The Falcons have been on a path of chaos and disappointment the last few seasons. After back-to-back 7-9 seasons, the Falcons are close to broke, watching one of the the franchise’s best tight ends leave in free agency, while multiple top draft picks flame out. No general manager has ever had a hit rate of 100%, so it is fair to expect some failures. However, the Falcons seem to fail much more dramatically than other teams.
If you want to fully understand how the team has been so poorly mismanaged, look no further than Vic Beasley’s unnecessarily painful and ultimately perplexing exit. The Falcons exercised Beasley’s fifth-year option after a down 2017 where he had only 5.0 sacks and 5 quarterback hits. Exercising the option made complete sense at the time as certainly the coaching staff could get Beasley back on track.
Halfway through 2018, it was clear Beasley was not bouncing back. 2016 was clearly an outlier. There were no flashes. There were no signs for hope. The game was not slowing down for Beasley. He was the same ineffective player from 2017.
The Falcons had a chance to cut their losses and leave the Beasley mess behind them. Then the team said, “No, thanks, we are sticking with our bad decision.” We do not know the compensation, but the Falcons turned down a trade offer to send Beasley packing. Falcoholic writer Adnan Ikic had this to say about the decision at the time.
To put it bluntly, Beasley hasn’t been good this season — he’s registered one sack, has just six tackles (and only one in the past month) and has hit the opposing quarterback just three times despite having “rush the passer” as the premier statement of his job description. He has been getting close in recent weeks, but the team has needed a lot more than that. Beasley is also graded out as the worst edge rusher in the NFL by Pro Football Focus, with his 42.3 grade good for 104th out of 104 qualifying edge rushers. There just hasn’t been a lot to like about his 2018.
There was no need for foresight with the decision. Even then, the decision to hold onto Beasley was met with criticism. After countless defensive injuries, Beasley did not step up. He became even more invisible. The team stuck by their man. Their dedication to continuity has been surprisingly strong recently. They were rewarded with four more sacks across the final eight games of the season.
Beasley was a known commodity after two straight disappointing seasons. The Falcons were pressing uncomfortably close to the cap ceiling and could have rescinded Beasley’s fifth-year option. The move would have freed up over $12.8 million and given the Falcons the chance to sign Beasley to a more team-friendly deal. Thomas Dimitroff could have offered a smaller deal, included a team option for 2020, and even included escalators, both protecting the team and dramatically curbing his untenable cap hit.
The popular opinion was something like this would happen because paying Beasley $12.8 million, fully guaranteed, would be an exceedingly bad and unnecessary idea. The boneheaded decision only makes sense if Dimitroff did not want to ruffle feathers with Beasley’s agents. A better deal would have allowed the team to keep productive veterans like Bruce Irvin, who had 0.5 sacks more than Beasley at under 1/3rd the cost. Maybe the team could lock down Austin Hooper a year early.
For his part, head coach Dan Quinn sounded confident he could get the most out of Beasley. Quinn’s optimism is inspiring but can also be problematic. He had four years to know what type of player Beasley was and expected he could change that. This was the guy that left the field early during a game-deciding challenge. Beasley knew a lot of the season relied on him and responded by skipping OTAs.
The bigger problem is what if Beasley worked out? Let us imagine if everything went perfectly in 2019. Beasley returns to his former 2016 glory and leads the league in sacks under Quinn’s tutelage. The greatest pass rushing force in Falcons history. What was the plan for 2020? The Falcons have zero chance of paying him like a top pass rusher. Hooper should be half the cost of a top pass rusher and they were unable to even offer him a contract.
The Falcons could not pay Beasley if he turned into a Pro Bowl player. The Falcons could not pay him if he transformed into pretty good. They could not even pay him if he was just league average. The Falcons could only hope to keep Beasley if he fell flat on his face.
This boils down the shocking incompetence we have seen from this team: There is no plan. Beasley, like a lot of players, did not work out. That should be expected. How his Falcons career ultimately ended was unexpected because the team ignored any semblance of common sense and locked themselves into an expensive no-win situation despite multiple chances to back out. It feels much more like planning for the Fyre Festival as opposed to a billion dollar sports organization. Too often this team shambles together ideas with no consideration for the future, perhaps just thinking, “Let’s just do it and be legends.”
The Falcons were guaranteed to be unable to afford a great, good, or even average pass rusher in 2020. Instead, they spent $12.8 million hoping to price a disappointing pass rusher out of their budget.