The NFL Combine is upon us, and Tuesday marked the traditional pre-Combine press conference for the Atlanta Falcons. Both general manager Terry Fontenot and head coach Arthur Smith spoke for several minutes, taking questions from the media in attendance. The conference was also live-streamed on the Falcons’ YouTube account, and you can watch it in its entirety here.
There weren’t any massive revelations about the team’s draft or free agency strategy, but there were certainly some tidbits worth discussing. Read on for observations from myself and fellow Falcoholic contributor Aaron Freeman.
Fontenot wants to have his cake and eat it too, indicating a balance between building for the future and trying to win now. Emphasizes being smart with the #Falcons spending.— Aaron Freeman (@falcfans) March 1, 2022
The first notable tidbit is that the Falcons continue to refuse to commit to a specific approach, whether that would be a full rebuild or full “win-now” mode. That would seem to track with how they approached 2021, where the team clearly didn’t maximize their competitiveness or spending and also took a more future-focused approach to the draft. Naturally, this doesn’t help us determine their plan of action for 2022 at all.
Fontenot says their first priority is creating cap space and then looking to re-sign #Falcons own important players. Says that they have to be disciplined with spending. Respects players testing the market.— Aaron Freeman (@falcfans) March 1, 2022
Next, Fontenot talked about their free agency priorities. #1 was creating some cap space, and following that, re-signing their own key players. However, Fontenot made it clear that the team is willing to let their impending free agents test the market. Atlanta seems to be focused on not overpaying, especially with their limited cap space.
Fontenot says the #Falcons are looking to add to every position to improve the roster. And doesn’t want to reach for need and says teams get themselves into trouble when they do that.— Aaron Freeman (@falcfans) March 1, 2022
This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has followed Fontenot’s previous comments, but the Falcons will continue to focus on a BPA approach in the draft. That means you should keep your mind open to any position at any pick, including some potential curveballs at 8 (WR, QB, LB for example).
Fontenot: "CP is an example of what we have to do with the constraints this year". Referencing how #Falcons signed Patterson a month into free agency and got excellent value.— Kevin Knight (@FalcoholicKevin) March 1, 2022
Fontenot spent quite a while praising Patterson’s 2021 season and the way he made the team an attractive destination for free agents. He also praised the coaching staff’s ability to utilize him to his fullest. Fontenot said Patterson is the model for what the team needs to do again this offseason: find value on underappreciated players later in free agency.
Fontenot says that athletic testing and numbers factor in to their player evaluation, but they always look at the whole picture. #Falcons— Kevin Knight (@FalcoholicKevin) March 1, 2022
Fontenot refused to comment much on the team’s overall process of player evaluation, but he did mention that the team doesn’t rule players out based on athletic testing. He also emphasized that Atlanta always looks at the entire picture, and Smith contributed to this as well by saying they don’t necessarily judge a player based on an 18-minute “speed-dating” interview at the Combine.
Arthur Smith: "If somebody gives you an offer you can't refuse (for Matt Ryan), I think you have to take it." Adds: "But I think you could apply that to any player." #Falcons— Kevin Knight (@FalcoholicKevin) March 1, 2022
By far the biggest development of the pre-Combine press conference was how open Arthur Smith seemed to trading quarterback Matt Ryan. He mentioned it several times, coupled with clarifying that the team would need “an offer we can’t refuse”. Still, while this is short of Atlanta “shopping” Ryan, it seems abundantly clear that a trade for the long-time franchise QB is absolutely being considered.
It would seem to be a difficult proposition, particularly pre-June 1st, as Ryan carries a $40M dead cap hit. However, a post-June 1st deal would carry just a $24.9M dead cap hit and clear nearly $24M in cap space. So if team could orchestrate a post-draft deal, it could be a lot more financially advantageous. Considering that Atlanta would probably want to have a succession plan in place before moving on from Ryan, trading him after the draft makes even more sense—having a rookie already on the roster, like Malik Willis or Desmond Ridder, makes the move safer than hoping you can draft someone.
Those are the big takeaways from Tuesday’s pre-Combine press conference. Did anything in particular stand out to you?