The Falcons sunk from a 25-point lead in the Super Bowl to the clear bottom of the NFC South so quickly you could get whiplash. 2016’s team is a memory with no connection to what we see on the field this season. Between 2016 and today, the team jettisoned most of their coaching staff. The actions spoke for themselves: The problem was the coaches.
With fresh faces, fresh ideas, and a much healthier team, the Falcons are even worse. Throughout the offseason, everyone from the owner down to coaches said the Falcons needed to fix the offensive line. Thomas Dimitroff reportedly promised Arthur Blank he would fix the offensive line. We now know the offensive line is far from rehabilitated, with even Dan Quinn saying the team’s overpaid, underperforming guards Jamon Brown and James Carpenter are a liability.
How is the line just as broken after blowing millions and multiple first-round picks?
We uncomfortably pointed at several similarities between 2014 and 2019 during the offseason. Among the similarities that preceded both teams, the Falcons tried to get tougher along the defensive line with multiple high-priced and early-round defensive linemen in 2014. In 2019, it was offensive linemen. Neither worked.
There are similar storylines through each offseason. The top similarity is Dimitroff overpaying mediocre players, ignoring better prospects, and pretending glaring needs do not exist. The Falcons added three big defensive tackles in Mike Smith’s last season, essentially forcing homegrown Corey Peters to leave in free agency. All three flamed out. Tyson Jackson last played in the NFL in 2016, Paul Soliai last played in the NFL in 2016, and Ra’Shede Hageman last played a regular-season snap in 2016. Peters has 2.5 sacks in 2019 in his age-31 season.
Watching the Falcons bench highly paid guards like Jamon Brown for Wes Schweitzer feels like the status quo. The plan was to fix the offensive line. They added four starters. The offensive line is now worse and more expensive.
Dimitroff’s saving grace through the lean years was his contract negotiation and cap management. Cap management was easy when the Falcons rarely had to extend their draft classes.
Look no further than the list of mounting early-round failures when Dimitroff was called a capologist. Takkarist McKinley may end up being worth that first-round selection, but the Falcons took McKinley over TJ Watt. Both players were highly-rated pass rushers. Dimitroff must have scouted both players. He decided on McKinley. Like most decisions Dimitroff makes, it was wrong.
Now that the Falcons have had to extend a few great players, the team is in a cap disaster. Most teams can rebuild after a disaster season. Not Atlanta. There is no money to spend. In fact, the Falcons have to cut a lot of players just to sign their draft class. There is no cap genius behind this team. No brainchild delicately weaving together a long-term plan. Contracts are ham-fisted under the cap with seemingly no consideration for two to three years down the road. Imagine the Falcons trying to pay Vic Beasley, had he not turned into a mediocre waste of a top-10 selection. The Falcons overpaid mediocre-to-bad players, both in free agency and on the team, and seems to overpay players represented by CAA. It feels like Dimitroff took the Fyre Festival motto to heart, ignored the clear issues his moves created, and said, “Let’s just do it and be legends.” Those cap issues can be overlooked after a Super Bowl win or two, just like the lack of five-star housing could be overlooked due to the greatest beach music festival party ever. No legends were made. The only thing made was preventable disaster.
Analyzing team needs has been problematic from the start. Ignoring the Vic Beasley debacle, Dimitroff, more often than not, simply ignores the team’s biggest needs. In 2019, nearly every mock draft had the Falcons selecting a defensive lineman. The need was not a secret. Hundreds of NFL analysts were able to look at the Falcons and say, “This team clearly needs defensive line help.” In fact, most analysts said the same thing in 2018. Dimitroff thought otherwise both years. Again, he was wrong in both seasons.
2019 was no abnormality. The Falcons over-invested in the offensive line while ignoring big issues elsewhere. Despite focusing the entire offseason on the line, it stinks. It felt almost insane the Falcons were guaranteed to have one of the league’s most expensive backup guards after drafting Chris Lindstrom 14th overall. Now the Falcons have one of the league’s most expensive benched guards.
Somehow, this has happened before. Dimitroff did the same thing in 2014. He brought on three defensive tackles to a group that included the previously mentioned Peters and the ageless Jonathan Babineaux. There was very expensive depth at the expense of areas like defensive end, offensive line, and linebacker.
Dimitroff overpaid multiple players after the Super Bowl run despite looming cap issues, highlighted by Matt Schaub, Levine Toilolo. Those deals forced the team to sit out of 2017 free agency, except for overpaying the underperforming and injury-plagued guard Brandon Fusco. Guess how that worked out.
How many swings could Dimitroff possibly take at fixing the guard spot until he got it right? We can also not pretend his failures are limited strictly to the offensive line. In 12 years, the only good defensive lineman he has drafted was fifth-round selection Grady Jarrett. How is such a failure even possible?
Falcons fans are looking at a 3-8 record, no chance at the playoffs, no signs of player development, no chance at paying a top free agent in 2020, and very little to be excited about. Thanks to egregiously mismanaging the roster, the cap, and nearly every aspect of the team, Dimitroff has doomed the Falcons yet again.
He survived his incompetent 2014 season, but there is simply no reason for Dimitroff to survive the laughable moves made in 2019. Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and the fans will not be here long enough to see if Dimitroff can fix the mess he made. Everyone involved deserves a competent general manager to steer this team back to relevancy.