Let me tell you a story about a man named Brandon Weeden.
Weeden has been the butt of many a joke, the oldest quarterback ever drafted, the first round pick for the lowly Browns. There's a very good chance Weeden is simply not a viable starting quarterback in the NFL, and he's already 29 years old. The story I'm here to tell isn't really about that, but it's worth acknowledging.
The story I want to tell about Weeden is a story about giving up. Even before the Browns' former braintrust was unceremoniously kicked to the curb, there were whispers that Weeden wouldn't be the starter. All the new front office has done is trash him behind the scenes, but now that they're out of viable options to challenge him, they're muting their criticism and rolling with Weeden. You know, a guy who now knows no one on his own team believes in him, a guy who has every reason to think the team thinks he's going to fail.
This is beyond foolish, to be blunt. Teams routinely invest high draft picks in players, judge them lacking after a year and never really give them a shot. The NFL is an impatient league, now more than ever, but that impatience can lead to quality players being buried and other players having their development wrecked. The thinking is that you can't afford to waste a lot of time with these players, and you can almost understand the logic with someone like Weeden, even if the Browns have cycled through comically bad quarterbacks for years now.
The Falcons have been far from immune to this. We all saw it with Lawrence Sidbury, who seemed to be growing into a nice player before attitude or work ethic got him benched a year ago. We've seen the Falcons limit chances for young players or cut them outright, as was the case with William Middleton, a serviceable corner for the Jaguars who went on the chopping block way too early with Atlanta. And we watched the Falcons not match Vance Walker's contract, though we still don't know entirely what happened there. They're not perfect, I'd say, and they've been too committed to sinking the vast majority of snaps into veterans. It's both the curse of a contender and an unnecessary roadblock for young talent.
That may finally be changing. The Falcons are showing signs of being ready to give significant snaps to players like Cliff Matthews, Jonathan Massaquoi and Travian Robertson, young defenders with loads of potential who might have languished in a different year. In 2013, with the Falcons seemingly committed to building more talent through the draft, the defense is going to feature youth and lots of it.
This is encouraging to me, because no team stays competitive for long without cultivating that young talent. The Falcons are luckily set at quarterback, so the Weeden example may not be the best one. But it's good to know that a team hungry for a Super Bowl isn't going to sink all its time and energy into finding more old guys to stick under a slamming window, even if the young guys take more time and energy to develop.
It may not pay immediate dividends, but a little patience can go a long way. The outstanding question, of course, is whether it will pay dividends in 2013. That debate I leave to you.