The Road Not Taken: The 2022 Atlanta Falcons Quarterbacks

Quarterback is easily the most important position in football.

In 1915, acclaimed American poet Robert Frost wrote a poem. It was four stanzas, five lines a piece. This poem intended to mock his friend Edward Thomas, another acclaimed poet, for his indecisive nature on their walks. It turned out to be one of the most influential works of its time due to its trailblazing ideas. I am sure Frost had no intentions for his work to describe anything in the realm of American football. However, when you look at the Atlanta Falcons quarterbacks going into 2022, there are some glaring similarities to the wartime literature piece.

“Poetry is play. I’d even rather have you think of it as a sport. For instance, like football”

Robert Frost

I want to give thanks to the Poetry Foundation and their in-depth analysis of Robert Frost’s work. Their detailed look at the piece helped shed even more light on my article.

Stanza One

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

General manager Terry Fontenot and the rest of the front office were at a crossroads as they entered the 2022 off-season. Do they or do they not hit the reset button for the quarterbacks for the Atlanta Falcons? This would effectively end Matt Ryan’s tenure in Atlanta. An end to 14 years of stability at the quarterback position. Would they have liked to keep Matt and have him mentor the next quarterback of the future? Sure. Matt Ryan is the consummate professional. Over his tenure, he has seen tons of defenses, blitzes, coverages, schemes, and knowledge he could pass down to the next generation of Falcons quarterbacks. But given the current deplorable state of the team, it would not have been fair to keep him while also building towards the future. Ryan deserved to win now, even if it was not in Atlanta. 

Day by day, the front office looked into the Ryan situation. They deliberated to the point of wondering if an extension of the aging quarterback was the correct decision. Give this new regime time to build a team around the long-time franchise centerpiece. But as they looked further, the front office realized they needed to look elsewhere. And just as the yellowing leaves of the alder trees in New England signified the beginnings of autumn, the pursuit of Deshaun Watson signified the end of the Matt Ryan era in Atlanta.

Stanza Two

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

According to American literary critic William Pritchard, Frost showcased how decision-making was not a matter of meditation or choice. On the contrary; decision-making is usually a matter of impulse. And sometimes, as Frost did in the latter part of the stanza, you have to learn that that impulse may not have led to the best results. 

Many in the court of public opinion would call the pursuit of Deshaun Watson an incredibly impulsive decision. As a highly controversial topic with legal implications, I will not go deeper into the subject. However, according to Ryan, this action marked the beginning of the end of his tenure as the quarterback in Atlanta.

Stanza Three

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

Frost examines his decision and realizes the finality of it. As such with all decisions, Frost decides to embrace it wholeheartedly. “Oh, I kept the first for another day!”, a declaration of decisiveness from Frost stating ‘yes, this is the decision I have chosen’ and “I doubted if I should ever come back”. 

There was no coming back. Ryan was gone and shipped out to Indianapolis. Watson had chosen to be a Cleveland Brown. And the Falcons had a void at the quarterback position that they had not seen since the turbulent, roller-coaster season of 2007. They did not have the cap space to bring in one of the top names like Russell Wilson. Not to mention they were void of the talent necessary to attract any other big names in free agency. How would the Falcons decide to fill that void?

Final Stanza

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

The new era for the quarterbacks position for the Atlanta Falcons starts with yet another fork in the road. There is the veteran Marcus Mariota, the former number two overall pick that had underachieved his first go-round with Arthur Smith in Tennessee. Mariota has shown flashes of good quarterback play throughout his seven-year career but has never brought it all together as the franchise quarterback he was expected to be coming out of Oregon in 2014. He has a chance to give his career a resurgence just like Arthur Smith gave to his former teammate: Ryan Tannehill. He has the potential to be the answer in Atlanta. But his inconsistent play, coupled with an inclination for stinger-type injuries, left Atlanta with a sticky situation heading into the 2022 NFL Draft. 

In the third round, at pick 74, the second road was paved for the Atlanta Falcons. Desmond Ridder, the former Cincinnati Bearcat, was drafted as the potential future at the position. As a third-round pick, it may seem that he was no more than a consolation prize in a draft full of mid-round talent. But I believe his lower draft stock is more attributed to Terry Fontenot playing the draft game. Fontenot did not allow his want for a prospect to overweigh the flow and momentum of the draft. But make no mistake, the Falcons loved Desmond Ridder. His intangibles have jumped out to the brass in Atlanta, even impressing head coach Arthur Smith enough to comment on it in a press conference *gasp*.

The beauty of this poem is that the last stanza is not inherently positive. Frost started the stanza by saying that he is “telling this with a sigh”, can that be assumed to be a positive statement? What type of sigh is it? A deep sigh of relief that everything is going to be okay? An exasperated sigh of frustration that the decision has not panned out? Will Mariota be able to keep the job outright? Will Ridder be ready if his name is called week one? Nobody outside of the building in Flowery Branch can say for sure. But one thing is for sure. Somewhere far down the road, wherever this decision takes us, whatever direction these quarterbacks for these Atlanta Falcons takes. Falcons fans will look on this off-season and state that this one decision “has made all the difference”.

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