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2020 NFL Draft could be Thomas Dimitroff’s biggest gamble

So this may be what it comes down to for Trader Thomas.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Atlanta Falcons Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

You’ve got to give it to Thomas Dimitroff: The man knows how to build tension.

He’s been, over the last few years, the Alfred Hitchcock of draft day intrigue, leaving Falcons fans with bated breath. The man doesn’t always make big trades, but the mere possibility of it is ever-present.

Just look at the last two draft processes. In 2018, we all spent early Thursday wondering if the team was really going to slide up the draft board for Da’Ron Payne, only for them to stay in the latter 20s and take Calvin Ridley. Last year, rumors began to swirl of a move up for Ed Oliver or Devin Bush, only to stay in place for Chris Lindstrom.

It’s been like this for years. Ever since the granddaddy blockbuster trade to get franchise-changing wideout Julio Jones, we’ve all wondered if Dimitroff would expend draft capital for “the one,” and he’s absolutely lived up to his reputation in various instances.

In 2013, he jumped up roughly 10 spots to get cornerback Desmond Trufant, in 2017, he hopped up a few to get pass rusher Takk McKinley and in 2019, he sold off the third-round pick to get back into the first for right tackle Kaleb McGary.

The guy likes to trade.

Whether these moves have worked or not is up to you. The pivotal one, the Jones trade, took away resources for the horrid 2012 draft, but it also gave them a generational talent that nearly won them a Super Bowl with an all-time catch and has delivered for nearly a decade.

Rumors are flying now about Dimitroff wanting to get up as high as the top five picks to grab one of the draft’s best defensive players, adding to previous news of the team wanting to get up to get one of the draft’s top cornerbacks (Ohio St.’s Jeff Okudah, Florida’s C.J. Henderson).

It’s a lot to take in, particularly since it’s coming from so many angles. A move-up into the first five picks would be incredibly costly, you’re banking on your 2021 first-round pick just starting conversations with other general managers, and probably the 2020 second-round pick and an enticing 2021 selection to sweeten the deal.

This is also swirling about as teams like the Dolphins and Chargers could be plotting a move to grab a quarterback, so could the Falcons be in contention with those QB-needy teams to get to Detroit’s 3-pick and get their selection of non-Joe Borrow and non-Chase Young talents? It’d be the Jones trade made over, and perhaps the gamble of Dimitroff’s career.

You see, Dimitroff has been a survivor ever since he was hired in Atlanta. He was instrumental in bringing the franchise back from the post-Michael Vick/Bobby Petrino doldrums and adding relevancy and consistency to its plate by drafting Matt Ryan, trading for Michael Turner and Tony Gonzalez, getting in a coaching staff to maximize Roddy White’s potential, hiring Mike Smith to get the team to four playoff appearances in five years and, yes, sending the farm to get a promising young receiver out of Alabama in 2011.

After the team’s unfortunate collapse in the 2012 NFC Championship, the wheels began to slowly but surely fall off Dimitroff’s Falcons revival 1.0. The Jones trade, indeed, cut out draft capital going into the 2012 draft, which would prove pivotal approaching the 2013 and 2014 season.

Sure, some bad free agency signings, questionable coaching and a barrage of injuries didn’t help the two years to follow, but not having some reliable young talent from that class, and having the talent you did zero in on not pan out, in part cratered the Smitty era.

But Dimitroff survived. And in pairing him with upstart defensive mind and locker room favorite Dan Quinn, Dimitroff’s Falcons revival 2.0 was off to a grand start. But then the team blew a 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl and its offensive genius Kyle Shanahan bolted for the Bay Area.

The team has been in a roller coaster of steady decline and inspired revival since that fateful February night. 2017 had them a play away from a second-straight NFC Championship, but four attempts to score in the red zone would keep that from being so.

2018 felt like 2013, a team destined for more wound up coming short with much, much less. 2019 is just hard to really even pinpoint for anything, where a six-game losing streak left them at 1-7 and destined to blow up the front office and coaching staff and a 6-2 finish baffled everyone in the NFL and leaves us completely unsure of what this team’s future is.

The one constant in this, outside of Ryan, is Dimitroff.

The Falcons soaring finish to 2019 bought Quinn and Dimitroff an extra year to get this team sorted out. In a deep draft class, many had been encouraged that the team had four picks in the top 100 after Dimitroff orchestrated a fantastic trade with New England for Mohamed Sanu.

But he can’t sit still. Dimitroff sent the Sanu second-round pick to Baltimore for 2018 first-round tight end Hayden Hurst, who has a lot of respect from football analysts and maybe poised for a breakout, but hasn’t produced in a big way quite yet at the next level.

He signed Dante Fowler Jr. to a big contract, his first big pass rush investment since the 2011 Ray Edwards snafu, and scooped up released Rams RB and former MVP contender Todd Gurley.

These were risks, but smart risks. They were refreshing, but seeing the actual newsprint out that Dimitroff really may attempt a major draft trade, they may also hint at one last big swing from the Great Draftino himself.

This might be Dimitroff’s biggest gamble. He may be pushing in the chips to grab one of the elite defensive talents in this draft, with Ohio St.’s Okudah and Clemson’s Simmons the probable targets in this scenario.

Whether this would work or not is a completely fair question, and one we’d have to wait and see on. Okudah would give the team the potential to have a shutdown corner for the first time since Trufant’s heyday, and probably the best corner of Dimitroff’s career.

Ohio St. cornerbacks seem to be a relatively sure thing here lately, with Marshon Lattimore, Denzel Ward, Bradley Roby and our own Kendall Sheffield recent success stories.

Simmons would be a fascinating chess piece that probably wouldn’t have one job in particular in Quinn and Raheem Morris’ defense. He’d just be a guy to get the job done wherever you need him, and it’d certainly make the Falcons defense better.

If it’s Brown, then you get an elite run defender and monstrous presence to pair with Grady Jarrett to terrorize quarterbacks, running backs and interior offensive linemen for the years to come. But some question if he’s not quite as good a prospect as Oliver was, and with Quinn saying as recently as Monday how deep the defensive tackle class is, it feels less likely the team would send so many resources to get him.

Henderson is a possibility; some teams reportedly have him at the top of their draft boards for corner. But it’d feel weird to get a player with tackling concerns with a top-ten pick, let alone a top-five one that would likely also cost you a 2021 first round pick.

If the team really is going to be this aggressive, bank on Okudah or Simmons.

Is this really worth it, though? It’s hard to say. The team can’t solve its defense with one draft pick, and it can’t get back to the Super Bowl with one player. When the team traded for Jones, it was a huge deal, but it still hasn’t produced a ring (at no fault to the Jet).

Dimitroff could just be blowing steam into the draft wind or not find what he wants and stay put at Pick 16. Who knows anymore. We’ve seen rumors of trading up for years that haven’t panned out. It’s hard to actually go through with it, and Dimitroff, more often than not, doesn’t much these days.

But this might be his last rodeo regardless. If the Falcons can’t play better football in the first half of the season (y’know, assuming there is one), it’s unlikely this regime is back. So, if you’re him, why not risk it?

We’ll see Thursday if the long Ballad of Trader Thomas reaches its crescendo, if he knows when to hold and fold.

If it does and it reaches a high note, we may be singing the song of Dimitroff for years to come. If he hits a sour note, though, it might be the Gambler’s curtain call at last.