The final phase of the Falcons State of the Franchise event was the opportunity for fans to ask questions of president and CEO Rich McKay, general manager Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Mike Smith. Smitty fielded football-specific questions, Dimitroff took some contract-related questions and McKay was focused primarily on the new stadium.
The very first question was, how did they convince Tony Gonzalez to return for one more year with the Falcons?
Mike Smith said that, after Gonzalez announced the 95% certainty that he would retire at the end of the 2012 season, they discussed it, and made an agreement that they wouldn't discuss it again during the season, presumably to avoid any distractions. As was widely reported, Gonzalez had made commitments to his family, which was the major obstacle to reversing his retirement decision. After the season, Smitty and Gonzalez discussed it via phone, and Smitty ended up getting on a plane and flying out to have dinner with Gonzalez to discuss it in person.
Meanwhile, Dimitroff was calling Gonzalez, Matt Ryan was calling Gonzalez, Roddy White and Asante Samuel were calling Gonzalez, and Smitty acted absolutely incredulous about that, but Rich McKay made it clear that Smitty had a hand in that, too.
Smitty was also asked, have the Falcons done enough this offseason to get to and win a Super Bowl?
Smitty believes they have. He was candid about the fact that the number of points Seattle and San Francisco scored on the Falcons in the respective second halves of playoff games was a huge problem, and they are not happy about it. Smith assured fans that the coaching staff has spent every waking moment preparing for the coming season and developing strategies to fix those issues.
A fan in the crowd took this opportunity to yell, "Cover the tight end!"
Smitty replied, "I hear you!"
On the New Stadium:
McKay was asked about PSLs, and again confirmed that they will not be at the same price levels that we've seen in Dallas, the Meadowlands, or--he specifically said--the estimates in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. They will be more modest. He acknowledged that change is never easy, but the Falcons will do their best to make this transition as comfortable as possible for season ticket holders in all ways, including price.
When the schematics for the new stadium are finished, they will have a better idea of pricing.
McKay was also asked if fans will have input on the new stadium, and if fans will have the opportunity to offer feedback and suggestions.
McKay said that there will be fan forums at four home games during the coming season, where a specific number of season ticket holders will be invited to come and share thoughts and feedback on the new stadium with the architects.
A fan asked how soon ticket package information will be available for the new stadium. McKay does not have a specific timetable, but urged fans to remember who Arthur Blank is and what his priorities are. Blank wants this new stadium to benefit fans and the community as much as it benefits the team. McKay's best estimate for ticket pricing and packages availability was approximately 18 months.
McKay was asked an excellent question about adequate parking and tailgating space for the new stadium. He said that it's a priority.
Where the Georgia Dome currently stands will become, as McKay put it, the greenest surface lot ever. Creating adequate parking space, with a priority on surface lots as opposed to parking decks, will be a focus. The architects have had some creative ideas about parking solutions, and they are all very cognizant of the needs, and they want to create as much space as possible.
Contract and General Questions:
Of course, Dimitroff was asked about the timetable for Matt Ryan's contract extension.
At this point, they still have no timetable, but it will get done, and Ryan will be in Atlanta for a long time.
Dimitroff was also asked if the offensive line is good enough, and if run blocking is good enough going into the 2013 season.
Dimitroff pointed out that the team was 17th in sacks, and needs to improve there. The team has drafted young guys to learn under veteran players, and now it's time for them to stop up and perform. Dimitroff said that Matt Ryan has faith in the young offensive linemen, and the staff has faith in them, so the fans should also.
A fan asked why there is no play-by-play announcing in the Georgia Dome, and this was the one question that I felt wasn't truly answered. The fan asking the question threw in some comments about the music between plays, of which he is not a fan, and I think Rich McKay focused on that instead of the question.
McKay's answer was, it's difficult to create a game day entertainment strategy that pleases everyone. He then talked about the Rise Up campaign, and the fact that--while it is sticking around--it will evolve this season.
In listing some of the game day elements, McKay mentioned the "Under the Hood" video replay, in which fans see what the officials are seeing under the hood while they review a challenged play. He said that it's funny, because when a replay could benefit the opponent, that equipment seems to malfunction.
A fan asked about events like the Women's Football Clinic and Players Luncheon. McKay said that they would like to bring back the Women's Football Clinic, but it is very difficult to schedule because of the coaches' time limitations. As far as the Players Luncheon, he said that very few teams have those anymore because it's a distraction. He also said that it's a difficult event for players, because of the timing--usually about 30 of the players in attendance are worried about whether or not they're going to make the roster.
A fan asked about the new "crown of the helmet" rule and whether it will reduce injuries. McKay, as chairman of the competition committee, fielded this question. He said that the primary reason they established the new rule is, if you show film of what would now be considered an illegal play under the new rule to any coach in the league, the coach will tell you that it's not a technique that they teach, and that the player is putting their own head and neck at risk with that form. He said that the NFL has a responsibility to be the standard-bearer for safety, as NCAA, high school and youth football programs will model what they see from NFL players on the field. They are aiming to make the game safer for players while they're playing, and after their careers.
The final question was regarding the Rise Up campaign, which McKay had alluded to in an earlier response. The fan inquiring wanted to know if they had plans to change it, and what those plans were.
McKay said that they have been very happy with the Rise Up branding campaign so far. It has achieved recognition throughout the league. He does hope and anticipate that Samuel L. Jackson will be back for the new season.
The two most consistent themes overall from the State of the Franchise event were the organization's appreciation for the best fans in the league, and everyone's high expectations for the coming season. Rich McKay opened by saying that the team's expectations for the coming year are as high as the fans' are. Thomas Dimitroff stated that he has never been this excited about a team before. Mike Smith stated repeatedly how eager he is for the season to begin. We're just 110 days away from the 2013 NFL season. After the State of the Franchise event, I'm definitely ready to Rise Up.