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The Falcons can’t let a focus on 2020 ruin their future

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Atlanta’s short-sighted moves in recent years have been problematic.

Atlanta Falcons v New Orleans Saints Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

There are many kinds of dread when you root for the Falcons. We could spend days cataloguing those, but frankly you’re already intimately familiar with 99% of them.

The one I’m zeroing in on today is the kind of dread that has cropped up multiple times in the recent past, most notably after great seasons and when jobs were in danger. It’s the dread that comes with knowing that your team has plenty of incentive to prioritize short-term fixes over long-term improvements, with a fear that they’ll succumb to that temptation.

Atlanta’s done this sort of thing before. After their great 2012, the Falcons decided to move on from veterans...and then replaced them with ill-fated veteran signings like Steven Jackson and Osi Umenyiora. They wanted to get tougher and bulkier on their lines in 2014...so they gave out big contracts to Tyson Jackson, Paul Soliai, and Jon Asamoah because they needed to turn their fortunes around fast. All of those contracts were disasters, though Asamoah was more because of injury than anything else.

The Falcons in 2019 were not a total lost cause in that regard. Though they were widely considered to be coming into a make-or-break year, they still invested heavily in the offensive line in a way that will pay dividends for years to come, and the trade of Mohamed Sanu to the Patriots undoubtedly hurt the passing game but gave Atlanta stellar draft capital in return in what might have been the savviest trade of the Thomas Dimitroff era.

They did, however, bizarrely attempt to paper over a guard position with two mid-tier, fairly expensive guard options, neither of whom panned out in 2019. They also refused to move Devonta Freeman at the deadline, an understandable move for a team hoping for a strong second half but one that ensures the Falcons will cut Freeman with minimal 2020 cap savings and no draft capital in return. They also made signings that seemed designed to help them contend solely last year, including the additions and re-additions of Matt Bryant, Allen Bailey, and J.J. Wilcox, none of which worked out for one reason or another.

Those are the kinds of moves that worry me the most. The desire to hold on jobs is not something that Dan Quinn and Dimitroff should be expected to be above—most of us and most coaches and general managers in the NFL focus on the immediate future when their long-term future is in doubt—but it can be actively harmful to a team’s long-term future. The Falcons have pinballed between thinking they were a couple of pieces away and making desperation moves for a while now, but those moves have rarely been fatal because they’ve enjoyed solid-to-great draft classes and have continued to make savvy short-term moves that don’t have long-term cap implications.

With Rich McKay involved now and not going anywhere anytime soon, the hope will be that someone in the room on personnel decisions will be thinking long-term at all times, even if McKay’s personnel track record doesn’t necessarily suggest he’s going to be involved in any home runs. Atlanta just can’t afford, as the Matt Ryan-Julio Jones duo continues to age, anything that doesn’t put them over the top this year and costs them in the next few.