The Atlanta Falcons have not been the same since 5 February 2017, Super Bowl LI. The day that the Falcons became the world’s greatest choke artists by blowing a 28-3 lead late in the third quarter to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. Every score of 28-3 in any sport game, regardless of the sport being played, now conjures fans into sending tirades of memes at the Falcons expense. Fellow sports fans and media will not let that Falcons team forget that infamous day. Nor has the team under now head coach Arthur Smith, likely on the hot seat in 2023, helped in that matter. The Falcons continue to struggle holding onto fourth quarter leads.
Since their Super Bowl collapse, the Falcons and now head coach Arthur Smith have squandered five regular season games of 16 points or more. The Falcons have not appeared in postseason play since 2018. The squad has not even performed as the lowest team in the league; their performance is in some ways even worse. Mediocrity has defined the Atlanta Falcons and Arthur Smith since 2017. They’ve won seven games four out of the last five seasons, winning only four games in the 2020 season, with an overall record of 32-50 during that time.
Mediocrity Places Arthur Smith on the Hot Seat in 2023
The NFL has structured the salary cap, free agency and draft to produce parity. Teams should strive for playing in top-form for a competitive playoff seed or hope to be at the very bottom so that they can re-build their way back to being contenders. The Falcons sit in the NFL purgatory of utter mediocrity.
They currently hold the eighth overall pick in the 2023 draft, and according to OverTheCap, have over $24M in cap space available (third most in the NFL). Although they have the room to make productive moves, the Falcons and Arthur Smith have have managed poorly in the 2023 off-season.
The eighth overall pick is certainly not a bad position to be at in the draft. The Falcons will likely be looking into some sort of a pass rush to compliment Grady Jarrett, a position of need for some time now. There remains, however, a huge question mark at the most important position: quarterback.
The Falcons certainly tried to make waves with an attempt to trade for Deshaun Watson last off-season. As usualy, they lost the lead late and simultaneously left Matt Ryan feeling unwanted. The Falcons later traded Ryan to the Colts for a 2022 third round pick. Who won, if anyone, in that deal remains to be seen. Marcus Mariota then filled in the blank last season, signing a one-year deal. He was familiar with head coach Arthur Smith’s offense going back to his time with the Tennessee Titans. Mariota, however, was just a rental to get through the season. Hence, in the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft, with the number 74 overall pick, the Atlanta Falcons selected Desmond Ridder, quarterback, Cincinnati.
Can Desmond Ridder Save Arthur Smith from the hot seat?
Coaches only have a small sample size of 2022 film from from which to evaluate Desmond Ridder. However, with Smith entering year three as head coach, and the Falcons still wallowing in mediocrity, finishing no better than third in the lowly NFC South the past three seasons, leaves the team in peril.
It seems clear that Arthur Smith has most, if not all, the makings of a good head coach and that his offensive scheme will work if he can find his quarterback. To make matters worse, this years draft is filled with question marks at the quarterback position with seemingly no one sticking out more than the other. Every quarterback has a higher risk than reward.
Can Falcons and Arthur Smith Wait Until 2024?
The more promising franchise-type quarterbacks are in next years class with guys like Caleb Williams and Drake Maye. But can Falcons owner Arthur Blank wait that long? Even if the Falcons were to allow Smith to have another mediocre year, they would have to either finish with a losing record bad enough to earn the first or second pick or trade up most of the squad’s future capital.
Moreover, if Falcons wait out for one of those two quarterbacks in next year’s class, they may need to wait until year three for that quarterback to begin producing. Entering the 2023 season, the Falcons are finally rid of the dead-cap Matt Ryan and Julio Jones deals. To trade away future, valuable draft picks or even current players that they’re trying to build around would seem like a move in reverse. So what’s the solution?
Arthur Smith needs miracle season in 2023 to avoid hot seat
For Arthur Smith to avoid the hot seat in the 2023 season, the Falcons must win nine or 10 games. A playoff berth would also help his case, but is very unlikely to occur. Moreover, the Falcons enter the season with the easiest strength of schedule in the league. If the Falcons endure a losing season, the ownership is even more unlikely to retain Smith. However, identifying the Falcons odds of success remains challenging at this point in the off-season. The defense still needs a ton of help; the offense, really, just needs a quarterback to compete. Kyle Pitts would vouch for that.
The Falcons should manage division play within the NFC South, as most teams in the division are in the midst of a re-build themselves. With the exception of the Saints, who think they have found their quarterback in former Las Vegas Raiders Derek Carr, no other team in the NFC South is comfortable with their quarterback situation. That includes the Falcons.
Time is never on the side of a head coach in the NFL. Time and the hot seat especially do not favour Arthur Smith. The Falcons need somewhat of a miracle season in 2023, banking on a second-year quarterback that only has a career four starts. With numerous other factors on their side — cap space, top-10 draft pick, easiest strength of schedule, bad division — a miracle season is in their favour. However, they still feel years away from competing, which means they Arthur Smith may already be sitting on the hot seat.
Main Image: Tommy Gilligan – USA TODAY Sports