Arthur Blank sat down for an interview with Jeff Schultz at The Athletic recently, and he said quite a few interesting things. He reiterated that the Arthur Smith hire was driven by a desire to improve the ground game and excel in the red zone, two weaknesses over the past couple of seasons in Atlanta, and talked more about the extent to which the relationship between Julio Jones and the Falcons fell apart after the new contract. As always, it’s worth reading in full.
I’d like to tease out one piece of the article that’s really relevant to today, in particular. Terry Fontenot and the front office are going to have to build a practice squad out of the hundreds of players who have been cut over the last couple of days, and he’ll also undoubtedly be looking to churn the very bottom of the Falcons roster to improve depth that certainly looked a bit shaky during preseason. Arthur Blank made it clearer than he ever has before that he feels the previous front office, which nailed a lot of early draft picks and picked up some late gems like Russell Gage and Foye Oluokun, did not nail free agency, and that he expects Fontenot to do exactly that.
“Terry has unique experience in an area we haven’t done a great job in, and that’s the pro (personnel) side. He did that most of his career in New Orleans, and he came out of an organization, which is difficult for a Falcons person to say, that was very well run and excelled at the highest level, and not just because of the quarterback and the coach. Mickey Loomis is one of the more highly respected general managers. They’ve been active in free agency, but not active in Day 1 or 2 of free agency, more in Day 4 or 5. They’ve picked up some really good players and understanding their schemes, have plugged them in and played at a high level.”
Obviously, Blank is talking about what Fontenot did this spring and what he’ll hope to do in the future when the team’s cap picture is less dire, and pickups like Mike Davis, Fabian Moreau and Josh Andrews (gulp) are going to help determine whether this season is successful or not. But this is also a moment where that background is going to matter a great deal.
Arthur Smith harped on how fluid the team’s roster situation is, and bluntly nobody expects them to keep three quarterbacks on the roster or hold on to 11 defensive backs when they take the field against the Eagles. Atlanta has the fourth-highest priority for waiver claims from now until the end of the season, meaning they can probably get their hands on just about anybody they want and the three teams ahead of them do not to add to the back end of the roster. The Falcons also can build their 16 man practice squad today, and while they’ll certainly bring back at least a few promising undrafted free agents they brought in the building, their questionable depth along the offensive line, at wide receiver and other positions suggests it would be smart to stash a few veterans they like there as well.
Fontenot’s involvement in New Orleans as an evaluator of pro talent is very obviously a big part of what got him this job, so this is certainly a major moment for him. The work he’s already done on a limited budget will, as I said above, determine how successful the Falcons are in 2021. The work he does right now could help or help sink the Falcons when injury inevitably strikes, and it might have profound implications for this Atlanta roster in 2022 and beyond if he ends up adding even a small handful of future quality reserves or even starters to this practice squad.
The Falcons have, as Matt Chambers wrote this morning, not showed us much this preseason in terms of what we should expect from the starters. Given that we know not every starter will work out or stay healthy, what the Falcons do to build depth and add developmental talent in the coming days is going to be important. May Fontenot and company nail those additions and validate Blank’s faith in their ability to do so.