Terry Fontenot has finally lifted the lid on the Atlanta Falcons’ public and ultimately fruitless pursuit of quarterback Deshaun Watson. The team’s general manager spoke to the media on Wednesday, March 23 and downplayed how seriously the Falcons went after Watson.
Instead, Fontenot insisted any attempt by the Falcons to put together a trade package for Watson was merely exploratory. It’s not an explanation that’s satisfied many people, with the Falcons’ overt interest in Watson seen as a catalyst for the decision to trade Matt Ryan.
The latter was dealt to the Indianapolis Colts on Tuesday for the modest return of a third-round pick in this year’s draft, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter. Ryan’s exit came on the heels of Watson rebuffing the Falcons, New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers for the Cleveland Browns, a blockbuster trade reported by NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.
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Fontenot Downplays Watson Significance
Speaking at his press conference on Wednesday, Fontenot cooled any talk the Falcons were serious players for Watson, according to Carl Dukes of CBS Sports Radio:
More than a few are less than convinced by Fontenot’s claims. One of the doubters is Sports Illustrated‘s Conor Orr:
Orr has a point because the volume was turned up pretty loud on the Falcons’ attempts to bring Georgia native Watson back to Atlanta. At the peak of the rumors, CBS Sports’ Josina Anderson reported how a “‘who’s who’ of Atlanta from members of the Braves, Hawks, music world —inc. Lil’ Baby & Quavo’ have all reached out to Deshaun Watson to let him know ‘we want him home.'”
The Falcons had a strong hometown in with Watson because of his relationship with owner Arthur Blank. Watson served as a ball boy for the Falcons and later played his high school football at Georgia’s Gainesville High.
There were other moves that made it look as though the Falcons were indeed keen suitors. Those moves included deferring a roster bonus due Ryan on Friday, March 18.
The Falcons pushed the payment date four days, primarily to give Watson more time to make up his mind, according to Schefter. That same timeframe also meant Ryan was able to reassess his options, something Fontenot said the Falcons welcomed.
Falcons Defend Handling of Ryan Situation
Going after Watson, no matter how committed the Falcons were, naturally raised immediate questions about Ryan’s status. Those questions were answered when the man who had been the starting quarterback in Atlanta since 2008 agreed to a deal that sent him to the AFC.
Getting a solitary third-round pick in return looks like bad business for the Falcons. Particularly during an offseason when signal-callers like Watson and Russell Wilson have fetched multiple first-round selections.
Fontenot defended the Ryan deal, though, putting a positive spin on the paltry return. The general manager framed the trade he helped engineer around the notion of the Falcons still looking out for Ryan’s best interests, per NFL Network reporter Mike Garafolo:
The Falcons doing “right by Matt” might have been easier had the franchise not made a play of any kind for Watson. There were other concerns with Watson, notably the allegations of sexual misconduct he continues to face.
A Texas grand jury declined to indict the 26-year-old, but 22 civil lawsuits are still pending against the quarterback. Falcons’ head coach Arthur Smith wouldn’t go into detail about whether or not the Falcons spoke with Watson’s accusers while the trade rumors were ongoing, according to Josh Kendall of The Athletic.
Many fans may wish things had worked out differently, because the net result of being involved in the Watson sweepstakes was the Falcons giving away the franchise passing leader for a pittance and replacing him Marcus Martiota, a former No. 2 pick who has started six games in three seasons.
Mariota signed a two-year deal to reunite with Smith, according to Rapoport and Garafolo’s colleague Tom Pelissero. Smith was Mariota’s offensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans in 2019.
Now both are under pressure to prove they can make things work, adequately replace Ryan and make up for missing out on Watson.