Falcons' Blank excited about building around Ridder at QB
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By CHARLES ODUM
Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank said Wednesday he is encouraged by the progress of quarterback Desmond Ridder and the potential of building around the rookie.
Blank, speaking with Falcons reporters via phone from the Super Bowl, expressed confidence in the direction of the team following a 7-10 finish under second-year coach Arthur Smith. As others have speculated the Falcons could have interest in a high-priced quarterback like Lamar Jackson, who has just finished his rookie contract with the Baltimore Ravens, Smith spoke of the advantages of building around Ridder and his rookie contract.
"When you have that opportunity, that's the perfect set of circumstances," Blank said. "The perfect storm, if you will, in a positive way, not a negative way. When you have a quarterback who you draft and have for four or five years, that's a really big deal."
After trading quarterback Matt Ryan to Indianapolis in March, the Falcons were burdened by a record $63 million in dead cap space in the 2022 season but will have a replenished budget for free agency this offseason.
Using the Super Bowl setting in Phoenix to support his stance, Blank did not sound enthusiastic about the option of again devoting an unhealthy portion of the team's payroll to one position.
"In the history of the Super Bowl, there hasn't been one quarterback that represented 20% or more of the roster compensation," Blank said. "So we were actually at that point with Matt."
Blank said a future with Ridder at quarterback would present "a unique opportunity, a unique window there, and even once you're beyond that, in the second contract, you want to make sure you do it in a balanced, thoughtful way so you can build a roster.
"As good as a quarterback may be, and they're certainly a big part of a winning formula, they can't play by themselves. There's 21 other (starters) that need to play as well so we're committed to the position obviously and we know we need to think about it and I think we have already."
The Falcons opened the season with Marcus Mariota at quarterback before Ridder started the final four games in the run-first offense. Atlanta was 2-2 in Ridder's starts. He completed 63.5% of his passes for 708 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
While the team will need to add depth at quarterback, Blank expressed optimism about building around Ridder as the starter. Smith hasn't committed to Ridder as next season's starter, hinting of a decision yet to be made.
Blank sounded excited about Ridder's future.
"I would say this is true of the whole organization, I think we're very excited about Desmond Ridder," Blank said.
"From my viewpoint, these last four games he played better in each of the games. ... Having zero interceptions is a big deal in the NFL."
The Falcons will be looking to end a streak of five straight losing seasons in 2023, the third season with general manager Terry Fontenot and Smith. They will have the No. 8 pick in this year's NFL draft.
Blank said he's looking for improvement after having no more than seven wins in five consecutive seasons.
"I would say my expectations in terms of competitiveness would be higher," Blank said. "I think coach would tell you that and Terry would tell you that. If it's higher, that should translate to more wins.
"We have a lot of young players that have developed at a very nice level and really have their best capabilities going forward, so I feel good about where we are. And I think we have every reason as a fan and an owner to feel better about our team than we have in the last couple of years."
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Updated February 8, 2023