By: Robert Bishop
Back again, and fallout from the Deshaun Watson saga dominated the NFL landscape on Monday as the quarterback carousel kept on spinning. The Falcons were one of the teams in pursuit of Watson, and by coming up short in the effort, embraced a full-fledged rebuild. Jump-starting the process, Atlanta shipped veteran quarterback Matt Ryan to the Indianapolis Colts, ending the former MVP’s storied run with the franchise. In return, the Falcons received a third-round pick, helping to recoup some of the loss in draft capital incurred by last year’s disastrously failed acquisition of Carson Wentz.
Ryan will be the third starting quarterback in as many seasons for the Colts, and though Indianapolis boasts a solid roster, contending for a playoff spot will be challenging in the loaded AFC. In 2021, Ryan was viewed as a failure for leading the Falcons to a surprisingly competitive 7-10 record. While Ryan, who will play 2022 at the age of 37, has regressed from his MVP-caliber peak, he remains a competent starting quarterback. His struggles last season were primarily the fault of terrible offensive line play and one of the NFL’s worst collection of pass-catchers. Indianapolis’s offensive line has upside provided Quenton Nelson returns to All-Pro form. Still, the team’s receiving corps needs pieces around receiver Michael Pittman Jr. to maximize Ryan’s narrow window for success.
With Ryan jettisoned out of town, the Falcons were suddenly in the market for a starting quarterback for the first time in 14 years. Atlanta didn’t take long to land on a replacement, signing Marcus Mariota to a two-year deal. Though he has never lived up to status as a top draft prospect, Mariota has a solid season on his resume (2017) and proved to be a capable backup in recent years. Though he lacks upside, and even Atlanta is likely viewing him as a bridge quarterback until the team drafts Ryan’s successor, Mariota presents a unique skillset that pairs well in the backfield alongside the equally unique Cordarrelle Patterson. It’s a longshot that the Falcons are good in 2022, but there’s a real possibility that the team is fun.
Like the Falcons, the New Orleans Saints were in the running to acquire Watson. Also, like the Falcons, the Saints came up short. Instead, New Orleans re-signed Jameis Winston to a two-year deal. After season-ending knee surgery, Winston is a quarterback with plenty of easily-identifiable flaws as a passer, but he has a fair share of positive traits. For every boneheaded mistake that Winston makes—and there will be plenty—the veteran has a knack for offsetting them with big-time plays. New Orleans needs to commit to finding another downfield weapon or two for Winston in the draft to maximize his strengths.
Miami’s most significant weakness entering the offseason was its offensive line, historically bad in 2021. Earlier in the offseason, the Dolphins signed guard Connor Williams, and on Tuesday, Miami landed star left tackle Terron Armstead on a five-year contract. Armstead was the best tackle available in free agency this offseason, making his signing a coup for the Dolphins. Injuries have taken a toll on Armstead in recent seasons, limiting his availability. However, when he’s been on the field, Armstead remains a difference-maker. The Dolphins have been competitive the past two seasons, vying for a playoff spot into the season’s final weeks, despite being amid a rebuild. With a franchise left tackle anchoring an improved line and Tua Tagovailoa entering his third season under center, Miami is primed to make a run at a Wild Card spot in the AFC.