It goes without saying that it has been a weird year. The Falcons largely went about business as usual this offseason, signing a spate of free agents and trying to reshuffle a team that has gone 7-9 two years in a row, all in the hopes of contending in a year where there is a 7th playoff spot available. While the team has done an admirable job of pushing through it and has largely had an offseason I’d endorse, everything that hasn’t had to do with player acquisition has been a disaster across the league.
The NFL Draft went remote, even if it went surprisingly well. Teams still can’t complete physicals. Coaches and players aren’t even allowed in team facilities, which just opened back up on a limited basis this week. It’s more than fair to suggest that the things we take for granted—training camps, full seasons on time, full stadiums—are all on shaky ground heading into the fall. The bottom line is that whether you’re someone who is concerned about the pandemic being a multi-year problem or someone convinced it’s going away sometime in 2020, there’s considerable uncertainty ahead.
It’s way too early to make any sweeping statements about the direction of the NFL over the short term, but I think it’s fair to broach the question of whether this year will see teams set in amber to some extent. A team that is considering a coaching change could be dealing with a reduced or nonexistent physical offseason program, a rookie class that struggles to get up to speed, and potentially significant disruptions to the schedule and/or when and where games are played. Given all of that, it’s fair to wonder if owners like Arthur Blank who were thinking about dropping the hammer if the year went poorly might choose continuity.
This is a particularly relevant question for the Falcons because Blank has suddenly grown more reluctant to move on from his coach, electing to keep Dan Quinn after two consecutive losing seasons after declining to do so with Dan Reeves, Jim Mora Jr., and Mike Smith. The stated reason for this was continuity in the first place, so a disruptive force like a pandemic and all the havoc it may yet wreak on this season might convince him to do so again, even if the Falcons ultimately disappoint.
They’re hardly the only team with this question, however, as the Bears (Matt Nagy, gearing up for an epic Nick Foles vs. Mitch Trubisky QB battle), Lions (still trying to find some Patriots magic in Matt Patricia), and certainly Texans (Bill O’Brien being an ongoing disaster) will have to grapple with the same thoughts at some point. That makes this season worth watching closely to see if it makes teams more conservative when it comes to coaches—and indeed, if it impacts next year’s free agent crop—and the major changes that most of them wouldn’t hesitate to make in other seasons.
Hopefully for the Falcons, it’s a moot question because they’re winning and winning big, no matter how the schedule plays out.