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Atlanta Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot and head coach Arthur Smith addressed the franchise’s previous interest in trading for Deshaun Watson.
At an incredibly awkward press conference Wednesday morning, Atlanta Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot and head coach Arthur Smith spoke to the elephant in space, 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 last Friday. Atlanta mainly brought a 28-3 lead in the trade for the Gainesville, Georgia native and the former Clemson star. Cleveland may have made a Godfather offer to the Texans organization, and Watson’s bank account could not refuse. Atlanta embarrassed itself.
While Smith said, “would not get into … [their] process, ”Falcon understands the seriousness [of the civil cases]. Fontenot backed him up by saying “based on the information we had, we would explore [a trade for Watson.]”
The Falcons got caught up in playing flirtation, which resulted in alienating their franchise quarterback through the last 14 years in Matt Ryan so much that he wanted to be traded. Atlanta took on a wicked amount of dead pay cap to trade Ryan for the AFC South-fighting Indianapolis Colts for a 2022 third-round pick. The Falcons would then sign Smith’s guy Marcus Mariota within two hours.
Although Atlanta has precious cap space that Fontenot kept barking about in 2023, as well as a stop-gap quarterback Smith trusts Mariota, the Falcons are in their worst place as a franchise since Bobby Petrino saved them from becoming a coach in Arkansas.
How do we unpack all this at all?
The Atlanta Falcons brass defends the interest in possibly acquiring Deshaun Watson
To be fair, Watson first reached out to Atlanta and not the other way around. He is close to the Blank Family after serving as a ball boy at Falcons matches during his days in high school. Watson grew up in Gainesville and lived in a house built by Falcons Ring of Honor member Warrick Dunn in his Homes for the Holidays initiative. Emotions played a role in all of this.
The other important thing to understand is that this is a new regime at the helm of Flowery Branch. Fontenot did not draft Ryan and certainly did not pay him and former Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones massive contracts. Smith wants to coach the one Fontenot gives him on the 53-man roster, but all parties involved knew the Ryan era of Falcons football would end sooner rather than later.
At one point, the Falcons had to either ride Ryan’s contract or bite themselves and eat all the dead cap. By doing this a year early, it will allow Dirty Birds to be an active participant in the NFL free agency for the first time in years. Fontenot has chosen to go after value by acquiring talented veterans who want to prove themselves. He had grown tired of being outbid.
From a list-building point of view, it’s understandable why Atlanta wanted to pursue Watson. He is 10 years younger than Ryan and a more talented player. In addition, he wanted to attract high quality players who would like to play with him. The dead cap issues would be a non-issue as he was not a declining player that Ryan was considered to be. Of course, ethics was thrown in the trash.
The worrying thing is how bad it looks optically by the Falcons not getting Watson. It was a divisive issue even to play flirt with him. The shame of it all is that any built up good report the organization had with its fanbase has pretty much evaporated in the space of two weeks. The Falcons brass will not even admit that the franchise is rebuilding. It’s hard to trust someone when they are not honest.
For now, the next two NFL Drafts will be the two most important weekends in franchise history.