Thomas Dimitroff's draft history has been routinely bashed both here and elsewhere, but as we saw looking back at his draft history over the last couple of weeks, the Falcons drafted reasonably well with the well-gelled wunderkind at the helm. It's the big draft misses and the team's free agent history that hurt the most.
We'll look at a few of the big tickets signings, rather than all of free agency (which I did here back in 2014) to figure out how Dimitroff and the front office have fared.
2008: RB Michael Turner, S Erik Coleman, K Jason Elam
Great haul. There were a lot of players signed this year who didn't work, and the team cut a ton of familiar veterans to get here, but these three make it all worthwhile.
Turner became one of the best backs in franchise history despite a relatively short peak, showcasing superior power and scoring ability for a team that needed to lean on a back with Matt Ryan learning the ropes. Coleman started two full seasons (and spent one more season as a reserve in Atlanta) playing at a pretty high level, helping to bridge the gap until William Moore was ready to play. And Elam was insanely good in 2008 before falling apart in 2009, which is worth something.
2009: LB Mike Peterson, CB Brian Williams
Will Svitek was a savvy signing, but he wasn't a big one. The Falcons let go of Lawyer Milloy, Keith Brooking, Grady Jackson, and Michael Boley this offseason, so they needed to fill some gaps, and this year was a distinctly mixed bag.
The trade for Tony Gonzalez was a huge move, but in free agency, Peterson was the success story. The veteran linebacker locked down an outside job with the Falcons for two seasons and was a valuable reserve for an additional two years, making him worth every penny. Williams looked like a terrific signing for five games in 2009 before an injury knocked him out the rest of the year, and he was a backup in 2010 and off the Falcons in 2011.
2010: CB Dunta Robinson
Given the dollars, this was a huge mistake. Robinson was a three year, full-time starter for Atlanta who probably isn't as big as you remember him being, but he was an active liability in coverage (usually at the worst time) and never lived up the contract he was handed. This was an otherwise quiet offseason for the Falcons, though bringing back Brent Grimes wound up being a very smart move.
2011: DE Ray Edwards
The Falcons let Harvey Dahl walk and wound up with Ray Edwards, which is a pretty lopsided trade, if you're looking at it that way.
Edwards was signed to a fairly reasonable deal in the summer, but it was reasonable for a guy who might put up 6-10 sacks per season, not the apparent locker room problem who managed just 3.5 in less than two full years with the Falcons. Hindsight is 20/20 and I certainly supported the Edwards signing at the time, but man does it look bad now.
2012: LB Lofa Tatupu, CB Robert McClain
The Falcons lost Curtis Lofton and tried to replace him with Lofa Tatupu, who perhaps predictably got hurt and never wound up playing for Atlanta. This was otherwise a quiet free agency period highlighted by the McClain signing, which was a modest cost and a huge gain for Atlanta for at least the 2012 season, when he played at an extremely high level.
2013: RB Steven Jackson, DE Osi Umenyiora
It would be difficult to overstate just what a catastrophe this offseason wound up being for Atlanta. They let Michael Turner, Tyson Clabo, John Abraham, Todd McClure, Will Svitek, Brent Grimes, and Dunta Robinson walk in what we thought might be a youth movement sort of moment, but they then signed S-Jax and Umenyiora. Neither signing worked out.
Jackson was a workhorse back for two years, but scuffled mightily behind a poor offensive line and showed none of the power and vision that made him such a great back for so many years with the Rams. Umenyiora declined and dealt with a poor supporting cast and put up very few sacks during his short time in Atlanta. Considering dollars, the bloodletting the Falcons elected to do after their successful 2012 run, and the fact that they should have been chasing youth at both running back and defensive end. It all amounted to a disastrous offseason for Atlanta.
2014: DT Tyson Jackson, DT Paul Soliai, G Jon Asamoah, KR/PR/WR Devin Hester
The Falcons followed up 2013 with a costly free agent period that has current day repercussions. Jackson has been an average player making quite a bit of money, Soliai played pretty well in 2015 but is one-dimensional and has already been cut, Asamoah was terrific in 2014 but doesn't fit Kyle Shanahan's scheme well, got hurt, and was cut, and Devin Hester's roster status is still in flux after a very productive 2014 and injury-marred 2015. The Falcons spent a lot of money to add beef to the lines and give themselves a dangerous special teams weapon, and they just didn't get a ton out of it.
2015: LB Justin Durant, LB Brooks Reed
The Falcons took several flyers in Dan Quinn's first year, with some working out beautifully (Adrian Clayborn, O'Brien Schofield) some working out decently (Mike Person) and others falling flat (Leonard Hankerson, sadly). The two biggest signings by far were Justin Durant and Brooks Reed, though, and neither of those signings panned out very well in 2015.
Durant was a productive player to start the season, but injuries started catching up with him as the year went on, and the Falcons somewhat surprisingly elected to cut ties with him this offseason. Reed dealt with offseason groin surgery and never really returned to form in 2015, playing sparingly until later in the year and not playing extremely well when he actually made it onto the field. Reed still has a chance to offer real value in the second year of his contract, but this didn't work out particularly well for Atlanta.
People are right to blame the front office for trading up often, creating holes in the team and making the draft whiffs more devastating, but I tend to think free agency has been a major problem for the Falcons under Thomas Dimitroff and the rest of the current FO. There's a lot of dollars spent on the list above, and only Michael Turner and arguably Mike Peterson really delivered on their contracts for the Falcons since 2008. If the Falcons decide to trade down, accumulate picks and put their 2016 and beyond fortunes at the mercy of their draft classes, it might wind up being a smarter approach than throwing a lot of free agent dollars around. Oh, they already did that this year.