Atlanta Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot and head coach Arthur Smith addressed the franchise’s previous interest in trading for Deshaun Watson.
In an incredibly awkward press conference on Wednesday morning, Atlanta Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot and head coach Arthur Smith addressed the elephant in the room, among many other things: Why the franchise was interested in acquiring Deshaun Watson.
The incredibly controversial franchise quarterback was traded by the Houston Texans to the Cleveland Browns on Friday. Atlanta essentially blew a 28-3 lead in trading for the Gainesville, Georgia native and the former Clemson star. Cleveland may have given a Godfather offer the Texans organization and Watson’s bank account could not refuse. Atlanta embarrassed itself.
While Smith said was “not going to get into … [their] process,” the Falcons “understood the seriousness [of the civil cases]. Fontenot backed him up by saying “based on the information we had, we wanted to explore [a trade for Watson.]”
The Falcons got caught playing flirt, resulting in alienating their franchise quarterback of the last 14 years in Matt Ryan, so much so that he wanted to be traded. Atlanta took on an ungodly amount of dead salary cap to trade Ryan to the AFC South-contending Indianapolis Colts for a 2022 third-round pick. The Falcons would then sign Smith’s guy Marcus Mariota within two hours.
Though Atlanta has precious cap space Fontenot kept raving about for 2023, as well as a stop-gap quarterback Smith trusts in Mariota, the Falcons are in their worst spot as a franchise since Bobby Petrino bailed on them to go coach Arkansas.
How do we even unpack all of this?
Atlanta Falcons brass defends interest in possibly acquiring Deshaun Watson
To be fair, Watson reached out to Atlanta initially, and not the other way around. He is close with the Blank Family after having served as a ball boy at Falcons games during his days in high school. Watson grew up in Gainesville and lived in a house that was built by Falcons Ring of Honor member Warrick Dunn in his Homes for the Holidays initiative. Emotions played a part in all this.
The other important thing to understand is this is a new regime at the helm in Flowery Branch. Fontenot did not draft Ryan and certainly did not pay him and former Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones massive contracts. Smith will coach whoever Fontenot provides him on the 53-man roster, but all parties involved knew the Ryan era of Falcons football would be ending sooner than later.
At some point in time, the Falcons were going to either have to ride out Ryan’s contract or bite the bullet and eat all that dead cap. By doing this a year early, it will allow the Dirty Birds to be an active participant in NFL free agency for the first time in years. Fontenot has opted to go for value by acquiring talented veterans looking to prove themselves. He had grown tired of getting outbid.
From a roster-building standpoint, it is understandable why Atlanta wanted to pursue Watson. He is 10 years younger than Ryan and a more talented player. Moreover, he would attract high quality players who would want to play with him. The dead cap issues would be a non-issue since he was not a declining player like Ryan was deemed to be. Of course, ethics were thrown into the garbage.
What is troubling is how bad it looks optically by the Falcons not getting Watson. It was a divisive issue to even play flirt with him. The shame in it all is any built-up good rapport the organization had with its fanbase has largely evaporated in the course of two weeks. The Falcons brass will not even admit the franchise is rebuilding. It is hard to trust someone when they are not being honest.
For now, the next two NFL Drafts become the two most important weekends in franchise history.