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Rich McKay: Falcons winnowing down candidate list, expect next GM to be empowered

The team has “11 or 12” candidates, per reports, but what’s more interesting is what the team will be able to do if the next GM has a good plan in place.

Chicago Bears v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

No one quite knows who the next Falcons general manager will be, but in an effort to assuage fears that he’ll be an obstacle to hiring a highly-regarded candidate, Rich McKay spoke to reporters Tuesday and laid out the broad contours of the search to this point.

Everyone likes bullet points, so let’s use those to sum up what’s in stories from Jeff Schultz at The Athletic and Steve Hummer at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

  • The team had 25 or so candidates and has winnowed it down to 11-12 worthy ones, per McKay. The team has interviewed in-house candidate Anthony Robinson, an experienced scout and personnel man, and Rick Smith, the longtime general manager of the Houston Texans.

Smith is expected to be a strong candidate given his past success in Houston, his ties to McKay, and his experience, and perhaps the leading candidate due to those factors.

  • McKay doesn’t view himself as someone who will be meddling, and said Robinson and Smith didn’t ask him about that. He said he will be available to help with anything he’s needed to help with, but does not plan to, say, start attending pre-draft meetings and weighing in.
  • McKay is aware that the cap is an issue, but said he and Arthur Blank plan to give their chosen GM a lot of latitude to address that. Asked whether Blank’s emotional ties to Matt Ryan and Julio Jones would preclude them from being cut and whether the next GM would be forbidden from moving on, McKay made it clear if the new GM has a sensible plan that seems likely to returning the Falcons to their winning ways, it’ll be on the table:

Give us a plan. Show us what you want to do and show us why. Show us how this gets us to Ws and make sure you actually execute the plan. At this point, you’re in partnership with the head coach so you’re going to need to create a common vision. The thing about high priced players is some people look at them as problems and some look at them as assets. I look at them and say we’re fortunate to have them.

  • Blank is expected to pick a GM within two weeks of the end of the season, so we won’t have to wait around forever for a selection.
  • Finally, it is not 100% clear the GM will be hired before the head coach. I’d still bet on it, but with teams starting remote interviews of other teams’ coaches (with permission) tomorrow, it’s possible the Falcons will have to speed things up on the coaching front if they have a preferred candidate in mind who is getting a ton of attention from the Lions or the Texans.

Ultimately, this is a lot of information at once, but it doesn’t change what we know about the team’s search. Smith has seemed like a strong candidate all along, the Falcons have cap-related challenges and thorny issues around expensive stars and the presence of McKay that are not going away. They are likely to have a new general manager by mid-January, they remain unlikely to trade away Julio or Ryan given cap-related difficulties associated with those moves (and because, believe it or not, a new GM might want them in Atlanta), and the next front office will have a tall order in front of them regardless.

We’ll see who the new GM ultimately is, but the most important thing is that the Falcons get this hire right. Nothing McKay’s saying now is alarming, but as is the case with all things Atlanta Falcons, it’s best to wait and see how this all plays out.