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We’ll learn much more about who the Falcons want to be in 2022

Atlanta’s done with the evaluation year, and they’ll move earth in more meaningful ways in 2022.

Atlanta Falcons v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

The Falcons are not going to pull a Bond villain and deliver a big soliloquy revealing their big plans for the offseason. Everything that happens this offseason is going to happen with minimal foreshadowing.

Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith made very little clear in a end-of-season press conference that was light on substance even for those kinds of pressers. Despite the extremely tempered enthusiasm shown in the video below, the Falcons are entering a much more exciting offseason than they were in 2021, when they were encumbered by a number of challenges both newly created and left by the last regime. They may move in silence, but the moves this team will make will speak volumes about the identity they intend to create for this team.

Remember that last year, the Falcons:

  • Were making frenzied hires in February with free agency a month later and the draft two months after that, meaning some degree of front office continuity was a must even if they weren’t all Terry’s Guys (TM). I don’t care how gifted you are, coming into a new organization and having to immediately tackle major financial issues is a limiting factor for a new staff;
  • Were so deep in the hole from a cap perspective that they had to restructure a number of deals, including ones they reportedly might have preferred not to touch, and were effectively prevented from making any significant free agent splashes;
  • Were, whether they wanted to be or not, more or less backed into trading away a franchise legend in Julio Jones and weakening Matt Ryan’s supporting cast as a result;
  • Were clearly hoping to contend enough to make the season interesting but also planning to evaluate the roster with a series of affordable, low-risk one-year free agent signings.

Nothing about last offseason screamed “playoff squad” unless you were optimistic or believed strongly in the team’s nucleus of talent and new coaching staff—there were a couple of us here waving that flag—but Atlanta did make it interesting until very late in the year nonetheless. That somewhat slapdash, limited 2021 offseason is not giving away to a massive spending spree and giant draft class in 2022, but the team’s brain trust is more experienced, they’ll have a bit more cash to spend, and crucially they’ll have four picks on the draft’s first two days to work with. The opportunity to mold this team for the future is here, and the Falcons will take it.

That’s not to suggest guaranteed success—we’re Falcons fans, we know better—but it is to suggest that we’ll know more about what this team’s actual plans for the roster are after this spring and summer. They’ll be at a crossroads for four cornerstone players who carry major cap hits with few ways to find any money besides extending, restructuring or dealing them, which will make it clear whether Calvin Ridley, Matt Ryan, Deion Jones and Grady Jarrett are part of this team’s future. They’ll be in a position to bring back or let loose players like Russell Gage and Foye Oluokun who may or may not be a part of the future. They’ll be in a position to put together a second draft class, one that will give them a chance to stack needed talent across a roster with major holes. And they’ll have a chance to essentially remake entire position groups, including wide receiver and outside linebacker, in a way that makes sense for the years ahead.

It’s an open question whether the Falcons intend to really push to contend for the division in 2022—I think they’d tell you they’d like to, but there are long-term tradeoffs associated with making a short-term push—but we do know Arthur Blank and company are not signed on for the kind of extreme slow-rolling rebuild that doesn’t even begin to bear fruit until 2024, given how many years in a row this team has been a losing one. Even if the path to success isn’t quite as clean and quick as we’d like, the Falcons will be doing more than punting contract decisions down the road and rummaging through free agency for bargains.

By the end of this offseason, then, we ought to have a much better idea of where the Falcons are planning to take this team in the years ahead. They’ve bailed quite a bit of water out of this thing, and while the floor may not be dry for a while, it’s time to chart a new course, one that hopefully won’t involve this team hitting an iceberg again anytime soon.