Matt Ryan turns 36 in May. Julio Jones just turned 32. Both guys still can produce at a high level, but it’s clear that 2021 may be the last time we see both of them on the field as teammates. It’s hard to blame fans who want to see these two Atlanta greats go out with a bang.
There are plenty of reasons to think the Falcons can compete again in 2021 with Ryan and Julio leading the charge. The simple improvement of the coaching staff may be enough to get this team back around .500 and maybe more. After all, this team lost a lot of close games in 2020. On top of it all, adding a few key pieces in the draft could make this offense incredibly dangerous under Arthur Smith in his first season here. I’d imagine Coach Smith believes he can work wonders with this offensive talent in the here and now.
Terry Fontenot, however, must have a different mission.
That’s not to say that the GM shouldn’t give his head coach as much offensive talent as possible. Far from it. But, while Arthur Smith will undoubtedly focus on being successful immediately, our new general manager has to take a long-term approach. Often, these two goals will not be on the same page.
Please don’t read this as an endorsement of one draft pick over another. A solid case can be made for a multitude of options at this point. What I’m speaking to is the ongoing construction and maintenance of a quality NFL roster. That does not always align with what a head coach needs from season to season.
In the 12 years the Falcons were led by Thomas Dimitroff, we saw him be aggressive to go get the player “he wanted.” Often, those players were guys who fit an immediate need on the roster or fulfilled the vision the GM had. Trading up for Julio Jones is a perfect example.
Yet, those moves can be costly and they almost always have long-term ramifications. Losing draft capital and whiffing on the picks you do have can set your roster back for years. You’ll be forced to spend big on free agents and you might eventually find yourself wasting cap space on guys who fit a need, but whose quality of play was lackluster at best. Rinse and repeat until you’re in cap hell, like the Falcons are going into this season.
Head coaches in the NFL have a short shelf life. They are always going to focus on getting wins because their livelihood literally depends on it. General managers need to help them, but their vision has to expand beyond the here and now. They need to stock the roster with as much talent as possible, so that you can afford to let good players walk away from the team as you manage the cap for the long haul.
Any general manager that goes “all in” for one season has failed the franchise.
As much as I want to see Arthur Smith immediately turn this team around in 2021, I know that the “fun” move may not be the best move for the Falcons. We need Terry Fontenot to focus on what this roster can ultimately be, even if that means making moves fans - and coaches - may not initially understand or agree with.