Dec 24, 2022; Santa Clara, California, USA;  Washington Commanders quarterback Taylor Heinicke (4) throws the football during the second quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Reports: Falcons outbid Commanders for QB Taylor Heinicke

Taylor Heinicke agreed to a two-year, $20 million contract with the Atlanta Falcons, who reportedly outbid the Washington Commanders.

NFL Network reported on Tuesday that the Commanders wanted to bring back Heinicke but he chose to sign with his hometown team. Heinicke played at Collins High School in Suwanee, Ga., near Atlanta.

Desmond Ridder started the final four games of his rookie season for the Falcons and is expected to enter training camp as the team’s starter. But Heinicke, who signed with Washington as an emergency quarterback during the COVID pandemic, has been down this road before.

Heinicke, 29, eventually started 24 total games over the past two seasons and posted a 12-11-1 record as the replacement starter for Ryan Fitzpatrick and Carson Wentz.

–Field Level Media

Dec 12, 2022; Glendale, Arizona, USA; New England Patriots tight end Jonnu Smith (81) against the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Reports: Patriots trading TE Jonnu Smith to Falcons

The New England Patriots are trading tight end Jonnu Smith to the Atlanta Falcons, a move that will free about $4.4 million in cap space, multiple outlets reported Monday.

The Patriots will get a seventh-round pick in return, per the reports, though it’s unclear if that’s in this year’s draft.

The trade will be processed at the start of the new league year, which begins Wednesday.

Smith, 27, caught 27 passes for 245 yards in 14 games (eight starts) for the Pats in 2022. He has 169 catches for 1,841 yards and 17 touchdowns in 90 career games (72 starts) for the Tennessee Titans (2017-20) and Patriots.

Smith will pair up with Pro Bowl TE Kyle Pitts in Atlanta. The Falcons are expected to restructure Smith’s contract.

–Field Level Media

Jan 8, 2023; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Giovani Bernard (25) is tackled by Atlanta Falcons linebacker Lorenzo Carter (9) during the second half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Reports: Lorenzo Carter to return to Falcons on 2-year deal

Pass rusher Lorenzo Carter is expected to sign a two-year contract to return to the Atlanta Falcons, multiple media outlets reported on Tuesday.

Financial terms were not reported for Carter, who recorded a career-high 58 tackles to go along with four sacks and an interception while starting all 17 games last season with the Falcons.

Carter, 27, has totaled 211 tackles, 18.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and two interceptions in 60 career games (50 starts).

The defensive end/linebacker was selected by the New York Giants in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft out of Georgia.

–Field Level Media

Jan 8, 2023; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder (4) throws a pass against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the second half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Falcons plan to add QB, part with Marcus Mariota

Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot cleared the path for Atlanta to pursue another quarterback on Tuesday.

Fontenot, speaking at the NFL Scouting Combine, said he was impressed by rookie Desmond Ridder’s showing in December. But the Falcons plan to add at the position, he said, and Atlanta is diving into options in the draft, free agency and the trade market.

“Ultimately, we’re going to add at the position,” he said. “We’re always going to leave every door open. Whether it’s the (eighth pick) or some other point in the draft, we could definitely bring in a quarterback. We don’t want to box ourselves in.”

The Falcons have the No. 8 pick in the first round and are a projected $75 million below the 2023 salary cap, meaning no contract is too onerous for the franchise to absorb. It’s part of the reason the team is consistently connected to rumors around Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson.

“If you have a lot of cap space, that means you have a lot of work to do,” Fontenot said.

Ridder, 23, became prominent in the team’s plans at this event last February. Fontenot cited the then-Cincinnati QB as the player who stood out the most in a sea of 330 prospects, and he met personally with 50 prospects along with his scouting staff and coaches.

But if the chance to upgrade at “critical positions” presents itself, Fontenot said the Falcons will investigate those options.

Atlanta officially released Mariota, 29, on Tuesday, Fontenot confirmed.

“We really appreciate Marcus and all the things he did while he was here,” Fontenot said.

–Field Level Media

Jan 8, 2023; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder (4) scrambles against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the second quarter at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Falcons owner ‘very excited’ about QB Desmond Ridder

Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank stopped short of saying Desmond Ridder will be the team’s starting quarterback next season, but does believe the team has an exciting young talent at the position.

Ridder took over the starting job in Week 15 and threw for 708 yards and a pair of touchdowns while leading the Falcons to a 2-2 finish.

“We’re very excited about Desmond Ridder,” Blank told reporters on Wednesday in his first public comments since the end of the season. “I think from the time he came into training camp, he showed great capabilities as a leader amongst the rookies and then amongst the vets.”

Ridder was drafted in the third round out of Cincinnati and spent most of the season behind veteran Marcus Mariota. After taking over the reins of the offense, Ridder did not throw an interception while completing 63.5 percent of his passes.

Blank pointed out the progress Ridder showed, culminating in a season-ending win over Tampa Bay in which he completed 19 of 30 passes for 224 yards and a pair of touchdowns. His passer rating improved in each of his four starts, concluding with a 108.2 mark against the Buccaneers.

Mariota is not expected to return and the only other quarterback currently on the roster is late-season signee Logan Woodside. The Falcons currently hold the No. 8 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft and while they will certainly add competition for Ridder at some point this offseason, Blank didn’t sound inclined to pursue a high-priced veteran option.

“As good as a quarterback may be, and they’re certainly a big part of a winning formula, they can’t play by themselves,” Blank said. “There’s 21 other (starters) that need to play as well so we’re committed to the position obviously and we know we need to think about it and I think we have it in Ridder.”

After swallowing $63 million in dead cap space last season after parting with Matt Ryan, the 23-year-old Ridder still has three years remaining on his rookie contract. Whether it’s Ridder or another incoming rookie at the helm, the ability to build around a rookie contract at quarterback is certainly appealing.

“When you have that opportunity, that’s the perfect set of circumstances,” Blank said. “The perfect storm, if you will, in a positive way, not a negative way. When you have a quarterback who you draft and have for four or five years, that’s a really big deal.”

“In the history of the Super Bowl, there hasn’t been one quarterback that represented 20 percent or more of the roster compensation.”

The Falcons are coming off their fifth consecutive losing season, and Blank admitted he’s looking for improvement heading into the third year with coach Arthur Smith. Along with Ridder, fourth-round running back Tyler Allgeier set the franchise rookie rushing record with 1,023 yards.

First-round wide receiver Drake London led the team with 72 catches — a franchise rookie record — for 866 yards, and the team received strong contributions from second-round linebackers Troy Andersen and Arnold Ebiketie and third-round linebacker DeAngelo Malone.

“We have a lot of young players that have developed at a very nice level and really have their best capabilities going forward, so I feel good about where we are,” Blank said. “And I think we have every reason as a fan and an owner to feel better about our team than we have in the last couple of years.”

–Field Level Media

Nov 17, 2019; Tampa, FL, USA; New Orleans Saints defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen during the second half at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Falcons name Ryan Nielsen new DC

The Atlanta Falcons named former New Orleans assistant Ryan Nielsen their new defensive coordinator on Friday.

Nielsen, 43, replaces the retired Dean Pees.

Nielsen spent the past six seasons with the Saints as defensive line coach before adding the title of co-defensive coordinator in 2022. The Saints registered 281 sacks during Nielsen’s tenure, second most in the NFL in that span.

Nielsen will also get to assemble parts of a new staff. The Falcons on Friday parted ways with defensive line coach Gary Emanuel, outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino and secondary coach Jon Hoke.

Falcons linebackers coach Frank Bush is the defensive coordinator in the East-West Shrine Bowl.

Pees, 73, retired — again — earlier this month. He came out of retirement to coach under Arthur Smith in 2021.

–Field Level Media

Jan 8, 2023; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Falcons running back Tyler Allgeier (25) runs the ball against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the first quarter at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Upbeat Falcons have plenty of room to grow heading into ’23

The Atlanta Falcons finished with a 7-10 record, but optimism abounds entering the offseason.

They’re expected to have roughly $75 million in cap space according to, with effective cap space hovering around $60 million.

If those numbers hold, it would give Atlanta the second-most cap space in the league entering 2023.

Armed with a talented young roster and riding a wave of momentum following a two-game winning streak to close the season, general manager Terry Fontenot said he and head coach Arthur Smith are moving to the “next phase of the plan” to mold the Falcons into a championship-caliber team.

“We had a plan from the very beginning, and now we are in the next phase of that,” Fontenot said at the end-of-the-season press conference Wednesday.

“This is going to be a different offseason that we’ve had in previous years. And yet, we are still going to be smart and handle things the right way. We are still going to set parameters and have discipline with everything we do.

“And yes, decisions we made before, we knew exactly what we were stepping into. We knew what the challenge was. And we knew early on in Year One, we are going to have a lot of young players, but we have to sign some veterans because we want to establish the culture and we want to establish our identity. And we want to make sure we’re setting a foundation the right way. So, we had some veterans on one-year deals.

Referring to defensive coordinator Dean Pees, who retired Monday after 50 years in coaching Smith said Pees “was here for two years, and yet Dean laid a foundation that’s going to continue to pay dividends moving forward.”

Smith said the team would be in no rush to hire a defensive coordinator. The versatility Atlanta currently has on its roster, however, could lead to a hire with a 3-4 background.

“Obviously we’ll miss Dean,” Smith said. “I’m glad he got to talk to everybody on Monday. That was important. So, we’ve cast a really wide net. We are going to take our time, which I think is important. Certainly, there is familiarity with certain schemes, but we are not going to be close-minded about anything.”

Atlanta’s 2022 draft class produced four starters — quarterback Desmond Ridder, tailback Tyler Allgeier, wideout Drake London and linebacker Troy Andersen — and key backups in defensive end Arnold Ebiketie and linebacker DeAngelo Malone.

Allgeier set the franchise rookie record for rushing yards in a season with 1,035. London led the team in receptions (72) and yards (866) and tied for the team lead with four scoring receptions. Andersen had 69 tackles, including three for a loss. He also forced a fumble and blocked a kick.

But the million-dollar question remains this: Did Ridder do enough to earn become the team’s quarterback of the future?

“We are still early in the offseason, but we are certainly encouraged by the progress he made,” Smith said. “But there’s a lot of work ahead of us before we are ready to declare anything like that right now.”

Marcus Mariota is still under contract through the 2023 season, with a cap hit of $12 million. If the Falcons choose to cut Mariota, the team’s cap number could balloon to over $80 million.

Atlanta holds the No. 8 pick in the NFL draft, and the Falcons’ staff was selected to coach in the East-West Shrine Bowl. Fontenot and Smith say they will be hard at work to build on the “culture” they have established since taking over the franchise a couple of years ago.

“One thing that we have here is a very strong culture,” Fontenot told reporters. “And you guys know because you see practice, you’re around the building and you see the players so you see the culture that we have here. And on Sundays, you look at the way every game, the way the guys fought and competed for the entire game, and it’s a credit to coach and the staff and the players and the leadership … the way they really attack everything: the meetings, the practices, the weight room, everything. And so, we have to make sure we always prioritize that. And that’s critical.

“Whether we are looking at players, we are going to go through an assessment of every player on the roster, whether they are under contract or not under contract. And it’s always going to start with the makeup, the character, the personal character, the football character, what’s their fit, what’s our trust level with them in the building, outside the building. It’s always going to start with the culture.”

–Field Level Medias

Sep 16, 2022; Laramie, Wyoming, USA; A general view of  Air Force Falcons helmets against  the Wyoming Cowboys during the third quarter at Jonah Field at War Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

Air Force OL Hunter Brown dies at 21 from medical emergency

The Air Force Academy announced Tuesday that cadet Hunter Brown, an offensive lineman on the football team, died Monday at age 21.

Brown, a sophomore, suffered a medical emergency while leaving his dorm to go to class, the academy said. First responders were called to the scene to attempt life-saving measures on Brown but they were not successful.

“Our players, staff and entire Academy have been so blessed and fortunate to have Hunter as a part of our lives,” Air Force football coach Troy Calhoun said. “He was a pure joy to coach and have as a teammate. He was tough, a great worker, and no one unselfishly pulled harder for others than Hunter. His mom and dad, Candyce and Dustin, raised a wonderful son who made each of us a better person. We love our great brother, and our thoughts and prayers are with Hunter’s incredible soul and his family.”

Hunter, a native of Lake Charles, La., was listed as a center on Air Force’s football roster online. He did not see game action for the Falcons.

–Field Level Media

Jan 8, 2023; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Falcons running back Tyler Allgeier (25) runs the ball against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the first quarter at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Arthur Smith, Falcons proud of rookie class after season finale

If Sunday’s 30-17 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was any indication, the Atlanta Falcons’ future looks bright due to a promising rookie class that really emerged as the season progressed.

First-year players Desmond Ridder, Tyler Allgeier and Drake London stole the show on offense in the victory over the Bucs, while fellow rookie Troy Andersen continued his strong play at linebacker on a young defense as the Falcons finished the season 7-10 for the second straight year.

It’s still too early to say if Ridder, a third-round pick, is Atlanta’s future at quarterback moving forward. But in four starts, Ridder made a case that he should be QB1 when the team opens the 2023 season due to his quick decision-making and strong arm.

In the win over the Bucs, Ridder fired his first two touchdown passes as a pro and completed 19 of 30 passes for a season-high 224 yards. For the season, he was 73 of 115 for 708 yards and two scores, good for an 86.4 passer rating.

Allgeier surpassed William Andrews (1,023) for the most rushing yards by a rookie in franchise history by running for 135 yards in the win over Tampa Bay (8-9). Allgeier, a fifth-round pick, rushed 210 times for 1,035 yards and three touchdowns for the year.

“There’s a reason we drafted him,” Atlanta coach Arthur Smith said. “I was pretty pleased with the way he was trending and then some of it was opportunities happen. I don’t know if anybody was running the ball better than (Cordarrelle Patterson) was earlier in the year around the league and unfortunately, he missed some time, and it was an opportunity where I thought Allgeier stepped in and did a nice job. So did Caleb Huntley. And I think he really took off so, some of it is by circumstance, but we had a lot of confidence when we took him out of BYU.”

London, a first-round pick, had six catches for a season-high 120 yards against the Bucs. He led the team in receptions (72) and yards (866) and tied for the team lead with four TDs.

Andersen, a second-round pick, started five games and had 69 tackles, three for a loss. Arnold Ebiketie, a second-round pick, and DeAngelo Malone, a third-round pick, also played significant roles on an Atlanta defense that could really take off if the Falcons can put the ball in the end zone more often.

“The next challenge is to make sure we become more explosive offensively,” Smith said. “We need more of a pass rush. I get all that. But every game except for one up in Cincinnati was a dogfight. These guys embraced it. There’s a big difference between this 7-10 and the last one.”

–Defensive coordinator Dean Peas, 73, announced his retirement after 50 years of coaching. Peas coached in high school, college and the pros and won Super Bowls with New England and Baltimore.

–Linebacker Rashaan Evans, cornerback Isaiah Oliver and right tackle Kaleb McGary are the team’s key free agents.

–Atlanta will have the No. 8 pick overall in the NFL draft. Don’t be surprised if upgrading the pass rush will be a top priority. Receiver, cornerback and the offensive and defensive lines are other areas that could use a boost in talent.

–Field Level Media

Oct 10, 2021; London, England, United Kingdom; Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay watches from the sidelines in the fourth quarter against the New York Jets during an NFL International Series game at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. The Falcons defeated the Jets 27-20. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Falcons name Greg Beadles president; Rich McKay still CEO

Following a second consecutive 7-10 season, the Atlanta Falcons have decided to divide their football and business leaders into two separate positions.

Team president and chief executive offer Rich McKay will remain as CEO and in charge of football operations, but new team president Greg Beadles will now handle the business operations.

McKay, 63, who has held those roles with the Falcons since 2011, will also become the CEO of AMB Sports and Entertainment. Beadles, who has been with the organization for more than a quarter-century, has served as chief operating officer since last March.

McKay led the search to hire general manager Terry Fontenot and coach Arthur Smith in 2021 and said Sunday he is “as confident or more confident” in Smith and Fontenot since Atlanta hired them.

“There’s a distraction; there’s an opportunity; there’s an injury and you change, and they have not done that,” McKay said. “They have stayed to the plan.”

McKay acknowledged Smith and Fontenot will have salary-cap room to make moves and build the team this offseason.

–Field Level Media