The other day, in Caleb's quality column about Thomas Dimitroff, long-time reader Starrk challenged the premise. Most fans, he wrote, already think the Comrade is a great general manager, and there's no need to defend him. He also implied that The Falcoholic's legion readers are more or less in the tank for Dimitroff, to which I respond, hail Dimitroff!
His comment did get me thinking about the way we evaluate the Comrade. Obviously, he's had more successes than failures, and the team has been highly successful under his leadership. Because we've never experienced this kind of sustained success before, many of us are willing to cut him a break, even when he's clearly made mistakes. I do believe he's earned some benefit of the doubt, at minimum, but there have been mistakes.
Today, I want to take a quick look at where Dimitroff has erred, both for the sake of a little balance and to sound a cautionary note about the rest of the off-season. Not every move is going to work, after all, and some are inherently less likely to work.
Let's hit it.
Apologies, because I'm going to have to cover some of the same ground The DW covered recently here, but the draft was where the bulk of the mistakes happened.
- Chevis Jackson. This was the first in a long line of cornerback-related missteps from Dimitroff and the front office, who have struggled to draft at the position. Jackson was big and physical, but never did much at the NFL level.
- Robert James. The fact that he's hung on for this long doesn't mean this wasn't a waste of a fifth round pick. James has never done anything at the NFL level.
- Wilrey Fontenot. An undersized cornerback with nice athleticism, Fontenot didn't even make it out of camp.
- Keith Zinger. Tough to criticize a seventh-round pick all that much, but Zinger also didn't do a whole lot at the NFL level.
Ultimately, there weren't a lot of huge mistakes here. A few late round picks didn't work out and Jackson never put it together, but this was Dimitroff's finest draft class and his signing of Michael Turner wound up being a great one. If you want to pick on the Comrade, this isn't the year to go with.
This is more like it.
- Peria Jerry's injury wasn't anyone's fault, but neither of the Jerry brothers have ever lived up to their draft status in the NFL. We've been hearing about Jerry's impending breakout for a while, and while it's fair to wonder how much the injury sapped from him, he's not a factor when healthy. This is a bust.
- Chris Owens and Lawrence Sidbury never lived up to our hopes, but some of that has to do with coaching staff usage. Still, neither were gamebreakers.
- William Middleton. To use a pick on Middleton, cut him, grab him back, watch him go to the Jaguars and become a solid cornerback has been more than a little frustrating. The Falcons could have used that depth so many times in the last few seasons. Right scouting, wrong outcome.
- Spencer Adkins was, unfortunately, a waste of a draft choice. Dimitroff has long been a fan of taking raw talents and trying to let the coaching staff mold them. In James' and Adkins' cases, it didn't work.
Not the disaster it's remembered as, but more missteps here. The Jerry pick has turned out to be a bust, several of these guys either didn't pan out or have moved on and we begin to see the dual fascination with drafting cornerbacks and raw players starting to show its shakiness for Dimitroff.
Everyone from the 2010 draft is still with the team, so while it wasn't a hugely impactful one, it was still decent. That's not the mistake I want to highlight.
- The Falcons needed a cornerback, so they threw an awful lot of money at Dunta Robinson. The move looked like an overpay at the time, and three years later with Robinson now signed to the Chiefs, it looks worse than that. Robinson brought some needed physicality to the secondary, but he was also subpar in coverage all three seasons in Atlanta and took up plenty of cap space doing so. His willingness to re-structure last off-season was a point in his favor and he was always a team guy during his years in Atlanta, but this was the wrong move in 2010.
- Dominique Franks still has a shot to contribute, but he hasn't done an awful lot. The Falcons drafted five cornerbacks in three years, and not one has become more than an occasional nickel player during their time in Atlanta.
This was the year where we began to suspect that the Falcons would have a chronic problem in the secondary, outside of those safeties. If you're going to knock Thomas Dimitroff for anything, it would have to be his inability to draft a cornerback that developed into a starting-caliber player. Many of these picks have been isolated to the later rounds, but nonetheless, it does catch up with a team.
We're getting to the point where it's too recent to judge the draft picks, but thankfully Dimitroff threw us a signing.
- Ray Edwards is what happens when you aren't able to fill needs through the draft. Edwards was a fine player in Minnesota, but the concerns about him being at best a complementary piece proved true quickly in his Falcons career. While a capable run-stopper, he couldn't rush the passer worth a damn in Atlanta and wound up released halfway through the 2012 season, leading to some dead money for the Falcons in an off-season where they really could have used the cash.
- Andrew Jackson had an awesome name but didn't pan out for the Falcons. Alas.
The first couple of years had the occasional lousy draft pick. 2010 and 2011 brought us lousy signings, ones that were an attempt to remedy draft picks not panning out at positions of need. These were, outside of Jerry, arguably Dimitroff's two biggest mistakes.
Unless you don't like Julio Jones, but I'm not touching that.
2012 & 2013
We'll save these for the next edition in a couple of years. Last year was a weak draft class, and this year's hasn't even happened yet. Time will tell if Steven Jackson and Osi Umenyiora are the kind of free agent difference-makers the Falcons need.
Now we come to our conclusion. There may be further moves here that I've missed or left out because I don't view them as flops, but this gives you an idea of how well Dimitroff has done overall. He is one of the best general managers in football, full stop.
What can and perhaps should worry you about his track record is how the Falcons have fared when chasing cornerbacks and, in more than once case, chasing a big-name free agent. It's also a little telling that the Falcons still have not cobbled together a competent pass rush in his years running the team. He's far from perfect and we ought to have a healthy skepticism of the moves he makes to shore up the defense, but trust that the overall plan will still produce a quality football team.
Let it give you a little pause, no matter what your level of trust, and we'll see how the rest of the off-season plays off.