It’s getting pretty gloomy here in Falconland. But maybe it’s not so bad when you really consider things?
Let’s start with this: Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank has some big decisions ahead of him in the next two months. He’s going to have to figure out if Dan Quinn is the right coach to get this talented roster back on track, just like he’s going to have to come to a decision on the future of long-tenured GM Thomas Dimitroff.
He could keep both or neither, but the latter is far more likely than the former.
He’s also going to have to come to terms with what kind of team he wants this to be if the changes we all expect at this point do come. Does he want a coach to build the defensive juggernaut Quinn hasn’t ever been able to complete? Does he want a bright offensive mind to lead a scoring renaissance the team hasn’t had consistently since 2016?
No matter what decisions he makes, the important thing to remember about these Falcons is that things aren’t as dire as you might think they are for the immediate future.
Though the cap is what it is, the Falcons are in a peculiar position. Few teams picking in the top five, as the Falcons are likely to do if they keep losing at this clip, have a roster as brimming with talent and/or potential as this team does. .
Barring any major trades next spring, the Falcons roll into 2020 with this on offense: A franchise quarterback (Matt Ryan), a franchise running back (Devonta Freeman), an elite wide receiver and a budding great second option (Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley), a franchise left tackle (Jake Matthews), veteran center (Alex Mack), young pieces on the OL to groom (Chris Lindstrom, Kaleb McGary), promising young depth (RB Ito Smith/Brian Hill, WR Russell Gage, G Jamon Brown, T Matt Gono, TE Jaeden Graham) and, if re-signed, a stellar, young tight end (Austin Hooper).
The only gaps right now, as the roster stands, are settling the left guard spot (which, if we had to guess, will be either Lindstrom’s or Brown’s next fall), adding some depth overall, maybe throwing in a vertical threat to the passing game at receiver and finding a long-term fullback. If fullback is one of your top priorities, you’re not in bad shape.
You could just find the proper play caller to unleash this offense and live with the contracts as is. Sure, they’re pressed against the cap right now, but with quality players and some freed up cash, that’s a workable unit.
What about defense?
Defensively, it’s more of a question mark. The defensive line might get another overhaul, but you have the anchor in DT Grady Jarrett. Pass rusher Takk McKinley, hypothetically, still has two years on his deal and could blossom under a new coaching staff as a great complementary rusher.
The linebacking corps might get and needs more talent infusion, too, but consider that you’ve still got an elite talent in Deion Jones to run the show. The safety spots are locked with Ricardo Allen and Keanu Neal still under contract (with hope here he’s healthy next year for the full stretch), and Damontae Kazee is still on a rookie deal and is versatile. Neal’s health is the big, big question mark there.
Cornerback, well, is a bit of a mystery, but Isaiah Oliver is beginning to put it together much more than he did earlier in the season, and Kendall Sheffield has made some strides lately. Jordan Miller also adds long-term upside. Desmond Trufant was the subject of trade talks, but on his good days is still a really sound cornerback, if a pricey one.
So what’s next?
The Falcons’ roster, as of now, is financially built to pay its best players to be what makes them special. Right now, of course, that’s not happening.
A new general manager, for sure, could come in and cut or trade contracts for pricier veterans like Mack, Freeman, Trufant and guard James Carpenter, but one wonders if a new GM or coach would see these as players still very much worth what they cost the cap. It’d be much easier to win with what they have than take on dead cap.
Regardless, it feels like this roster now is a really nice sports car that’s being driven by a toddler. The coaching and player development progress is at an all-time low for recent years, save for strides forward from guys like Hooper and Kendall Sheffield.
If Blank decides to switch drivers, they can rebuild that defensive front seven through the draft and have a team that should be able to put up a fight as soon as next year. You need to hand the keys to the right person for that to happen, but unless this whole team really did forget how to play football in 2019, the future doesn’t look so dismal.