2013 was a crazy year for the Falcons organization. At one point during the year, the Falcons were just a couple yards away from gaining a Super Bowl berth for the first time since 1998 when they lost to the Denver Broncos. Then, in about 11 months the Falcons turned from one of the best teams in football to one of the worst. How did this happen? Injuries and poor decisions by the front office. I have been a Dimitroff supporter ever since he was hired along Mike Smith in 2008, but Dimitroff had some extremely puzzling moves this offseason. The good, was cutting Dunta Robinson and moving up in the draft for Desmond Trufant as well as drafting Robert Alford. Dunta Robinson was severely overpaid and lacked the cover skills to be the starting corner he once was and Desmond Trufant is looking to be one of the top corners in the NFL for a long time, and Alford looks like an excellent number 2 CB. The bad, however, was releasing Tyson Clabo, Brent Grimes, John Abraham, and signing Osi Umenyiora and Stevan Jackson. Tyson Clabo was arguably Atlanta's top offensive lineman last year at right tackle. Sure he was getting old but he could have provided veteran leadership and at least someone you can trust at right tackle. Instead, the right tackle position was God awful this year (as with the rest of line, but RT was really bad). Then cutting Brent Grimes and John Abraham, Brent Grimes was understandable at the time with him coming of an achilles injury, but it hurts when you release a player that becomes a pro bowler the next season. And with John Abraham. This was horrible on many levels. Why would you release your sack leader from last season when you already have a depleted defensive line. Makes no since. (Oh, and Abraham also made the pro bowl this year as well). Then the major signings. There was really only 2 besides the Matt Ryan and Tony Gonzalez contract signings which was obviously good. I'll admit I was extremely excited for both Stevan Jackson and Osi Umenyiora to be signed to the Falcons, but they turned out to be not so good. Whenever you sign 2 veteran players there is always a risk/ reward factor. The Falcons took the risk and they lost. Don't get me wrong S-Jax had a pretty good stretch down the season with the highlight reel truck on Redskins Corner Josh Wilson, but still didn't play half of the season with a bruised thigh and Osi Umenyiora was just extremely underperforming.
Then the injuries, I am not going to spend a lot of time on this because I get angry when I talk about it. This is the IR list in week 17: Sam Baker, Bradie Ewing, Kroy Biermann, Mike Johnson, Juilo Jones(!!!!), Zeke Motta, Corey Peters(!!!!), and Sean Renfree, This doesn't include the constant weeks where players such as Roddy White, Steven Jackson, Sean Weatherspoon, etc were out with injuries . Complaining about it doesn't help because injuries happen in the NFL, and you can't really do anything about them, but luck wasn't on the side for the Falcons this season.
Keys to 2014 success:
1: Find depth on the offensive and defensive line: This is an obvious one. The Falcons offensive and defensive line was atrocious this season. The Falcons ranked second to last and dead last in Pro Football Focus's offensive and defensive line ratings respectively. Luckily for the Falcons, there are plenty of options via free agency and the draft. Players such as Jadeveon Clowney, Jake Matthews, and Anthony Barr should all be on the Falcons radar. As well as, Brandon Albert, Michael Johnson, and Eugene Monroe in free agency. I'm not just talking about starters though I'm talking depth as well. The Falcons depth was horrible. If you look at the most successful teams in the NFL (the Seahawks, 49ers, etc) they have one thing that separates them from everybody and that is depth. Depth should be considered very important going into the 2014 season. the If the Falcons learned anything this season is even if you have some of the best skill position players in the league, the game is won and lost in the trenches.
2: Smart moves in Free Agency and the Draft: I go more in depth in this in my 2014 Mock Draft and 2014 Falcons and Free agency, but the main thing this year is playing cards smart. Thomas Dimitroff is notoriously known for being aggressive when it comes to the draft (i.e. Juilo Jones and Desmond Trufant) while they are definatly some of the best players on the Falcons I think this year it would be smart to stay at 6 and potentially trade down if Clowney, Matthews, Barr, or Mack doesn't fall to them. Now, it is highly unlikely that one of them will not fall to them because 4 out of the 5 top 5 picks in the draft could use a quarterback, but it is something to think about. I think Dimitroff needs to be patient and see how the draft goes before he makes a huge decision. After all, trading up for someone like Clowney could make or break the Falcons franchise in the coming years. As far as free agency goes, the Falcons need to be smart with players. Players such as Asante Samuel and Stephen Nicholas are players that should be released because they are basically the odd men out of this new equation, but make sure they don't do what they did last year and release 2 pro bowlers.
3. Getting Healthy: Like I said before, injuries decimated the Falcons this season. 2014 should be a time for players to get healthy. Notice how I said players. Not just Julio Jones or Roddy White. For the Falcons to succeed next season, they are going to need everybody. Obviously when they lost Julio Jones it was big blow to the offense, but the fact of the matter when your offensive line and defense is decimated with injuries you are not going anywhere (even with a star like Juilo Jones healthy). The Falcons need to worry about getting healthy and having a right mindset going into 2014.
4: Replacing Tony Gonzalez: I was extremely excited when I saw that Tony Gonzalez was returning for to Atlanta Falcons. While Tony had yet another productive season the rest of the team didn't. While it is very disappointing that Gonzalez is retiring, the Falcons have to move on and find his replacement. Obviously people will say someone like Jimmy Graham and myself would love to have him in a Falcons uniform in 2014, the odds of that happening are very slim. Players such as Austin Seferian-Jenkins (even though he doesn't fit the blue collar attitude Dimitroff loves in his players Desmond Trufant openly said that he is not the same person) and CJ Fiedorwicz are both names to remember as we go through draft season
5: Restore Confidence: This is something the Falcons lost during the season (as any team does with a 4-12 record). Is confidence, that swagger about them that helped guide them to the NFC championship game last January. Talent can only take you so far, confidence is extremely important for the Falcon's success this upcoming season. Restoring confidence in the fan base, making the Georgia Dome a feared place for any opposing teams to play in, and playing with that winning edge that they lost this season. Even in the early portions of the season, the Falcons just didn't have that 'it' factor that made them so good last season. Restoring confidence in the players, coaches, front office, and fans is vital to the success next season