granted quarterback Derek Carr permission to speak with other teams interested in trading for him that have also agreed to compensation with the Raiders, according to sources. It's the same arrangement the Houston Texans had with quarterback Deshaun Watson last offseason before he was dealt to the Cleveland Browns. Carr said on Thursday at the Pro Bowl that he wouldn't be extending the Feb. 15 deadline for $40.4 million in guarantees, so the Raiders would have to outright release him if they can't find a trade partner by that date. Either way, the 31-year-old veteran will draw plenty of interest from a handful of teams seeking upgrades under center heading into 2023. Carr's fantasy value next season will all depend on where he winds up.

From RotoBaller

Trey Lance Feb 3 6:10pm ET
Trey Lance

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Trey Lance (ankle, leg) said that he wouldn't be focusing on his throwing mechanics early in the offseason. "I feel like I'm in a really good spot," Lance said. He plans to remain in Santa Clara, Calif., for around the next three weeks to finish up his rehab before working on some other things. "I feel like I've got a much better plan this offseason. I said the same things last year. But even more (this year). As the years go on they get better just in knowing what they want from me and where I feel I'm at my best." Jimmy Garoppolo is a free agent and won't be returning, and Brock Purdy (elbow) may not be full go by training camp after tearing his UCL in the NFC Championship game. Lance, who is the former first-rounder, feels like the early favorite this offseason to open 2023 as San Fran's starting QB, if he's healthy.

From RotoBaller

Mecole Hardman Feb 3 5:50pm ET
Mecole Hardman

Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Mecole Hardman (pelvis) didn't practice all week and is listed as doubtful to play in the Super Bowl on Sunday, Feb. 12, against the Philadelphia Eagles. Hardman really wants to play in the big game and has been seeking second opinions after aggravating a core injury in the AFC Championship win over the Cincinnati Bengals last weekend. The AFC Championship contest was Hardman's first game action since initially suffering a core injury in Week 9. All signs are pointing toward him missing the big game next Sunday, but that could change if he's able to return to practice at some point next week. The Chiefs are banged up at the position with JuJu Smith-Schuster (knee) and Kadarius Toney (ankle, hamstring) also questionable to play against the Eagles.

From RotoBaller

Josiah Scott Feb 3 5:50pm ET
Josiah Scott

Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Avonte Maddox (toe) was held out of practice on Friday as a precaution, and the expectation is that he will be ready to play in Super Bowl LVII against the Kansas City Chiefs next Sunday, according to a league source. Maddox was seen with a walking boot on his left foot after missing more than a month late in the year with a toe injury. The 26-year-old played only 19 defensive snaps in the NFC Championship win over the San Francisco 49ers last weekend, but it sounds as though he'll be available to play in the big game. Still, even if Maddox is active for the Eagles secondary, Josiah Scott could see more slot duties if Maddox isn't 100 percent.

From RotoBaller

Kadarius Toney Feb 3 5:40pm ET
Kadarius Toney

Kansas City Chiefs wide receivers JuJu Smith-Schuster (knee) and Kadarius Toney (ankle, hamstring) both missed practice all week and are listed as questionable for the Super Bowl against the Philadelphia Eagles on Feb. 12. Smith-Schuster and Toney were both forced out of the AFC Championship early with injuries, but the Chiefs remain optimistic that they will both be available for the Super Bowl after another week to rest up. Mecole Hardman (pelvis) also missed practice all week and is doubtful to play in the big game, so if Smith-Schuster and/or Toney are limited or out for the Super Bowl, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, rookie Skyy Moore and Justin Watson would be asked to step up in the passing game.

From RotoBaller

Darrell Henderson Feb 3 1:13pm ET
Darrell Henderson

Dynasty | According to The Athletic, the belief is that the Rams would like to "build off" what Cam Akers was able to accomplish late in the 2022 season Dynasty Analysis: It's music to the ears of dynasty coaches rostering Akers. Following a tumultuous year in which the back appeared to be on the way out, he returned to the team, the Rams summarily released Darrell Henderson, and Akers performed as most fantasy players expected he would to start the season. The 23-year-old runner scored six touchdowns over his final six games and finished the season with three 100-yard performances, while also chipping in with six receptions. Listed as DLF's RB31, it's obvious dynasty coaches remain stung by the mid-season drama, but enterprising coaches who took advantage of plummeting risk-on opportunity may be rewarded with a young upside runner who could turn in RB1 production in 2023. The fact remains that Sean McVay remains one of the NFL's most mercurial coaches and when it comes to running backs, any back in the team's room is risk-on.

From Dynasty League Fantasy

Aaron Rodgers Feb 3 1:13pm ET
Aaron Rodgers

Dynasty | Aaron Rodgers is still in play for the Raiders Dynasty Analysis: The story reads more as possibility than probability while connecting the dots should Rodgers choose to depart Green Bay. The belief is the Raiders, instead, will select a rookie thrower in the first two rounds of the 2023 NFL Draft to be groomed behind a short-term veteran starter. The cost to acquire Rodgers, now 39, will be sky high and the team may wish to simply do a full reboot at the position. Rodgers, DLF's QB14 has yet to indicate whether he plans on staying, going or retiring.

From Dynasty League Fantasy

Frank Reich Feb 3 12:50pm ET
Frank Reich

New York Giants defensive coordinator Don "Wink" Martindale is considered a a front-runner for the Indianapolis Colts' head-coaching job, according to a source. The Colts are considering a rare third round of interviews with a select few finalist following an extensive second round of interviews that includes nine candidates. The Colts fired Frank Reich in the middle of the 2022 season, and interim head coach Jeff Saturday remains in play for the full-time job despite going 1-7 down the stretch. If the Giants lose Martindale, they could take a look at Lou Anarumo, Steve Wilks, Sean Desai or Jerome Henderson for their defensive coordinator position.

From RotoBaller

Brett Maher Feb 3 12:40pm ET
Brett Maher

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said earlier this week that the team will be starting over at kicker in 2023, meaning they will move on from kicker Brett Maher. The 33-year-old will become a free agent next month, but the Cowboys won't be re-signing him after he famously missed six of his final seven extra-point attempts in the team's final three games. It was a tough way to close out his season after he made 29 of his 32 field-goal tries during the regular season, which was timed for third in the NFL. Maher should get another shot with another team in 2023, but it won't guarantee that he'll be fantasy relevant like he was with the Cowboys before he got the yips to close out the year.

From RotoBaller

Demarcus Robinson Feb 3 12:30pm ET
Demarcus Robinson

Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Demarcus Robinson (hernia) underwent sports-hernia surgery earlier this week, he announced on his official Instagram page. Robinson will become an unrestricted free agent next month, but the injury shouldn't limit him much, if at all, for offseason workouts. The 28-year-old was needed to step up for the Ravens in 2022 due to a season-ending injury to No. 1 receiver Rashod Bateman (foot). In 17 regular season games for Baltimore, Robinson recorded a career-high 48 receptions on a career-high 75 targets for 458 yards and two touchdowns. He became fantasy relevant for managers hurting at the receiver position, but Robinson will be more of a long shot for more playing time in 2023, depending on where he lands in free agency.

From RotoBaller