The Atlanta Falcons reportedly have their new general manager, with Terry Fontenot taking over a front office with a host of challenges in front of it. The longtime Saints executive worked his way up from the marketing department to one of the most instrumental roles in the New Orleans front office, and in the process gained experience that should serve him well in his new role.
Fontenot takes over at a fraught time for the franchise, as you’d expect given that the team unceremoniously dumped longtime GM Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Dan Quinn five games into the 2020 season. Dimitroff had run the front office (with power waxing and waning) since 2008 and built some of the most successful teams in Falcons history, ones that went to the playoffs six times, NFC Conference Championship twice, and Super Bowl once, but cratered over the past few seasons. Fontenot will have the task of picking up the pieces and putting together the next great Falcons team with Arthur Smith as the franchise’s new head coach.
It’s official! We have named Terry Fontenot our next general manager. https://t.co/HKRAGlaOJE— Atlanta Falcons (@AtlantaFalcons) January 19, 2021
“When we started this process we were focused on finding someone that not only has a track record of identifying key building blocks that result in successful teams, but also someone who focuses on cohesive relationships within the building. We feel very strongly that we’ve found that individual in Terry Fontenot,” said Arthur Blank, the Falcons owner and chairman.
“In his past positions, he has shown the ability to make strong decisions and judgments that result in championship-caliber teams, while also understanding a variety of viewpoints and respecting a collaborative process throughout. Landing a leader of Terry’s stature, I believe our organization, players, fans and community will have confidence in our approach throughout this process as I am certain Terry will represent them and the expectations they have to a high level.”
Fontenot’s role in the Saints front office is much more clear to the Falcons than it is to us, but he has at least touched the draft and has had a prominent role in player acquisition from free agency to trades in recent years. As noted by William McFadden in his look at Fontenot, he’s spent most of his years with the Saints in pro scouting and pro personnel, meaning he was scrutinizing who the team should add via free agency and trade. The team has landed Benjamin Watson, Max Unger, Larry Warford, Ted Ginn Jr., A.J. Klein, Jared Cook and a slew of other useful players in that span, and generally have done so without breaking the bank. From the outside there’s only so much we can know about his track record with New Orleans, but we do know Watson and others who have worked with him have talked up his acumen and that he’s a seasoned executive who climbed his way up the organizational ladder at one of the more talented teams in football, which says plenty.
Everything I’ve read to this point echoes what Blank says above about Fontenot’s leadership skills, as well. There was a strong sense leaguewide this offseason that Atlanta’s power structure had become muddled in recent years, with that issue being mentioned as an obstacle to the Falcons landing a preferred candidate. That didn’t seem to happen—Atlanta was choosing between Brad Holmes and Fontenot, two of the stronger candidates this hiring cycle—but even if Blank and Rich McKay step aside entirely and give Fontenot run of personnel, his interpersonal and leadership skills are going to matter for a franchise that has seemed increasingly rudderless over the past few seasons.
Fontenot is also notably the very first Black general manager in team history. The Falcons promised a diverse search at general manager and head coach, and while they passed by Eric Bieniemy, Todd Bowles, Byron Leftwich and others to get a candidate they (and likely Fontenot) prized in Arthur Smith, their general manager search focused on three strong Black candidates in Fontenot, Brad Holmes, and Rick Smith.
This Falcons team needs to make tough calls on some contracts, acquire a ton of talent given that they have fewer players under contract than any other team, and navigate a draft class where they’ll have a top five selection for the first time since 2008. The potential for this team to do great things in the relatively near future is there, but Fontenot will really have to nail it. Atlanta must be convinced he can, and that he can partner with Smith to fill the roster’s many holes and bolster their relative strengths.
We’re optimistic about that, too, or at least as optimistic as a Falcons fan can be. Fontenot’s rise in the front office has coincided with a greatly improved Saints team, one that has nailed free agency decisions along the way. That experience is particularly critical because while Dimitroff on balance drafted well, his free agent classes were much more of a mixed bag, with the Dante Fowler/Todd Gurley additions of 2020 closing out things with a thud. Fontenot will be tasked with using a tight budget to bring in useful players, and it’ll be exciting to see who he’ll go after.
A warm welcome to Fontenot, and may he bring this franchise to new heights.