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Why Marcus Mariota left Falcons shortly after Arthur Smith announced Desmond Ridder as starting QB

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For the Atlanta Falcons, it only seemed like a matter of time before Desmond Ridder got the starting job at quarterback.

If they weren’t competitive, it’s likely Arthur Smith would have ridden it out with Marcus Mariota. But with them begrudgingly being cast into an NFC South race, the Falcons made the switch this week, and Smith did not mince words about why.

“I did make a switch at quarterback. Desmond Ridder will be the starter. It’s a performance-based decision,” he told reporters Monday.

It appears that didn’t sit well with Mariota, who has remained on his career trajectory of “serviceable but not great” in Atlanta this season. It must be said he hasn’t been throwing to elite receivers, although rookie Drake London has shown he has a bright future in the league. But Mariota is completing 62 percent of his passes, has thrown for 2,219 yards and 15 touchdowns to nine interceptions.

According to The Athletic’s Josh Kendall, Mariota left the team Friday, a day after Ridder was named the starter to address what is being called a chronic knee issue. There is no indication regarding when or if he’ll return, but Smith addressed the knee injury in characteristically blunt fashion.

“[Mariota’s knee] is nothing that has been an issue this season, but that’s his prerogative so …” Smith said, per Kendall. “Of course, you want all your guys to be here, but guys have to make decisions. It’s part of professional sports. You have to have contingency plans.”

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Mariota, of course, was the contingency if Ridder struggled. And despite the Saints’ poor record, playing them in Ridder’s debut is hardly a slam dunk. The Saints are 10th in the NFL against the pass, so Ridder will be going up a fairly staunch secondary and pass rush.

Smith further elaborated Mariota’s knee injury had nothing to do with the benching, and doubled down on it being performance based.

“I’m not a medical expert,” he said. “Just tellin’ you. It had nothing to do with that decision. And we’ll just see how the week plays out.”

The Falcons signed Logan Woodside from their practice squad. Between Ridder, Woodside, and Feleipe Franks, the Falcons now have three quarterbacks who have thrown four NFL passes.

Ridder, a Cincinnati product, was drafted in the third round by the Falcons. According to Smith, although this move was made to win, there is benefit in seeing what they have.

“There is risk anytime you make a move, but you have to be willing to take that if you want to break through,” he said, per “We have been in a lot of close games, made a lot of progress, but our objective is to get over that hump. If it benefits us in the long term, that’s a really good thing for us.”

Ultimately, Mariota was a known quantity and Ridder may have a higher ceiling. The issue is, Ridder also has a lower floor. If that floor turns out to be lower than anticipated, the Falcons will be missing their safety net in Mariota. That, however, is on Smith and the Falcons to figure out if it does come to pass.

Marcus Mariota contract

Mariota signed a 2 year, $18,750,000 contract with the Atlanta Falcons during the offseason, which includes a $5,000,000 signing bonus, $6,750,000 guaranteed, and an average annual salary of $9,375,000, according to Spotrac

His contract is structured in such a way that gives the Falcons an out in 2023. While Mariota will be due a base salary of $9 million, as well as a $3 million roster bonus, neither is guaranteed.

Mariota’s only guaranteed money in 2023 is a $2.5 million prorated bonus. 



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