Win-Now Mode

Todd Kirkland

Are the Falcons in "win-now mode"? Or are they being built to win perpetually?

Do a quick Internet search for "Atlanta Falcons" and "win-now mode." You'll find results that go back to 2011 asserting that the Falcons are, in fact, in "win-now mode," and have been in said mode since the blockbuster trade to acquire Julio Jones via the draft.

There are a few realities in the NFL that cannot be ignored. One, no matter how exceptional a player is, age will eventually catch up with him. Two, largely due to the first reality, teams do generally have a limited window to make a play for the Lombardi Trophy. Key players become free agents and move on, or retire, or become plagued with injuries to the point that they no longer have the same impact they once had. A team's weaknesses become easier to exploit as years pass and players age.

So, yes, the Falcons are in "win-now mode," as much as any other team in the NFL is focused on winning it all this coming season. Sure, there are a handful of locker rooms and front offices around the league where the players and team executives certainly expect that this will not be their year. But, for the most part, teams enter the season with the expectation that they can and will make the playoffs and put their team in a position to win it all.

The advent of the "win-now mode" mythology seemed to be the deal that allowed the Falcons to draft Julio Jones 6th overall in the 2011 NFL Draft. Phrases like "mortgaged their future" were used to describe the deal, which many analysts thought was excessively risky. What that acquisition did, however, was give Matt Ryan two number one-caliber wide receivers to throw to in Jones and Roddy White, not just for 2011, but for years to come.

In 2012, it was expected that Tony Gonzalez would retire after the season, as he had explicitly stated. It was no secret that veterans like Todd McClure, Mike Peterson and John Abraham wouldn't be playing forever. For those players, a window was closing. Even Matt Ryan talked about the Falcons, and himself in particular, being in "win-now mode" going into the 2012 season. Ryan said that the only reason to play in the NFL is to win, and that he's always in "win-now mode." The Falcons certainly came closer in 2012, but still didn't win it all. "Win-now mode" isn't magic, apparently.

As the 2013 league year approached, the Falcons made several bold roster moves, cutting veterans Michael Turner, Dunta Robinson and John Abraham. After free agency commenced, they signed veterans Steven Jackson and Osi Umenyiora, neither of whom are young. Their respective ages revived the "win-now mode" conversation. The Falcons have to be in "win-now mode," right? Because their new additions aren't getting any younger.

Leading up to the 2013 NFL Draft, rumors abounded that Dimitroff, also known as "Trader Thomas," would make another blockbuster deal to move up in the draft order and acquire a big name player, and these rumors revived the "win-now mode" conversation. The Falcons did move up a few spots in the first round to acquire cornerback Desmond Trufant, but it wasn't the bold move many were expecting. Still, the "win-now mode" conversations persist, from the Atlanta Falcons Message Board to Canal Street Chronicles to ESPN.com's Pat Yasinkas.

While every team in the NFL should always be in "win-now mode" (otherwise, what's the point?) t's more accurate to say that the Falcons are in "win perpetually mode." This is really Thomas Dimitroff's grand objective. He's building this team to be competitive for the long haul, and so far, with five consecutive winning seasons and four playoff appearances in five years, it's working. The Falcons have a nice balance of young drafted players and veteran talent. Some of their key players--Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Sean Weatherspoon, and others--should have many years of effective play ahead of them.

Tony Gonzalez will likely be finished (for real this time) after the 2013 season. Guys like Asante Samuel and Steven Jackson are in the twilight of their careers. Obviously, we all hope this is the year that the "win-now mode" mentality comes to fruition. I want Gonzalez to finish his Hall of Fame career with a ring. I want to silence people like Akbar Gbajabiamila, who said Matt Ryan should have been ranked between 71-80 on the NFL Network's Top 100 Players list because he hasn't won a Super Bowl. I want that Lombardi Trophy in my arsenal when talking trash to Saints fans. But, if it doesn't happen this season, Thomas Dimitroff will ensure that the team is in a position to potentially get there the following year, and the year after that, and the year after that. When you think about it, a "win perpetually mode" is preferable to the "win-now mode.

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