The Atlanta Falcons are not good at free agency.
There, I said it. It’s been said. It’s done. Leave me alone. Good riddance.
Ok, so, they’re not awful at free agency — see Turner, Michael; Mack, Alex; Sanu, Mohamed; Clayborn, Adrian; Bryant, Matt.
Don’t forget! Edwards, Ray. Robinson, Dunta. Umenyiora, Osi. Jackson, Steven. Jackson, Tyson. Soliai, Paul. Asamoah, Jon. Reed, Brooks. Durant, Justin. Shelby, Derrick. Re-signing Toilolo, Levine, and letting DiMarco, Patrick, get away. Baker, Sam’s contract. Not re-signing Peters, Corey. Other things that will make your boil, blood.
If you’re wondering why the Falcons are hesitant in free agency these days, look no further than the guy who’s cutting the checks. The stains of the 2013 and 2014 offseasons loom large on this organization, and nearly cost GM Thomas Dimitroff his job. He threw out some willy-nilly contracts to declining, mediocre veterans, and sent the team into a cap tailspin that, thankfully, they’re finally beginning to come out of.
The T-Jax deal, Baker extension and 2013 decisions to only marginally-upgrade key positions of need at running back and defensive end, along with the horrid 2012 draft, are major blots on Dimitroff’s history as Atlanta’s GM. We too soon forget how close he was to being out of the job when Mike Smith lost his. Dimitroff is a good general manager, one made better by his partnership with Dan Quinn. But, he’s very not good about throwing around money to get the free agents he so covets. With Quinn’s final say over the 53, it makes more of a balance between general manager and coach, but Dimitroff’s still got influence over the guys bring brought in here, and he’s proved, time after time, he’s bad at doing that in the spring, when the pocket book is open, and the talent is being overvalued.
Mack and Sanu stand as the best recent additions, offense-changing master strokes in bringing proven talent that solidifies a position of need (Mack) or potential-laden talent that grows into that with greater attention (Sanu). But, Mack is counting $11 million on the cap this season (a lot for a center, even one as great as Mack is), and some will always begrudge the Falcons for throwing so much money at the second receiver, so even those highly-successful moves carry a bit of a pinch in the financial department. They were Dimitroff deals.
Don’t think this team hasn’t made mistakes in the Quinn era. That Brooks Reed deal was ridiculous for what Reed provides, Justin Durant didn’t pan out after one season and they effectively have admitted a whiff on the Derrick Shelby contract by cutting him, ditto the Toilolo extension, a blight in seeing where he is now, and where vital FB Patrick DiMarco ended up, and for how much. One can also look to that Matt Schaub contract and grimace.
This may sound a bit critical of Dimitroff, who got Matt Ryan and Julio Jones here, has a knack for effective trades, oversaw the 2008-2012 run with the team on his own to great success, had the wherewithal to get Scott Pioli in the building, who improved the team’s scouting department, and remains an excellent eye for skill positions. He’s a very good GM in certain areas, but his Achilles’ heel (outside of evaluating offensive and defensive linemen) is overspending in March to get the guys he likes. His 2013/14 strategies ended an entire era of Falcons football. Mike Smith paid the price for his part in that, and really, as did, Dimitroff who lost control over the final 53.
But, this offseason, one senses a bit of a change in Dimitroff’s demeanor. Perhaps being hamstrung by a tight cap is in Atlanta’s favor, too. The Falcons are staying quiet, and that silence could produce dividends down the road.
The strategy of “chasing that last piece” flamed up in the team’s face in 2013, and really, 2017. The team sunk $8 million into Dontari Poe, who played very well down the stretch. But, now he’s in Carolina, and that contribution effectively goes to null. It was a fun get last March, but Poe didn’t move the needle for Atlanta to get them back to the Super Bowl. He was good, and earned most every penny of his deal, but when the offense took a sizable step back, it kind of didn’t matter that Atlanta “got that one piece they needed to get back to the Super Bowl.” Being ten yards away is a mirage. Every season is different, and you’re guaranteed diddily squat.
Let’s look at the March winners so far in the NFC...but from another angle.
Certainly, Philadelphia adding Michael Bennett and Haloti Ngata on paper is fearsome. But, has anyone wondered why Seattle, as smart an organization in the NFL as there are, shipped off one of their best defensive linemen to a clear threat in the NFC for chump change? Or, why they let a growing guy like Beau Allen go for a in-his-twilight Ngata? Or, before anyone gets too afraid of Philly just winning this all again, has anyone wondered why they let both their offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coaches go on to new jobs? Couldn’t that set their offense back a ton? They aren’t returning with the blistering consistency Seattle did after their Super Bowl, and are losing valuable understudies like Torrey Smith and LeGarette Blount. So, idk, maybe don’t crown them the victor just yet.
Minnesota just sank $80+ million in guaranteed money into Kirk Cousins, who has never been to the playoffs, and might sink even more into Sheldon Richardson, a very good player who hasn’t ever lived up to his unruly potential. What if Cousins and John DeFilippo don’t mesh? What if Cousins just isn’t that good? What if sinking that much money in a decent-but-not-great QB hurts them down the road, when they’re trying to retain key roster guys?
And, our pals the Saints, who treat the cap like it’s an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet at Shoney’s, and who’s “win now” moves come with the qualifier that their franchise face is nearing 40, and that their newfound success might be short-lived if they bungle getting in Brees’ replacement? And, if they really do pay Ndamukong Suh an outrageous amount of money, wouldn’t that screw their cap down the road, when some of their newfound talent would need new deals? They’re going to be good next year, for sure, unless Brees hits his decline sooner than expected.
The Panthers...well...they got Poe from us, no doubt. And Bashaud Breeland is a good addition..buuut that didn’t work out at the end of the day, sadly for Breeland. But, does anyone else understand a darn thing they’re doing otherwise?
Perhaps we should be more worried about the Buccan...oh, oh never mind. The Packers are old, and some think Jimmy Graham is on the decline. Will Aaron Rodgers come back okay after his injury?
The Rams do look pretty terrifying right now...but they did just lose Sammy Watkins. And, we don’t know how consistent they’ll be in year two. Atlanta also beat them in the playoffs, so take that for what it’s worth.
If you want to see a team to be legitimately worried about, see the Chicago Bears, who are adding a lot of talent and have a cheap quarterback. But, even then, Mitch Trubisky is young. We don’t quite know what he’ll be. Ditto with San Francisco and Jimmy G getting a full year under his belt. And, SF’s defense is still worrisome. And, Dallas...idk.
The Falcons are the quietest team in the NFC right now who hopes to contend for a Super Bowl. But, sometimes, silence is golden.
No one really liked the 2016 offseason around these parts. Kyle Shanahan was the put-upon offensive coordinator who wasn’t to improve. The Falcons missed out on a bunch of free agents people wanted them to sign, like Danny Trevathan, George Iloka and Jerrell Freeman. The team sank a bunch of cash into a third-string receiver from Cincinnati who had the dropsies. Matt Schaub!?! Courtney Upshaw??
Then, the draft. Oh man, you passed on Shaq Lawson to take Keanu Neal!?! Deion Jones is too small, man. Who is Austin Hooper? De’Vondre Campbell?
Well, we’re done for. At least they brought Spoon back.
We all know how that went.
Another story for you.
Oh man! We got Steven Jackson! And, Osi!!! That’s amazing! We’re going to the Super Bowl, baby!
Another story for you.
Alright, well, that was horrible, but the offense will be back to where it was last season. Poe’s the missing piece. We’re Super Bowl bound again, baby!
So, I dunno. Breathe. It’s March. Nothing’s been decided, and a lot’s going to change we can’t foresee right now. The plan is murky, but that’s the point. The Falcons aren’t going to show their hand right now, but you’re fooling yourself if you think they’re just idly sitting by, not noticing what the other NFC teams are doing. It’s just that their plan to meet the hype and sustain themselves for the future isn’t happening at this very moment.
The last time we all were nervous about the future of the Falcons, they made a Super Bowl.
Maybe they’re finally learning from past March mistakes. Maybe they’re finally bent on doing this thing the right way, consistently. Maybe, just maybe, everything will work out okay, because Atlanta, for once, will know how to navigate this time of the year without any hiccups.
Maybe they’re finally done trying to hammer in that last piece to a puzzle that’s already reset.