ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Falcons released quarterback Marcus Mariota on Tuesday, a move that was expected after the veteran was benched late in the season.
The Falcons were 5-8 with Mariota as the starter before rookie Desmond Ridder started the final four games, winning two.
“We really appreciate Marcus and all the things he did while he was here, personally, professionally, great man,” general manager Terry Fontenot said Tuesday at the NFL scouting combine.
“We just feel we’re doing what’s best for the team at the time but appreciate him and what he did while he was here.”
Mariota signed a $10.5 million, two-year deal with Atlanta after the Falcons traded longtime starter Matt Ryan to Indianapolis. Mariota completed 184 of 300 passes for 2,219 yards with 15 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He rushed for 438 yards and four touchdowns.
After Mariota was benched, he left the team to have season-ending knee surgery. The Falcons are expected to save approximately $12 million in salary cap space by cutting Mariota.
Falcons owner Arthur Blank said at the Super Bowl he is excited about building the team around Ridder. Fontenot also had praise for Ridder and said the team will look for help at the position in the NFL draft or free agency.
“We’re going to add to the position and we’ve been really clear with how we feel about Desmond Ridder and what he’s done to this point in his career, his makeup and just the way he’s handled every role that he’s been in and what he did over the last four games of the season,” Fontenot said.
Fontenot said Ridder “dealt with adversity, he got off the mat and kept fighting. Desmond has done some good things and we know he’s going to continue to improve this offseason and yet we’re going to add to the position whether it’s free agency, the draft or both.”
Fontenot left open the possibility the Falcons could use their No. 8 overall pick in the draft to add another quarterback.
“We’re never going to put ourselves in the corner,” Fontenot said. “We’re always going to leave every door open. Again, draft, free agency, whether it’s the eighth pick or some other pick in the draft, we could bring in a quarterback. ... We could bring in a veteran. We could bring in a guy with experience. We could bring in a guy with no experience. We definitely want to add to the room.”
Falcons coach Arthur Smith and Fontenot have declined to say Ridder is the 2023 starter.
“We wouldn’t do that,” Fontenot said. “We wouldn’t make any announcements like that. We’re not in the business of anointing players."
Ridder, a 2022 third-round draft pick from Cincinnati, completed 73 of 115 passes for 708 yards with two touchdowns while rushing for 64 yards.
Atlanta's run-first offense was boosted by the late-season emergence of rookie running back Tyler Allgeier. Another rookie, wide receiver Drake London, had 72 catches but tight end Kyle Pitts was limited to 10 games by a knee injury after failing to become a consistent option for Mariota.
Even before the release of Mariota, the Falcons had the second-most cap space in the league at about $67 million, according to Spotrac. The team has to negotiate with its free agents, including right tackle Kaleb McGary, and already has re-signed backup tight end Parker Hesse and long snapper Liam McCullough.
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