PHOENIX – A year after bowing out of the pursuit of Deshaun Watson, it seems that the perfect opportunity exists for the Atlanta Falcons to inject some new life into the franchise:
Strike a deal to land Lamar Jackson.
There’s one big problem with that scenario, according to Falcons owner Arthur Blank: That was then, and this is now.
Blank reiterated the team’s position on Tuesday during a break at the NFL owners meetings, insisting that the Falcons won’t make a run at the dynamic quarterback because of salary cap ramifications.
Jackson, franchise-tagged by the Baltimore Ravens, is believed to seek a fully guaranteed contract similar to the five-year, $230 million deal that Watson signed last year while obtained by the Cleveland Browns from the Houston Texans. The Ravens would have the right to match within five days any offer sheet that Jackson receives on the free agent market or receive two first-round picks as compensation.
After considering Watson last year, why not make a run at Jackson?
“Every year is different,” Blank told USA TODAY Sports. “Deshaun was a different situation. It was a different time and space. I think Lamar is a great player, he was MVP for the league (in 2019). But we look at our roster and our ability to continue to build our roster now and have salary cap freedom, which we’ve never had.”
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The Falcons – with more than $21 million in room under the NFL’s $224.8 million salary cap, according to Overthecap.com, the sixth-highest total in the league – also have unproven Desmond Ridder positioned to head into his second NFL season as the starting quarterback.
“We love what Ridder has done,” said Blank, mindful that Ridder replaced since-released Marcus Mariota to start the final four games of his rookie year. “We love the weapons that we’ve built around him, we love the fact that we were active this year in free agency and we’ll have that in the future, and we have eight picks this year. We want to continue to build on the draft picks we’ve had the past couple of years.”
That patient approach might not play too well on Peachtree Street when considering the potential that Jackson possesses. Jackson, 26, would instantly provide the Falcons with a dazzling playmaker who could solidify the game’s most important position for years. Yet shortly after the free agent market opened in mid-March, reports emerged that ruled out interest from the Falcons – like several other quarterback-needy teams – in Jackson.
Earlier this week, Jackson revealed on Twitter that on March 2 he requested a trade.
“Obviously, he’ll play again, hopefully this year for some team,” Blank said. “We’ll see. But having all these young players that we draft and bring along and then when they’re in their fourth year or fifth year and ready to continue to blossom, we would have to let them go. We couldn’t re-sign them. So, it’s not a healthy situation.”
Of course, Blank’s reasoning assumes that the Falcons make good on the draft picks and the development to solidify the long-term plan crafted by GM Terry Fontenot and coach Arthur Smith.
“That’s the reason we collectively made this decision,” Blank said. “I wasn’t involved in it, but I approved the thinking behind it. We may have considered it but moved forward.”
Or passed on a chance to move forward more quickly.