We are officially in the NFL doldrums. The season is over and free agency and the draft have not yet kicked off. There’s a lot you can do, like catch up with your families and friends or go outside or something. Or you can get #madonline about some trifling offseason rankings that have no bearing on your team’s actual performance next season. Yeah, let’s do that.
And so we have The NFL Stability Index by The Ringer’s Danny Kelly (who is an amazing writer and football mind, by the way). The premise here is that “stability correlates to success” (“unless you’re the Saints”). While factors like the salary cap and turnovers can keep absolute stability just out of reach, many teams have been able to achieve the kind of consistency that is conducive to continued success in the league.
Some of the factors Kelly considers include a seasoned head coach, established culture and identity, franchise quarterback, having most of their core players under contract, cap space, and retaining schemes. With those factors in mind, let’s see how the Atlanta Falcons fared:
20. Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons return the majority of the players who carried them to a Super Bowl berth in 2016, but major shake-ups of the coaching staff — defensive coordinator Richard Smith is gone, and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan left for San Francisco — leave the future in flux. This is still Dan Quinn’s defensive scheme, but will the loss of Shanahan, whose brilliant play sequencing and unpredictability confounded defenses all season, mean the league’s best offense takes a huge step back? How different will this Matt Ryan–led offense look when the MVP gets played called into his helmet by first-time NFL coordinator Steve Sarkisian?
Twenty? Twenty. OK. So it’s pretty cliché to complain about rankings, but this just seems absurdly low for a team that checks off many of the factors considered by the writer.
The Falcons have a franchise quarterback coming off an MVP season along with most of their core players under contract for next season, including arguably the best receiver in the NFL right now, a 1,000 yard running back, and a squad of promising young starters on defense. In addition, the team has a smart front office that has managed the salary cap well and done an excellent job in free agency and the draft under their new coach. Together they have drafted several rookie starters with the potential to be stars and strategically targeted free agents to fit their needs.
It is true that the Falcons do not have a long-tenured head coach like the Patriots, Packers, or Ravens, for example. However, there is no doubt that Dan Quinn has successfully established a culture and identity for this team (#InBrotherhood), not to mention leading them all the way to the Super Bowl in only his second year. There is no uncertainty about Quinn’s efficacy; he has put his mark on the team already.
Now that we have discussed many of the favorable factors that were left out, let’s consider Kelly’s explicit reasoning: major shake-ups of the coaching staff. He is correct that the Falcons will have new offensive and defensive coordinators and that these are significant changes that could impact the team’s performance moving forward. However, we should note that neither coordinator will be installing a new scheme. Defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel was promoted from within and will be continuing Quinn’s scheme, and offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian will still be running an outside zone scheme similar to Kyle Shanahan’s and is also the type of aggressive play-caller that Quinn likes. It is fair to wonder how effective Sarkisian will be as a first-time NFL coordinator, but let’s not forget he will have the same #elite quarterback (yeah, I said it) and trove of weapons that recorded one of the best offensive performances in franchise and league history.
So while there may be some uncertainty with the coaching changes, there is enough continuity to expect the Falcons to remain contenders. The brotherhood is stable as ever and maybe just a little more hungry, which is what we want.