Atlanta Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota (1) is sacked by Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Joseph Ossai (58) in the second half of an NFL football game in Cincinnati, Fla., Sunday, Oct. 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota has left the team without any indication of “when or if” he’ll return based on the evaluation of his “chronic” knee issue. The news was first reported by Josh Kendall of The Athletic.

“Of course, you want all your guys to be here, but guys have to make decisions. It’s part of professional sports. You have to have contingency plans,” Smith said Monday.

“He’s got a chronic knee that he wants to get evaluated,” Smith told reporters. “I anticipate him going to ‘IR’ (injured reserve).”

Mariota was benched on Dec. 8th in favor of rookie third-round pick Desmond Ridder, four days after the Falcons were beaten by the Pittsburgh Steelers 19-16. Mariota on the day completed 13/24 passes for 167 yards. He threw one touchdown and one interception late in the fourth quarter.

“We will have some very intense meetings in the next couple days. There will be changes made. Everything we decide to do, I will try to be as transparent as possible,” Smith said on Dec. 5.

During his press conference, Falcons head coach Arthur Smith described the nature of Mariota’s benching as “performance-based.” Smith also said Ridder will start Sunday’s game against the New Orleans Saints. 

The current injured reserve rules stipulate a player must miss four games. The move effectively ends Mariota’s season. If the Falcons make the playoffs, it is likely Ridder will be the starting quarterback.

Ridder has yet to play in a regular season game for the Falcons. However, the former University of Cincinnati quarterback completed 60% of his passes for 431 yards in the preseason. 

As for Mariota, he was previously not in the building on December 5th because his wife went into labor with the couple’s first child

Mariota joined the Falcons on a two-year $18.75 million contract after the team traded longtime quarterback Matt Ryan to the Indianapolis Colts. Mariota’s contract is essentially a one year deal. Mariota will receive $6.75 million for 2022 — $5 million signing bonus plus $1.75 million guaranteed base salary. Next year, Mariota has a $12 million option, with a $3 million roster bonus due on the fifth day of the 2023 league year. 

With all of that established, the 5-8 Falcons are traveling to face the New Orleans Saints, still in playoff contention and with a shot of winning the NFC South due to the division’s overall mediocrity. The Falcons have lost four out of their last five games. Additionally, six of their eight losses were by margins less than seven points. 

Currently, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lead the division with a 6-7 record. Tampa’s next game is against the Cincinnati Bengals, who currently are in second place in the AFC North and are riding a five-game winning streak. 

Itoro Umontuen currently serves as Managing Editor of The Atlanta Voice. Upon his arrival to the historic publication, he served as their Director of Photography. As a mixed-media journalist, Umontuen...