Thursday, September 22, 2022

Falcons Hall of Famer Makes Marcus Mariota Super Bowl Prediction

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Marcus Mariota is responsible for restoring the Atlanta Falcons to a Super Bowl contender in the post-Matt Ryan era. It’s a tall order for a quarterback who lost his starting job with the Tennessee Titans despite being drafted second overall in 2015 and then spending the last two years as Derek Carr’s backup with the Las Vegas Raiders.

Mariota is trying to rekindle his career in Atlanta, where he plays for his former Titans offensive coordinator, now Falcons head coach Arthur Smith. Bringing the Falcons back to the playoffs for the first time since 2017 is the only tangible way for Mariota to show progress.

A Pro Football Hall of Fame member who was named an All-Pro and attended four Pro Bowls as a member of the Falcons believes there is enough playoff-level talent around Mariota. This NFL great has given his verdict on whether the team’s QB1 can make the difference and eventually inspire an improving roster to win a championship.

Tony Gonzalez sat down with Kelly Price from Fox 5 Sports and evaluated the Falcons’ playoff chances. While the all-time great tight end had praise for Smith and a developing defense, Gonzalez warned cautiously about Mariota, “I love Marcus Mariota, he’s a good quarterback, but when you talk about the Super Bowl, just look at them.” Names who have played in the Super Bowl in the last 20 years. It’s the last name Manning, Brady, Mahomes, Wilson. Drew Brees, Rodgers. It’s the kind of quarterbacks you need to have at the helm if you’re ever going to be a Super Bowl caliber team.

The Falcons “are going to have to get that kind of quarterback, that franchise quarterback, at some point,” according to Gonzalez.

In a way, what Gonzalez says is nothing new. It’s likely the same view many Reconstruction Falcons observers have of Mariota and the team’s broader QB situation.

While it may seem extremely premature for a team that won 7-10 last season and opened the new campaign by losing to the New Orleans Saints to even call it a Super Bowl, a championship is the ultimate goal for anyone Franchise.

To that end, what Gonzalez says has a lot of value. The Falcons need a blue chip signal caller capable of uplifting every other unit on the team.

What’s intriguing about that statement is how Smith and general manager Terry Fontenot might go about acquiring one. There is no shortage of exciting options.

The easiest route to a potential marquee passer, at least financially, is to use a first-round pick for a premium prospect in next year’s draft. It’s the path that CBS Sports’ Josh Edwards took for the Falcons, with the team citing Ohio State’s CJ Stroud as the overall winner: “I by no means believe Stroud locked in the No. 1 overall pick, but I do believe he did strong is contender. Atlanta may have hope for Desmond Ridder, but realistically there won’t be enough to see to justify bypassing a #1 overall quarterback.”

What is significant about Edward’s prediction is how it accounts for Desmond Ridder. This year’s third-round pick is widely expected to replace Mariota as a starter sometime in the 2022 season and prove himself as the quarterback of the Falcons’ future.

Edwards obviously doesn’t think Ridder lives up to the bill. He also points out how tempting picking a first-round passer will be when the Falcons pick another front-end pick next April.

Walter Football’s Walter Cherepinsky believes this will happen, and he lets the Falcons pick Kentucy’s fifth-pick Will Levis. Levis showed his arm strength already this season against tough SEC opponents:

Few teams will pass up an opportunity for a gifted quarterback in the first round, even if it means stacking talent at football’s most important position. The Falcons may not have the latter luxury, nor are they likely to make a splash in the free hand.

Lamar Jackson will lead the Veteran class of available QBs as of 2023. He would be a dream for the Falcons, especially after a season in which he integrated Mariota’s mobility into offense.

The problem is that the cost of signing Jackson would be significant and likely prohibitive for the Falcons to win the 2019 NFL MVP. Fontenot has worked hard to alleviate the Falcons’ salary cap woes, making space worth $9,108,969, according to Spotrac.com. The same source estimates the team will be $48,482,706 below the 2023 cap.

Perhaps the Falcons could clear the decks for Jackson, but it seems more likely that the Baltimore Ravens will eventually reach a compromise over a new contract with their franchise QB.

The Falcons might be looking for one of these in a few months, but it’s still possible that Mariota will bounce back in style, or that Ridder will take the reins and belie his draft status. Last but not least, Smith and Fontenot have plenty of methods to solve any team’s biggest dilemma.

The problem is that the cost of signing Jackson would be significant and likely prohibitive for the Falcons to win the 2019 NFL MVP. Fontenot has worked hard to alleviate the Falcons’ salary cap woes, making space worth $9,108,969, according to Spotrac.com. The same source estimates the team will be $48,482,706 below the 2023 cap.



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