Yesterday, Mike Smith, Arthur Blank and Thomas Dimitroff sat down at a table and answered questions for about an hour. While several of the questions were incisive, I came away not thinking so much about the answers as the overall mood.
As someone said to me yesterday, the atmosphere in that press conference was the kind you'd expect to see after a team went 4-12. Mike Smith was angry. Thomas Dimitroff was as calm as ever, but forceful in his answers. And Arthur Blank was brutally honest, sometimes to a surprising degree. The message was unmistakable, and perfectly encapsulated by Blank himself.
"Good is sometimes the enemy of great, and we have to become great."
Can you think of a better way to sum up this season? These Falcons were too content to be good, to beat worse teams and fail against better ones, to make a handful of brilliant plays and match them with missed tackles, missed blocks and turnovers. The trio threw around words like inconsistent and obliquely criticized the team for a lack of passion. They did this to indicate that changes to the roster are coming, and that 10-6 and being bounced in the playoffs is no longer even remotely tolerable.
There's something remarkable here. Four years ago, Blank, Dimitroff and Smith would be delighted with a 10-6 season and so would the fans. But expectations have been raised to the point where a winning season isn't something to celebrate. It's something you call a gloomy press conference to address. That's a remarkable transformation, and it's really encouraging as a fan to know that there's no denial in the men who lead this team.
The upshot? There will be a lot of new blood in Flowery Branch this summer. Two new coordinators, multiple new players and perhaps a new-look offense and defense altogether means the Atlanta Falcons of the last four years are being bludgeoned with a shovel and left for dead. I'm no oracle, so I can't tell you what the Falcons will look like after all is said and done. They will be different, though, and that's what we've all wanted to hear for a while now.
After the jump, a few interesting bullets. Give it a watch and discuss amongst yourselves, especially if I missed something you think is important.
- Blank gave Dimitroff and Smith a big vote of confidence, albeit one with a caveat. He said he believes the two are the right choice to take the team to the next level, but that you cannot let loyalty override performance. As Jeff Schultz noted in a great column at the AJC, Smith is the next domino to fall if things go poorly.
What do I take away from that? These two probably have one re-loading year and one year to bring home multiple playoff wins and a title, because Blank is a reasonably patient guy. If they don't get it done, you'll see a new tandem in 2014.
- There are veterans in trouble here, though in true Falcon style, none were named. A lot of people are speculating that Dunta Robinson and his roster bonus will be playing elsewhere in 2012, something I'm not totally sold on but could definitely believe. Underachievers won't survive the roster purge.
No sacred cows, as Dimitroff struggled to put it.
- Mike Smith singled out Matt Ryan, Sean Weatherspoon, Eric Weems and Matt Bosher as his MVPs. The only surprise on this list is Weems, who I would have thought would not be returning in 2012. Kevin Cone has infinitely more upside.
- Dimitroff spoke of taking advantage of opportunities. The Falcons juuuust missed a lot of interceptions, tackles, sacks, and blocks in 2011, and the tolerance level for that amongst the staff is obviously going to be very low this season. That's the good news.
- Arthur Blank is legitimately angry, and as I noted, astonishingly blunt. A couple of times he followed Smith or Dimitroff and took their usual roundabout comments to another level, including a direct criticism of the offensive line. It was refreshing to hear, but I can't imagine every player's going to feel the same way.
- Amid votes of confidence for Matt Ryan and Julio Jones, Michael Turner got some extremely indirect, extremely light criticism. Smith spoke of how Turner did a good job but didn't do everything he needed to do at the end of the season, quickly pointing out the injury.
Smith did say that Turner's role will change, which was music to my ears. Running him 250-300 times in the way Mularkey did is not going to produce the results the Falcons need on a consistent basis. Time for a change.
- Only about half of the Falcons' free agents are priorities, according to Dimitroff. I'll take my own crack at guessing which ones they are in the weeks ahead, but you're welcome to start us off now. Go for it.