At the beginning of this offseason, things seemed to finally be looking up for the Falcons in the NFC South. Sean Payton and Tom Brady retired within a week of each other, setting the Buccaneers adrift and leaving the Saints without their bishop. With Cam Newton approaching free agency, the best rostered quarterbacks on the Panthers, Saints, and Buccaneers were slated to be Sam Darnold, Taysom Hill, and Blaine Gabbert, respectively.
In the past week, however, things have taken a drastic turn. First, even though this story seems to have already faded into the past, it was only 6 days ago that the Falcons’ best receiver, Calvin Ridley, was suspended for the entirety of the 2022 season for gambling on NFL games. While this yearlong suspension seems a little heavy-handed, it’s likely to be upheld, both to “protect the Shield” and because it turns out Ridley was gambling substantially more than he initially claimed. This leaves an already-lacking Falcons’ receiving corps in a state of complete disarray.
Additionally, the Panthers and Saints have emerged as two of the teams most actively pursuing Deshaun Watson. The uber-talented Houston quarterback has been cleared of all criminal complaints against him, and Houston is eager to trade him for what will surely be a massive haul of draft picks and players. In 2020—the last time Watson played—he led the NFL in passing yards with 4,823, and was #3 in completion percentage behind MVP Aaron Rodgers and the great Drew Brees. Watson is right on par with Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen in terms of talent, and there’s a decent chance he ends up on one of the Falcons’ divisional opponents.
To top it all off, earlier this evening Tom Brady announced that he was officially un-retiring and would return to play for Tampa Bay. In a move that we all half-expected anyway, the greatest quarterback of all time took just over a month to decide that civilian life wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, and he wasn’t quite ready to hang up the pads. After Brady and Sean Payton retired earlier this year, there were hopes that maybe this was a chance to win the division without the Saints or the Bucs in the way. Now, we know that to be false—Brady has been Falcons fans’ worst nightmare since February 5, 2017, and his return now means that the Falcons are guaranteed to have substantial competition within the division.
However, there’s hope: at noon tomorrow, March 14, the legal tampering period begins. This 52-hour window allows teams to begin communicating with unrestricted free agents’ representatives (either an agent or the player themself). While contracts cannot be signed in that period, the teams are at least able to have discussions with the players and begin getting a sense of who they’ll be heavily targeting once free agency opens. It’s actually a good thing for the Falcons that Tom announced his return so soon; it’s a sure bet (don’t tell Calvin Ridley!) that Terry Fontenot and the rest of the Falcons’ front office will factor Brady’s return into their planning during the legal tampering period.