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Report: Falcons likely to keep Arthur Smith and Terry Fontenot for 2024

The team is prizing stability and betting on better outcomes next season.

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Atlanta Falcons v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Every report we’ve seen about Arthur Smith’s job security has been pretty consistent. The Atlanta Falcons would obviously prefer to keep him around barring a late collapse, but the loss to the Panthers was such a dire, dour game that it made that loosely defined “collapse” seem like it might be unfolding. A win over the Colts last week, easily the most impressive such victory of the season, clouded the picture further.

But again, it has long seemed evident that Arthur Blank is fond of Smith and leaning toward keeping him, with the late season collapse language seemingly more about giving himself an out if things got really bad than a careful weighing of the possibility. The latest report from Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero at NFL Network basically just re-confirms what Jeff Schultz at The Athletic reported back in November: Smith and general manager Terry Fontenot are likely safe.

If Atlanta finishes with solid performances in its final two games, Smith should be in good standing heading into Year 4. If it’s a freefall, the Falcons’ 81-year-old owner may have a different view.

Like Smith, general manager Terry Fontenot, who has spearheaded the massive roster and cap overhaul, appears to be on stable ground as of now.

The Colts game likely all but saved Smith; now his job is to at least have his team ready to play and competitive against the Bears and Saints, though I’m certain he and Blank are gunning for impressive wins. This is not news that will sit well with a sizeable portion of the fanbase, perhaps the majority, but it is evident that Blank is not holding the turnover-laden implosion of Desmond Ridder or the generally lackluster nature of the season or the offense in particular against Smith all that much.

We have been down this road in the recent past with Thomas Dimitroff and Dan Quinn, who got another chance in 2020 on the back of a strong second half in 2019. The disastrous 0-5 start to that season would’ve given me pause about running it back with Smith were I Blank, but for better or for worse he’s willing to bet that another productive offseason and a legitimate upgrade at the quarterback position will finally deliver the results the Falcons have been looking for. Mired in one of the longer postseason droughts in recent team history and with some really awful losses on the books in what was supposed to be a more competitive year, Smith will be fortunate if these reports prove true and he returns.

Could it work out? Sure, if Smith is tasked with expanding and upgrading his offensive coaching staff, with a particular emphasis on improving a moribund passing attack. Absolutely, if the team lands a quarterback far better than Ridder or Taylor Heinicke and exits their post-Matt Ryan purgatory. The defense seems to be in good hands with Ryan Nielsen, special teams is solid and should be better with the return of ace returner Avery Williams in 2024, and the offense certainly has many of the pieces it needs to be successful. It’s not hard to imagine better results with a few upgrades, mostly because it was hard to imagine the offense would be this unproductive much of the season.

Still, I question the wisdom of keeping Smith, even if I’m fully on board with Fontenot being safe. The team’s general manager has loaded the roster with intriguing talent on offense, added players who look like a long-term quality starting left guard and center, and has effectively transformed the defense with savvy free agent signings and a handful of promising picks, even if his draft results have been uneven. The team’s head coach has zero three game winning streaks, just a handful of double digit wins in three seasons, and a combustion in a should-have-been-playoff-bound season on the side of the ball he personally oversees. The players like him and he got more out of less talented rosters in 2021 and 2022, but the ways in which this team has fallen short this year make me wonder if there’s a hard cap on what Smith can bring to the table for the Falcons.

Blank is going to test that theory out if he keeps Smith, and if the team lands a franchise quarterback—or at least a major veteran upgrade—and tweaks his coaching staff, perhaps the bet pays off and we look at 2023 as a deeply frustrating speed bump on the road to long-term success. If not, the Falcons may find themselves dug more deeply into a purgatory of their own making than they ever imagined they would be when they hired Smith and Fontenot.