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Top Potential Suitors, Deals for Atlanta Falcons' No. 4 Pick in 2021 NFL Draft

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystApril 7, 2021

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick wears a face mask on the sidelines during the first half of an NFL football game against the Houston Texans, Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
David J. Phillip/Associated Press

The race to get near the top of the 2021 NFL draft's board to select a quarterback started with the San Francisco 49ers and should end with the Denver Broncos, New England Patriots or Washington Football Team. 

The first three selections are on lock. 

Clemson's Trevor Lawrence is the presumptive No. 1 overall pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars. The New York Jets traded Sam Darnold to the Carolina Panthers Monday for 2021 sixth- and 2022 second- and fourth-round draft picks, signaling that they will draft a quarterback, like BYU's Zach Wilson, with the second overall selection. The San Francisco 49ers gave up the 12th pick and two future first-round picks to move up nine spots for the opportunity to choose between Ohio State's Justin Fields, North Dakota State's Trey Lance and Alabama's Mac Jones. 

With those picks basically settled, the draft now starts at No. 4, where the Atlanta Falcons reside. 

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Falcons have received trade calls from suitors and "are open" to trading out of the slot. Internally, Atlanta doesn't seem to be decided whether it should move ahead with soon-to-be 36-year-old quarterback Matt Ryan.

"What I'm hearing is that [general manager Terry] Fontenot is more focused on quarterback, and [head coach] Arthur Smith believes that Matt Ryan does have two or more years left," ESPN's Chris Mortensen said (h/t SB Nation's Evan Birchfield). 

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If the Falcons stand pat, a quarterback is a logical choice. However, an exciting offer could get the franchise to move off the fourth pick so another more desperate organization can get in line to select its quarterback of the future. 

The Falcons might be hesitant to move down too far since they're currently in range of elite talent in this year's class. But a sweetened overture may be too good to resist. After all, a trade-up for a top quarterback prospect always carries a premium, and Atlanta can dangle the chance to select a prospect with awesome upside, like Fields or Lance, to maximize its leverage. 

      

Denver Broncos

Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

There is no rational reason to assume the Broncos are entirely comfortable with Drew Lock as their quarterback. 

Could they continue to build around Lock and go into another season with the 24-year-old as their starter? Sure. He still presents ample arm talent and significant upside. But three factors must be taken into account: 

  1. New general manager George Paton didn't draft Lock. 
  2. Lock is a former second-round pick and not guaranteed anything as the starter since the team made a minimal investment in him as a second-round pick two years ago. 
  3. With a league-leading 15 interceptions (in 13 games) last season, Lock wasn't good enough. Ball security is always important, especially when head coach Vic Fangio stresses organizational attention to details

The Broncos own this year's ninth overall pick. Previously, the idea of one of the top five quarterback prospects being available to them seemed far-fetched, but Carolina's acquisition of Darnold changes the math. 

Now with Carolina less likely to be in the QB draft market, Denver can become even more aggressive with one fewer suitor on the board, especially when that franchise owns the pick just in front of the Broncos. There's a possibility that one of the prospects slides to the back end of the top 10. But Denver now holds an advantage over other quarterback-starved teams poised to trade up to the fourth pick. 

Slotting is important. Atlanta may prefer to stay within this year's first 10 picks.

With five quarterbacks expected off the board at some point before the ninth overall selection, the Falcons will still have a choice between some combination of Florida tight end Kyle Pitts, Oregon offensive tackle Penei Sewell, LSU wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase, Alabama cornerback Patrick Surtain II, Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons, Michigan defensive end Kwity Paye and Alabama wide receivers DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle. 

A similar type of deal happened three years ago when the Buffalo Bills moved up five spots to land Josh Allen. At that time, Buffalo only surrendered a pair of second-round picks to make the move. In this case, Denver would move the same number of picks but give up more value with other eager teams vying for the slot. 

Lock remains intriguing, but the team can upgrade at the position with a legitimate first-round talent. 

Trade Package: Atlanta sends the fourth overall pick to the Denver Broncos in exchange for this year's ninth and 40th overall picks and next year's first-round selection. 

    

New England Patriots

Elise Amendola/Associated Press

The Patriots attacked this offseason with a different type of fervor. The splashy free-agency period, including the signings of Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry, Matt Judon, Nelson Agholor and Jalen Mills, among others—came as a result of ample salary-cap space while the majority of the league dealt with spending limitations. 

"If there was ever a year to [spend a lot of money], this would be the year because we moved quickly, and instead of having 10-12 teams compete against us, there were only 2-3," owner Robert Kraft told reporters

The organization's opulent approach set up a move for a quarterback. Kraft recently emphasized the importance of addressing the elephant in the room. 

“We all know long-term, we have to find a way—either Jarrett Stidham or someone new we bring in. This isn’t something where you get algebraic formulas. Think of all the personnel wizards who passed on six rounds for Tom Brady in 2000. No one knows what's going to happen. We have to balance everything.

"Look, the quarterback is the most important position on the team. We know that. One way or another, we have to get that position solidified."

Cam Newton is back on another one-year deal without any certainty whether he'll ever return to form. The Patriots are already all-in, so there's no reason another strong move in the draft to acquire a quarterback shouldn't be expected. 

Unlike Denver, New England sits outside the top 10 with the 15th overall pick. A move all the way into the top five won't come cheap. 

The Kansas City Chiefs made the last trade from outside the first 15 picks into the top 10 (and just barely) for a quarterback prospect that turned out to be Patrick Mahomes. They moved up 17 spots to get their guy and only traded away their original first- and third-round picks as well as a future first. 

The price will be much steeper in this scenario, but the right decision could bring the Patriots from playoff wannabe to serious contender again (if Atlanta is even willing to deal with its Super Bowl LI adversary). 

Trade Package: Atlanta sends the fourth overall pick to the New England Patriots for three first-round picks (2021, '22 and '23) plus this year's 46th overall pick. 

    

Washington Football Team

Julio Cortez/Associated Press

At this point, the idea of any other team trading up may be stretching the possibilities a bit (sorry, Bears fans). But with this year's 19th overall pick, Washington could throw everything it has into the mix to get a potential franchise quarterback.

Right now, the nameless squad doesn't have one. Ryan Fitzpatrick and Taylor Heinicke could be good enough to keep the team afloat in the NFC East and possibly even win the division. But Washington has to make a choice.

Is it good enough to merely eke out a crown in the NFL's worst division, or should it go ahead with everything it has now to dominate the division for the foreseeable future by addressing its biggest need area? 

Head coach Ron Rivera said a competition will ensue between Fitzpatrick and Heinickewhich is another way of saying the team really doesn't have a starting quarterback. Meanwhile, the coach kept his options open in regards to alternatives. 

"Picking where we're picking, there are a lot of things that can happen," Rivera told reporters. "We have targets, we have ideas, we have guys that we like, but that always changes just because of the fact that everybody has a choice. You just never know what's going to happen at that point."

The rest of Washington's roster is relatively set. New general manager Martin Mayhew addressed the wide receiver position in free agency with the signings of Curtis Samuel and Adam Humphries. Antonio Gibson is an excellent young running back. The offensive line is four-fifths complete, though left tackle remains a concern. The defense, meanwhile, ranks among the league's best. 

Quarterback is a necessity to consistently win at a high level. There should be no question what Washington does in this year's draft as long as Atlanta is willing to listen. 

Trade PackageAtlanta sends the fourth overall pick to the Washington Football Team for three first-round picks (2021, '22 and '23), plus this year's 51st overall pick and next year's second-round selection. 

    

Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @brentsobleski.