There’s not a lot of inspiring options out there, but Atlanta may not be able to wait.
There’s a strong indication that the Falcons are going to end up signing a quarterback this week, with concerns about A.J. McCarron’s injury readily evident from Arthur Smith after last night’s game. As you’d expect, there isn’t exactly a wealth of capable backups out there.
Many of the candidates remaining are either nominally retired (Alex Smith, Matt Schaub, Jake Rudock), likely not experienced enough to overtake Feleipe Franks (Jamie Newman, Case Cookus) or just wouldn’t be someone you’d want quarterbacking your team even in an emergency. That leaves a pretty short list of options for Atlanta, and I’ve broken down what I consider the most compelling of those below. I’m not going to promise that you’ll be whelmed.
I’ve thrown out his name half-jokingly on Twitter in recent days as the fanbase concern level for A.J. McCarron and Feleipe Franks seemingly mounted, but there’s an argument to be made that Bortles is one of the best options available.
In many ways, Bortles probably represents a very best-case scenario for Franks. He’s a big quarterback (an inch taller and nearly 20 pounds heavier than Matt Ryan) with a strong enough arm and both an ability to and willingness to run. His accuracy is decent enough on the kinds of middle-of-the-field throws he’d be asked to make in this offense, but his deep ball comes and goes and his pocket presence swings between “good enough” and “an on-fire mouse in a fireworks factory.” You’d be signing him because you know that Bortles at his best is enough to keep you in a game in a pinch, with the full knowledge that he can absolutely lose you the game by himself when he’s at his worst. Teams have not been very willing to bet on him in recent years, but Atlanta may not find a better option unless they wait.
Robert Griffin III
To get Griffin in Atlanta, you’d have to convince him to put a budding broadcasting career on hold, which he might be willing to do. Unlike Bortles, who last got into a regular season game in 2019, Griffin has been playing plenty behind Lamar Jackson the past two years, making at least one start in both 2019 and 2020. Those starts have largely not gone well, but especially given the state of the free agent quarterback market, Griffin stands out as a capable option.
Griffin can still move well, has experience in offenses similar to the one Arthur Smith will likely run in Atlanta, and drew a lot of praise from Ravens coaches for his leadership qualities and work with Lamar Jackson.
There was some minor clamoring for Rosen last week when he was released by the 49ers, and that will likely intensify this week. The 10th overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, Rosen played for an abysmal Cardinals team that changed coaching staffs the following year and has bounced around since, getting few opportunities to show his worth.
The problem for Rosen has been that the opportunities he has received have not gone well, and the heady passer with stellar timing who drew raves from draft analysts coming into the 2018 NFL Draft hasn’t shown up at all in the NFL. Rosen has too often looked rattled, made poor decisions and displayed little of the sharp passing ability that defined his college career, and it’s not clear whether more opportunity is going to fix any of that. Learning from Matt Ryan, working with Arthur Smith and having no obvious competition for a direct backup role would make Atlanta one of the best possible landing spots for him, but he’d have to be much better for the Falcons to benefit from adding him.
After this much time and this much of a concerted effort by the NFL and its teams to lock Kaepernick out of the league, it would be surprising to see him return now. He has not, obviously, played in the NFL since 2016.
I’d bet on him still being able to play well enough to be a quality backup at age 33, though. When he was still in the league, Kaepernick was a smart and athletic passer capable of extending plays with his feet and scrambling when needed, making good throws on the move and avoiding costly interceptions. Given that everyone above him on this list has a recent history of tossing costly picks, the fact that he threw just 9 interceptions in his final 21 games would make him appealing for a team that seemingly signed McCarron in part because he was viewed as a safe option.
Coaxing Matt Schaub out of retirement
Schaub certainly shut me up in 2019 when he started a game against the Seahawks and threw for over 400 yards, looking damn capable in the process. That made it evident that all my long-standing concerns about Schaub getting into a game and having to play significant snaps after having not really done so since 2013 were mistaken, and his value as a leader and passer justified the team keeping him around for such a long time.
I know Schaub is done, but is he done done? In the same “it never hurts to try” spirit as Kaepernick, picking up the phone and calling Schaub to see if he has any interest in returning is almost certainly worth the 10 minutes it would take to do so. He’s been proving people wrong for such a long time now, myself included, that betting against him still being a capable backup at age 40 would probably be foolish.
The Falcons won’t wait to sign a guy until after 53 man cuts, because they need to make it through a full preseason game and aren’t likely to want Franks to handle three-plus quarters of work again with no fallback option. That said, they could sign someone like Cookus or Newman just to have a quarterback to throw to the wolves for a week and then sign someone else entirely after teams trim their rosters down.
Options of note could be Nick Foles (the current #3 quarterback in Chicago and someone who played for Dave Ragone and Charles London a year ago), Logan Woodside (a Titans reserve last year under Arthur Smith) and recent top draft pick Dwayne Haskins. In the very likely scenario that the Falcons don’t love their current options, it would behoove them to get by for now and explore whoever shakes loose before the season begins.