Arthur Blank has moved to assure people the Atlanta Falcons did their due diligence concerning quarterback Deshaun Watson. The Falcons were among the potential trade partners for Watson, who is facing 22 allegations of sexual misconduct off the field.
Falcons’ owner Blank spoke at the annual NFL owners meeting on Tuesday, March 29 and revealed the extent of his franchise’s investigation into Watson. While said investigation ultimately amounted to one lengthy phone call between Watson and the Falcons, Blank insists the team was ready to do more work had the 2020 passing leader agreed to a trade.
Watson ultimately shunned the Falcons, despite hometown connections with Blank, for the Cleveland Browns. The fully guaranteed contract he received continues to be a source of controversy, with two former NFL general managers critical about the optics of the move.
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Blank Talks Falcons’ Investigation
Speaking at the meeting, Blank went into detail about the call between franchise and player, per Josh Kendall of The Athletic:
That last line is important because any team in the sweepstakes to acquire Watson from the Houston Texans was going to have to face questions about the allegations against the player. The same went for the Falcons, Browns, New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers.
For a while it appeared as though the Falcons were in the box seat to strike a deal for Georgia native Watson. He played his high school football at Gainesville High where he met Blank and later acted as a ball boy for the Falcons.
It was something of an about turn then when Watson opted to move to Cleveland. The unprecedented contract, detailed by ESPN’s Adam Schefter, perhaps helped make sense of the decision:
Handing that level of money to a player dealing with such serious accusations naturally raised some eyebrows. Two Texas Grand Juries have declined to indict the 26-year-old, but he’s still facing civil suits.
Some question the Browns going all in while the legal process is ongoing. Among them, Heavy’s front office insider Randy Mueller spoke with ex-New York Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum about the Watson deal on Tuesday.
Mueller, a former GM for the Miami Dolphins and Saints, said “I understand that these guys never get on the market. I just don’t know that I could’ve done it. … It just left me with a bad taste and maybe it’s just the manipulation of the system. So it was kind of hard for me to swallow the whole thing.”
Tannenbaum echoed similar thoughts: “I think we’ve all taken calculated risks. I think there’s a time and a place to do that. … At a minimum the optics are awful. Again, we don’t know the disposition of these 22, but there are 22 lawsuits. That’s a big number and to see a player get rewarded for that, that hasn’t sat well with a number of people that I’ve talked to in the league.”
The Browns will continue to deal with questions about optics, but missing out on Watson had a ripple effect on the Falcons’ personnel. It led to the acquisition of Marcus Mariota on a smartly structured two-year deal, per NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, before the trade that sent Matt Ryan to the Indianapolis Colts.
Blank also explained the latter decision on Tuesday.
Blank Reveals Ryan Reasoning
The Falcons didn’t have to give up three first-round picks to get Watson, but it was a bit anti-climatic when all the team got for Ryan was a third-rounder. Ryan had been the starter since 2008, set a ton of records and guided the Falcons to a second Super Bowl appearance after the 2016 season.
Blank went into detail about the decision to offload Ryan so cheaply. The owner drew a comparison with Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady, per Kendall:
Age was a concern with Ryan, even in today’s footballing landscape where signal-callers are playing for longer. The Falcons bigger concern might have been the investment made in Ryan, who was set to carry the largest salary cap hit in history this season.
Whatever the reason, the Falcons willingly reset from a secure option at football’s most important position to uncertainty. It’s a decision that will leave little mercy for Blank, general manager Terry Fontenot and head coach Arthur Smith if it backfires in 2022.