The Atlanta Falcons were 18 minutes away from winning the Super Bowl, boasting a 25-point lead over the New England Patriots in the 2016 season. However, their infamous collapse in Super Bowl LI has haunted the franchise ever since, defining the eras of former head coach Dan Quinn and quarterback Matt Ryan.
Quinn and his team were not able to recover from the agony of their defeat, declining season upon season before he was fired during the 2020 campaign. In the last off-season the Falcons had a tough decision to make regarding the future of the franchise. Ryan could have been allowed to leave via a trade, with many teams in the NFL pursuing new quarterbacks.
However, new head coach Arthur Smith and new general manager Terry Fontenot opted to keep Ryan and use the fourth-overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft to select Kyle Pitts. Before the start of the term, the Falcons were long shots to reach the post-season in the American football betting odds.
However, their opening week defeat to the Philadelphia Eagles appears to have confirmed that the Falcons will be off the pace this term and a contender for another top-five pick in the 2022 Draft with the NFL betting tips for the campaign. Would the Falcons have been better off using their selection in the 2021 Draft on a quarterback rather than Pitts?
The Falcons did require a new potent weapon to pair with Calvin Ridley after allowing Julio Jones to seek a trade move to the Tennessee Titans. Given that the franchise was signalling a new era with the departures of Quinn, Jones and former general manager Thomas Dimitroff, it may have been prudent to start the Smith and Fontenot era with a clean slate rather than with Ryan. The 36-year-old still carries the scars of that Super Bowl defeat and is reminded on a regular basiswith every lead Atlanta spurn, along with the fact that Tom Brady is now a presence in the NFC South.
Ryan is a fine quarterback and has led from the front for the franchise for 13 years. However, 2021 was the perfect opportunity to move forward for the Falcons, especially with an impressive array of signal-callers in the 2021 Draft available. Trevor Lawrence was always going to be selected first overall, but there could have been opportunities to pursue Zach Wilson, Trey Lance, Justin Fields and Mac Jones. The worst nightmare for Falcons fans would be for one of those quarterbacks to turn into the next superstar in the NFL, especially Fields and Jones who were selected after the fourth pick.
Atlanta is now in a strange position. If they struggle once more in the 2021 season, Ryan’s trade value will be diminished, although, on the other hand, they could be in prime position to select Spencer Rattler or one of the other quarterbacks emerging from the college game. If Ryan succeeds, their window to return to the Super Bowl will be a short one considering his age. There are no easy answers, and the franchise seems as muddled as it was in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LI five years ago. The failure appears to have doomed the short-term fortunes of the Falcons.