Smith mentioned that possibility Monday, telling reporters that Mariota might be placed on injured reserve due to a knee injury. Smith said the injury did not contribute to his decision to bench Mariota for rookie Desmond Ridder, calling the move "performance-based."
Upon hearing the news, Mariota apparently decided to get his knee checked out. As a result, he'll undergo surgery in December.
#Falcons QB Marcus Mariota is sent to have knee surgery next week and he'll go on IR today, coach Arthur Smith said.
— D. Orlando Ledbetter (@DOrlandoAJC) December 14, 2022
Smith appeared to question Mariota's timing, telling The Athletic on Tuesday that Mariota's knee "is nothing that has been an issue this season, but that’s [his] prerogative." Smith also spoke about the importance of having guys stick with the team, saying, "Of course, you want all your guys to be here, but guys have to make decisions." That could be interpreted as a critique of Mariota.
This is the second time in his career that Mariota has been benched by Smith. The first came in 2019, when Smith, then the offensive coordinator of the Tennessee Titans, benched Mariota for Ryan Tannehill. The Titans went 7-3 down the stretch with Tannehill, reaching the playoffs. They won two playoff games before falling to the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game.
Mariota faces uncertain future with Falcons
The surgery could mark the end of Mariota's run with the Falcons. Being placed on injured reserve will effectively end his season, and he's under contract with the Falcons for another year but doesn't carry an expensive cap. The Falcons can cut him and find another option to either compete with or sit behind Ridder next season.
If Mariota hits the free-agent market, he would be looking for his fourth team since being the No. 2 selection in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Mariota has experienced positive stretches in his career but has thrown for 20-plus touchdowns in a season just once. He has now lost a starting job twice in the past four years and spent the other two seasons primarily as a backup.
In 13 games with the Falcons, Mariota completed 61.3% of his passes for 15 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He also ran for 438 yards and four scores.
Those numbers should result in Mariota getting some interest if he hits the market, though most likely as a backup.