The Atlanta Falcons have released veteran quarterback Marcus Mariota, the team announced Tuesday.
The roster move opens up additional salary cap space for a team that was already projected to have the second-most salary cap space in the NFL. Mariota signed a two-year deal with Atlanta during the offseason, and was named the starting quarterback at the start of the season.
He then started 13 games before being benched in favor of third-round pick Desmond Ridder. The rookie went on to start the last four games of the season.
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Shortly after learning that he would no longer be a starter, Mariota walked away from the team. It was later announced that Mariota underwent a procedure on his knee and was placed on injured reserve as a result.
At the time, Falcons head coach Arthur Smith said Mariota’s absence was not ideal, but noted that the team was prepared to be without him.
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«Of course, you want all your guys to be here, but the guys have to make decisions. It’s part of professional sports. You have to have contingency plans,» Smith said in December.
Eliminating the former Heisman Trophy winner will result in an estimated $2.5 million in dead money being added to the Falcons’ 2023 cap, but will also save the team roughly $12 million.
If Mariota remained on the Falcons’ roster on the fifth day of the new NFL league year, he would have been due a $3 million roster bonus.
«When we originally made his contract, it was structured that way about where we would make a decision after the season and the way the [salary cap] the number was going to go up,» Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot said Tuesday at the combine.
The Falcons signed Mariota shortly after 2016 league MVP Matt Ryan was traded to the Colts. Before coming to Atlanta, Mariota spent two seasons with the Raiders, serving as a backup to quarterback Derek Carr.
Mariota passed for 2,219 yards, 15 touchdowns and 9 interceptions last season. He had a career-high 85 carries for 438 yards, scoring four touchdowns, the second-most rushing touchdowns of his career.
He had a prolific college career and was drafted second overall by the Titans, but ultimately lost his starting job to Ryan Tannehill.
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«When I was entering free agency [last year]»I sort of understood that if I had a chance to play again, it would probably be my last chance,» Mariota acknowledged. «Most guys don’t even get a second chance.»
Mariota’s best performance of the season came in a Week 6 win over the San Francisco 49ers, when he completed 13 of 14 passes and accounted for three touchdowns. He later received NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors.
But, Mariota largely struggled to shoot the ball accurately all season long and made costly mistakes. He also threw for fewer than 200 yards in five straight games.
Mariota has a 34-40 career record as a starter.
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In addition to Ridder, the Falcons currently have Logan Woodside as the starter heading into the 2023 season. But the Falcons’ front office says they plan to increase quarterback room during the offseason.
«We’re going to increase the position, and we’ve been very clear about how we feel about Desmond Ridder and what he’s done up to this point in his career,» Fontenot said.