GM Terry Fontenot: Atlanta Falcons hope to come out of draft with a QB

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Atlanta Falcons are in the market for a quarterback.

This doesn't mean the team will take one with the eighth pick in the draft Thursday or even Friday on Day 2, but general manager Terry Fontenot made it clear Tuesday: The Falcons are not done exploring the idea of adding another signal-caller to their room.

It won't necessarily add a starter, but the team wants to have more than Marcus Mariota and Feleipe Franks as options at the position.

"We're not going to give away what we're going to do at eight or any other pick, but we could come out of this draft with a quarterback," Fontenot said. "We want to add to that room and we'll see what happens."

Atlanta entered the quarterback discussion more fully in March, after the team attempted to pursue Deshaun Watson when he was being shopped and eventually traded from the Houston Texans to the Cleveland Browns.

As part of that process, quarterback Matt Ryan, who was still with Atlanta, at first delayed the roster bonus that was due to him by the Falcons and then was traded to the Indianapolis Colts. The same day, the club signed Mariota -- the No. 2 pick in the 2015 draft by the Tennessee Titans -- to at least replace Ryan in the short term.

Ryan had been Atlanta's quarterback since being the No. 3 overall pick in the 2008 draft. He started 222 games for the Falcons, completing 65.5% of his passes for 59,735 yards, 367 touchdowns and 170 interceptions, and was named the MVP of the 2016 NFL season.

Fontenot said the team spent a lot of time looking at this year's quarterback class as well as the one from 2021, when the team did not select a signal-caller and signed Franks as an undrafted free agent. Franks made the team out of training camp and spent the season as a backup to Ryan as well as experimenting with playing tight end.

Atlanta had a presence at most of the pro days for the top quarterbacks in this year's class, including Pitt's Kenny Pickett, Liberty's Malik Willis and Cincinnati's Desmond Ridder.

Fontenot said the first round is particularly tough to forecast this year because of the questions surrounding the quarterbacks. Last year, for instance, Fontenot said he felt as if Atlanta had the first pick in the draft at No. 4 because of the strong sense that the first three picks would be quarterbacks, which they were when Trevor Lawrence went to the Jacksonville Jaguars, Zach Wilson to the New York Jets and then Trey Lance to the San Francisco 49ers.

This year has more intrigue.

"It really is difficult to predict," Fontenot said. "This is a very unique draft."

Fontenot wouldn't specifically address whether he believes there are starting-caliber quarterbacks in this class, though he said there are future starters at every position.

"Right now we evaluate the players," Fontenot said. "Of course there's going to be starters that come out of this class. We won't know that until three or four years from now with some of the players. At every position, there's starters, there's backups."

He also said Atlanta's scouting staff has looked at classes beyond just 2022.

He said he is living "in the moment" when it comes to the draft while also looking at the big picture, although he said the Falcons aren't focusing on who may or may not be targeted in 2023 if need be because so much can change in a year.

Fontenot also said he would not be disappointed if the team ends up bypassing a quarterback altogether in the 2022 draft because there are other ways to add to the position. For instance, Atlanta signed AJ McCarron to back up Ryan on the Friday of last year's draft after not selecting a quarterback during the first round.

"It could be in the draft. It could be after the draft. It could be via trade," Fontenot said. "We're not going to limit ourselves to any possibility. We're going to turn over every stone and whether it's in the draft or not, we'll add to that room."

Coach Arthur Smith said he has more input on when the Falcons may or may not take a quarterback because of the gravity of the decision to the construction of the team. Ultimately, the decision would be collaborative between Fontenot and Smith.

"That's the one thing about football, especially professional football, it's such an enormous decision to make," Smith said. "Especially if you're going to invest, it's the most important position in professional sports.

"For better or worse, the NFL and that position, it's extremely important to make this thing go, so yeah, you're looking at it. It's a huge investment."