The Atlanta Falcons’ quarterback competition in 2022 wasn’t the most exciting in the NFL, and it wasn’t even really much of a competition. As many NFL fans saw unfold on the Netflix series Quarterback, it was pretty much Marcus Mariota’s job from the minute he signed in free agency. Mariota signed a two-year deal worth almost $19 million in total money with $6.75 million guaranteed at signing. Not the biggest quarterback contract in the league, but certainly showed the Falcons intended for Mariota to play.
In the 2023 offseason, Taylor Heinicke signed a pretty similar deal with the Falcons: 2 years, $14 million, $6.32 million guaranteed. Again, it’s not the biggest quarterback contract ever, but it’s not chump change, either, and was one of the biggest “backup” deals signed in 2023 by any other quarterback.
Is there a QB controversy brewing in Atlanta between Heinicke and Desmond Ridder? I think there very well could be. Desmond Ridder didn’t show enough in the final few games of last season to be the unquestioned starter going into the 2023 season, and the price the Atlanta Falcons paid for Heinicke is indicative that they think something similar. Ridder was just a third-round pick, so the Falcons are also not bound to him in terms of the draft capital invested.
Heinicke has been one of the league’s more interesting quarterbacks the last few seasons. As the primary starter for Washington since 2021, the team’s record with Heinicke at the helm was 12-12-1 and Heinicke almost led the Commanders to a playoff win over Tom Brady and the Buccaneers.
He’s not the type of quarterback that’s going to go out there and throw for 300 yards per week, but Heinicke is a gamer who keeps his team in a game with playmaking ability and mental toughness. He made his share of mistakes with the Commanders, throwing 21 interceptions in 26 total games for the team while also fumbling 14 total times in that timeframe, but he also orchestrated five game-winning drives and fourth-quarter comebacks.
Heinicke has been tested in actual NFL action, and he is very good as a runner at the QB position. The Falcons are in a position right now where they are going to need their quarterback to help the playmakers they’ve invested in successful. Players like Kyle Pitts, Drake London, and now Bijan Robinson all have the chance to really elevate this Atlanta Falcons offense, but the wrong quarterback is going to stifle their growth and ability to impact games.
Heinicke may only be viewed by some as a “bridge” or a “game manager” who can run, but that has tremendous value to NFL coaches, especially coaches whose jobs are on the line. If you can prove you can win with guys like Heinicke and Mariota, you give your GM proof that he can go out and take a bigger swing on a quarterback.
There should be immense pressure on Desmond Ridder this offseason. Ridder has intriguing skills, but he wasn’t a first-round pick, he doesn’t have a huge salary guarantee, and he shouldn’t be feeling comfortable with that QB1 label at this point for the Atlanta Falcons.