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Falcons betting on themselves to keep pace in NFC

Time will tell if the bet was wise.

Divisional Round - Atlanta Falcons v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

We’ve talked ad nauseam about the Falcons offseason on this website, their lack of moves based on the cap situation and perhaps lack of interest in big-ticket items and the growing wave of fireworks coming from fellow NFC competitors.

Well, the Rams just signed DT Ndamukong Suh, and things just got even tougher for this season’s eventual NFC crown.

And, still, the Falcons have held their cards close to their chest, determined to see their plan through the way it’s likely been devised since before last season ended. They’re going to keep the status quo, as far as we’re aware, and time will tell if that was the right call.

When you look at their main competitors for the NFC, they’ve been busy. But, busy isn’t always better. Sure, headlines like Suh-to-LA, Richardson-to-Minny and “wait, who else have they added?”-to-Philly can make your knees weak, but again, it’s March, and we still don’t know what this will look like on the field just yet (ok...we know what Aaron Donald/Ndamukong Suh will look like...I’m just not ready to accept that one yet).

The Falcons...well...unless Logan Paulsen gets you’s been kind of you know.

But, if there’s a credit to this era of Falcons football, they’re not going to overreact or change course with what the other NFC teams are doing. That’s not to say they’re not trying to get better, but Dan Quinn is trying to blossom a roster. He’s trying to build something that will last, and in the age of an NFL that’s rapidly heading towards super rosters, that’s an admirable, if painstaking, approach.

Right now, the Falcons are building towards improvements on their roster and coaching staff to get them where they want to go, and their offseason moves show transactions to ease that growth along, while maintaining on-field relevance.

On offense, the team is taking a massive gamble in the maturation of Steve Sarkisian. There’s no reason to sugar coat this...if the Falcons are to be any different than they were last season, a good-but-not-great team of not-quite talent, they’re going to have to see Sark take a leap. His game plans are going to have to be more organized, his schemes and plots more advantageous to size up what opposing defenses can and can’t do, his talent better placed in positions to succeed. If you want to know just how talented this offense is, they were still a top-ten unit last season in terms of total yardage. If you want to know how frustrating the play calling was, they were league-middling in the scoring department.

That squarely points to where the problem is, and the Falcons know that. They brought in veteran minds like Greg Knapp and Bernie Parmalee to help Sark along, but at the end of the day, the chips have been pushed in Sark’s direction. If he can’t mentally improve to better coach against the smarter defensive minds in the league, it’s a bad bet. Atlanta’s going to give him 2018 to get there, though. It’s a gap they’re betting he’ll cover.

The tight end position has been a consistent point of emphasis since Tony Gonzalez left town, and obviously, no one’s been able to quite match that guy. Austin Hooper’s the team’s future at the position for now, and how he played in 2017 will depend on who you talk to. He’s a solid starter with room to grow, but he’s also got frustrating tendencies and has yet to develop into a red zone threat. Nobody knows what Eric Saubert’s going to do. Bringing in Paulsen is a move to replace what Levine Toilolo brought to the blocking (an issue in 2017), and give Hooper and Saubert a mentor to lean on who knows the position, and what it takes to succeed at it. He’s an investment in the young guys as much as he is an investment in himself as a player. Atlanta could always draft a TE and add him to the room, but for now, they’re betting on Hooper’s and Saubert’s growth. Another chance taken on in-house talent. It’s also been said the team is betting on guys like Marvin Hall and Reggie Davis to potentially fill the gap Taylor Gabriel left on offense.

They didn’t decide to bet on Wes Schweitzer at right guard, an able-if-flawed OL-man who has been replaced by the veteran Brandon Fusco, who will probably be as good as Chris Chester was. So, it’s not all house gambles.

On defense, again, there’s a lot of betting going on for that defensive line. They’re pushing the entire stack of chips in on Takkarist McKinley, whose eight-sack rookie season (six in regular season play, two in the postseason) was enough for the team to feel comfortable about letting Adrian Clayborn slide to New England and not give Pernell McPhee the contract he likely would’ve wanted to be a Falcon. They’re betting on Vic Beasley to return to his 2016 form (something he’s actually wont to do without nagging injuries and added expectations), too. To Atlanta, that’s got the potential to be a ferocious pass rush, and right now, it appears that any further additions to that group will come via the draft.

After losing Dontari Poe, they’re betting on Grady Jarrett to be the massive-contract guy that makes not paying Poe look good in retrospect. They’re betting, as of now, on Duke Riley to take the leap at weakside linebacker. They’re betting on big-contract CB Desmond Trufant to bounce back after taking a lump here and there in 2017. They’re betting, if to a smaller degree, on guys like Tani Tupou and J.T. Jones to perhaps factor into roster contributors next season. They’re betting on their front office to fill in the holes via the draft with quality players that can contribute right away. Again, more betting.

The Falcons are going to do the future their way, and make the moves they see fit to keep pace with what the rest of the NFC is doing. This is a patient franchise that’s got a plan, and we’re going to see it followed through. Time will tell if that plan leads to rings, or more “almost-but-not-quites.”