Arthur Smith went 7-10 in his first season as an NFL head coach but the Atlanta Falcons are aiming much higher.
“You’d be a fool not to want to play for Art, especially this year, the foundation he’s been building with guys in this locker room,” said Cordarrelle Patterson in his season-ending press conference Monday.
The Falcons enter another offseason facing major questions. Quarterback Matt Ryan, 36, has a cap hit of over $48 million in 2022. Wide receiver Calvin Ridley went from being cast as a No. 1 receiver in the aftermath of the Julio Jones trade to missing in action to address mental health. There are signals he could be traded.
Smith said Sunday night Ryan “knows how we feel about him, but you’re not going to get like a hot take from me today to ever back ourselves into a corner. Everything is evaluated every year and that’s the way it goes in the NFL. To make a grand statement right after a game, we’re on the same page. Do I have have to declare that Kyle Pitts will be a tight end for us next year? Do you want me to declare that?”
Smith said the ESPN report linking Ryan to the Pittsburgh Steelers as a potential landing spot was a reminder “you can find whatever you want on the internet.”
Among the building blocks are the Falcons’ 2021 top pick Pitts, who said Monday he felt like he had a good start to his career. He said the biggest challenge being a rookie was staying on schedule and maintaining his health. He said reading defenses is an area he needs to improve in, but first he’s stepping away from football for a breather.
“I’ll go on vacation, take some time away, spend time with the family and get back to it,” Pitts said.
Patterson is an unrestricted free agent after scoring 11 touchdowns as the Falcons’ leading rusher and third-leading receiver. Patterson had 618 rushing yards on 153 carries and caught 52 passes for 548 yards.
“I’m just going to go back to doing what I normally do,” Patterson said. “Training and getting ready for the season no matter what team I’m on — I’m going to give it my all.”
Patterson turns 31 in March. He said his mother, who lives three hours from Atlanta, told him three days ago she wants him to stay with the Falcons so that she can attend home games.
Patterson said teams looked at him as a special teams player, but Smith “trusted and believed in me, putting me in position to make plays” and recognizes he likely raised his value on the open market.