One team has an aging, former MVP quarterback whose career is close to its end. The other has a third-year quarterback who hasn’t played up to his presumed potential as a sixth overall pick. What these two teams have in common is that they both had chances to take top quarterback prospects in a year with a stacked class, yet neither of them took advantage of their situation. These two teams, of course, are the Atlanta Falcons and New York Giants.
The Falcons entered the offseason with a lot of uncertainty. They had a new general manager in Terry Fontenot and a new coaching staff led by former Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith. After a rough 2020 season, Atlanta had the fourth overall pick in the draft.
The big question was what they’d do with it. With rumors swirling about the imminent departure of Julio Jones, maybe they’d want to bring in a dynamic pass-catching playmaker like Kyle Pitts. Matt Ryan looked like he still had some juice in him—he led the NFL in pass attempts and completions in 2020, after all—so their need for a new signal-caller didn’t seem too pressing.
On the other hand, Ryan would be entering his age-36 season. He’s still talented, but he clearly isn’t on the same schedule as a Falcons team that needs to fill several holes in their roster. With his contract eating at their cap and his age, Ryan isn’t the quarterback that can stick around long-term for a rebuild. With such a stacked quarterback class and no heir apparent in Atlanta, taking an elite gunslinging prospect wouldn’t be a bad idea.
The Giants once found themselves in the same situation. In 2018, another quarterback-rich year for college prospects, New York entered the NFL draft holding the second overall pick. Rather than biting on one of the top quarterback prospects still available—Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Josh Rosen, or Lamar Jackson—the Giants selected running back Saquon Barkley. Sure, Barkley won the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award in 2018, but it left the Giants in an awkward position the next year with a significantly weaker quarterback class and Eli Manning on the way out. Instead of taking a top-tier quarterback prospect when he had the chance, Giants general manager Dave Gettleman felt that he had to take any quarterback with the sixth pick the following year, and New York ended up with Daniel Jones.
Flash forward to 2021, and the Falcons decided to take Pitts—not Justin Fields nor Mac Jones—with the fourth overall pick. And even when Fields and Jones fell out of the top 10, New York decided to trade back with Chicago rather than try their hand with their second first-round quarterback in three years. Those decisions may turn out to have long-term effects.
While Atlanta did end up trading their star receiver in Jones, they’re still stuck with Ryan’s meaty contract that holds them back from filling roster holes in free agency. Ryan is only getting older with an offensive line and defensive squad that still need improvements. The addition of an elite tight end is great and all, but Atlanta will have to let go of Ryan to begin a true rebuild. He just doesn’t have the years left to remain the centerpiece of the offense through a roster reconstruction.
The Giants, meanwhile, seem stuck in a rebuild with a quarterback that hasn’t done enough to prove that he’s their guy. Even with a chance at a do-over in this year’s draft with Fields or Jones, history seemed to repeat itself when Gettleman instead traded back, and the Giants ended up with another skill player: wide receiver Kadarius Toney.
New York is now 0-1 to begin the 2021 season after a loss to the Denver Broncos in which their offense under Jones looked flat (once again) and their defense looked like it had taken a step back. If the Giants end 2021 with another bad, losing season, it may be time to move on from Gettleman and the Daniel Jones Plan.
The problem both teams now face is that they may have missed the boat on securing a top-tier quarterback prospect. Unlike this year’s draft class, the 2022 class is dry at quarterback; no one so far has looked worthy of the esteemed QB1 title. If the Falcons do decide to move on from Ryan after this year, they risk pulling a Giants—ending up in a longer rebuild with a disappointing quarterback prospect situation that they could have avoided. If the Giants try to move on from Jones in 2022, it might feel like Groundhog Day in New York.
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