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Is extending Thomas Dimitroff the right choice for the Atlanta Falcons?

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The team’s general manager has been a divisive figure throughout his entire tenure, but recent results and a strong relationship with Dan Quinn ensured the organization invested in him.

Philadelphia Eagles v Atlanta Braves Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

The most common reaction to the reports of Thomas Dimitroff’s extension was shock. The expectation in the fanbase and the staff here was that Dimitroff was likely to find himself out if the Falcons were not very successful in 2016, and while they’re a strong 6-3 and poised to win the NFC South, they’re not playoff locks just yet. Talks of an extension came out of nowhere.

Is this a bad move, though? Over the summer, we graded Thomas Dimitroff on his past draft classes and free agent pickups and found a pretty average track record with a handful of disasters mixed in, plus some franchise building blocks in Matt Ryan, Devonta Freeman, Julio Jones, and Desmond Trufant. With the 2016 free agent class performing well and the rookie class looking like it has the potential be a huge part of this team’s successful future, however, Dimitroff and his front office staff have been heating up. We can quibble about whether they’re just shopping for the grocery list given to them by Dan Quinn, of course, but if Quinn is happy and the team is winning, Arthur Blank is happy too.

Let’s take a brief look at the drivers behind the extension, and whether it’s the right move for the organization.

Why the move was made

The first thing you have to acknowledge is that Dan Quinn has told us, repeatedly, that he values his relationship with Thomas Dimitroff. We’re so used to NFL coaches lying, or at least stretching the truth, that those kinds of comments are justifiably met with skepticism. Considering an extension doesn’t happen if Quinn isn’t firmly on board, we can no longer discount the value of that relationship.

If you look at the kinds of players the front office has gotten for Quinn and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, you’ll notice there’s a ton of speed, athleticism and physicality that wasn’t always there when Dimitroff and company were drafting and signing free agents for Mike Smith. That would seem to indicate that the Falcons do heavily base their scouting and acquisitions based on what the coach wants, which is a sensible way of doing business most of the time, and serves to make Dimitroff’s Smitty-era track record a bit more defensible.

If there has been friction—as was reported in regards to the Jalen Collins pick, which was subsequently shot down by the organization—it hasn’t been major enough for the Falcons to blow up the front office. It was fair to wonder, I think, how Blank felt about Dimitroff after the post-Smith organizational shakeup, but he obviously feels good enough now to throw some $$$ at the spiky-haired GM.

Above all, this offers stability. Thomas Dimitroff has been here a long time, Scott Pioli has now been here a while, and the team has a robust scouting and player personnel staff that appears to be doing a good job (little early to sign off on the 2015-2016 drafts, but they sure look strong at the moment). The least successful organizations are almost always the ones seeking a quick fix, and the Falcons do not want to be that organization. The state of NFL teams right now probably figured in here, as well, because there simply aren’t a lot of great ones, and Atlanta looks like it may be one sooner than later with the current structure in place. Even if the defense has a long ways to go.

Conclusion

We don’t yet know what the Dan Quinn era is going to be in Atlanta, or how these last two offseasons will look 1, 2, 3, or even 5 years down the line. What we do know is that with Dimitroff at the helm, the Falcons have had some of their greatest success in franchise history, and they look pretty terrific in the here and now. You could be forgiven for wondering about the timing, given that the Falcons have not yet capped off this season, but Atlanta has wagered that they want Dimitroff around and could risk losing him to another organization if they don’t make a move to lock him up. That’s probably not an unreasonable assumption with general managers vacancies cropping up in the offseason ahead (cough Jaguars cough).

I believe the team’s 2016 offseason, in particular, makes a strong case for keeping things together. Keanu Neal and Deion Jones look like future stars, Austin Hooper and De’Vondre Campbell have a ton of potential, and Alex Mack has been arguably the best free agent signing of the year, to say nothing of Mohamed Sanu, who is coming on in a major way the last couple of weeks. If Quinn and Dimitroff can work together to bring in the handful of pieces they still need to field a quality defense, this team is going to be a force to be reckoned with, and there’s little point in overturning the status quo just because Dimitroff made mistakes in the past and says “urgent athleticism” way too often.

Ultimately, Dan Quinn holds the most power in this organization, and he’s decided the man he wants with the draft and free agency keys is Thomas Dimitroff. That doesn’t make it the right move versus installing a new guy with fresh ideas, and it’s not going to win over legions of Dimitroff skeptics. It does mean that it’s the right move for Dan Quinn, and if you’ve invested as much hope in him as I have, we’ll at least go forward with cautious optimism.