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Terry Fontenot ranked 24th-best general manager in the NFL, but it’s more of an incomplete grade

The job Fontenot inherited makes ranking him this early in his tenure an uncertain exercise.

NFL Combine Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

How do you evaluate Terry Fontenot? As was the case with Thomas Dimitroff when he arrived, you had a first-time general manager inheriting a messy situation, which means patience is in order. Unlike Dimitroff, Fontenot did not hit on a playoff season in his first year, but also unlike Dimitroff, Fontenot inherited a comically terrible cap situation.

That’s a timely question because we’re getting close to seeing the fruits of Fontenot’s labors this offseason. The second-year general manager was able to spend a bit more this year, and aside from the Matt Ryan trade and Deshaun Watson pursuit, everything he’s done has been low-key, smart, and relatively affordable. The roster looks better to me than it did a year ago, even if most of us are (I think rightly) expecting this Falcons team to fall short of being a true NFC contender until 2023.

If you ask me, then, Fontenot has done an admirable job to this point. Next offseason, with its promise of cap space and the opportunity to build on a pair of draft classes, will probably give us a fuller measure of how good this front office is. In the here and now, I think he’s proven to be a capable general manager running a quality front office, and the fact that they put together a solid-to-good offseason with their resource limitations is giving me long-term hope for the franchise.

Outside of the fanbase, though, what is the impression of Fontenot? You’ll get a variety of answers, but I think it’s fair to say many analysts like the job he’s done to this point and are still waiting to see what happens on the field.

In his recent, annual ranking of all 32 NFL front offices, NBC SportsEdge (formerly Rotoworld) writer Patrick Daughtery put Terry Fontenot 24th on his list of NFL general managers. You might suspect that this means he’s down on Fontenot as a general manager-

Here’s Daughtery’s writeup:

Terry Fontenot is working on it. It is his only option with a roster that has no offensive line, defensive line, secondary, receiver corps, backfield or quarterback. Any shot at a quick fix went out the window when the Falcons surprisingly went 7-10 last season, a record that belies a group that was 0-7 with a -159 point differential against playoff teams. This is going to get much worse before it gets better. Which, of course, is usually when these things tend to get better. You need a prime draft pick for a prime quarterback. Fontenot did not believe one was there at No. 4 in 2021 or No. 8 in 2022. That does make it a bit curious he has used each selection on a pass catcher, but we digress. Fontenot has been patient. He needs to pray the same is true of his boss Arthur Blank.

Nothing in here is unfair, even if Fontenot is ranked lower than I’d put him. If Desmond Ridder works out the front office will look brilliant, but if he doesn’t chances are good Atlanta will invest in that franchise quarterback. In the meantime, as Daughtery wrote, patience is the theme as Fontenot built up a short-term mountain of dead cap space in the interest of putting this franchise on a winning course in 2023 and beyond. It would be fair to suggest that if Blank wasn’t in the mood to be patient, he should not have hired a general manager so willing to work carefully, but it feels like the right course of action.

Simply put, minus the Deshaun Watson pursuit I am convinced was driven by Arthur Blank and a couple of short-sighted financial decisions for veterans last offseason, Fontenot has played the hand he was dealt about as well as I could’ve expected or hoped to this point, and he’ll finally have a chance to build on the foundation next year when the team is flush with cap space and still has plenty of draft capital, especially if they move Calvin Ridley next offseason. If he stays patient and these moves work out, he’ll be a lot higher than 24th on this same list next year.