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The Falcons should be in the NFC South mix in 2023, but don’t expect them to go all-in

Atlanta can’t and won’t push their chips in for 2023.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Alex Slitz/Getty Images

By the time July rolls around, this column might look like a relic of a bygone era. The Panthers are currently building an impressive coaching staff in Carolina, the Saints have a way of chewing through their cap deficit like Pac-Man through digital fruit, and the Buccaneers...well, okay, we’re probably not worried about the Buccaneers. Changes large and small are ahead for all four of the NFC South’s squads, and with no complete team in the division at the moment, it’s not hard to see a great offseason lifting one of them above the fray.

From here, though, the path to relevance and perhaps the South for the Falcons remains easy to see. They have the resources to make it a productive offseason, one that sees them leave the spring and summer with one of—if not the—best rosters in the division. No other team in the division has the mix of draft capital and cap space, and in the case of New Orleans and Tampa Bay, it’s going to take a lot of finagling—albeit finagling the Saints know how to do—just to have any money to spend in free agency. Every team also needs at least a solid veteran quarterback to compete for the job, but only the Falcons have a young player who they appear to like enough to give a shot to. Instead of needing to make cuts and restructure deals, Atlanta can just build on what they have.

What the Falcons can’t do—and have repeatedly implied they won’t do—is try to go all-in on 2023. The temptation will surely be there, given that the Falcons have not won much of anything in so long and can make noise in this division fairly easily. For Arthur Blank it will be strongest, given that he pays the bills and would love to see a celebrated franchise bringing in plenty of revenue, but as Arthur Smith has said many times, you always want to win. The temptation to really, really push to do so in an NFC with only a couple of juggernaut teams will certainly be there.

But barring Blank actively meddling owing to a desire to chase a Super Bowl now—and given his frankly surprising level of enthusiasm for Desmond Ridder, that seems increasingly unlikely—it’s hard to imagine that scenario unfolding. The Falcons just got out of a multi-year cap mess and spent two years assuring us they have a long-term plan, so a gigantic swing on 2023 that risks derailing that plan in 2024 and beyond seems both unwise and unlikely. The Falcons do not, for all their resources, have the cap space or draft capital to completely remake a team that will still have major holes by the time September rolls around. It’s just not possible to upgrade everywhere in a single offseason when your primary team-building has happened through the draft in 2021 and 2022, something the team is well aware.

This is why all the rampant trade speculation around Lamar Jackson makes more sense (he’d be your quarterback for the long haul) than the speculation around, say, Aaron Rodgers, and why simply sticking with a cheap and promising young quarterback in Desmond Ridder is a real option. If you’re going to surrender draft capital and a big contract, limiting your flexibility going forward, you want to land a player who will be great right now and likely great 3-5 years down the line, when you’ve built the sustainable winner the Falcons brass keeps selling us on.

That’s not to suggest that the Falcons can’t and won’t sign older veterans to short-term deals to seek 2023 improvement—this team should legitimately be in the playoff hunt and needs that kind of help too—but expecting those kinds of signings or trades to be the focus of the offseason will only end in disappointment. This team would like to be a winner in 2023, yes, but they would like to be a winner in 2024, 2025, and so on as well. Arthur Blank has praised Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith for their ability to be patient (despite his own evident forays into short-term thinking) and trying to build something sustainable, and Fontenot has made it clear that’s how the team is thinking this spring.

The Falcons may have some big, borderline shocking moves in them this year, the kind that make us dream about more than just a run to the postseason. The hope inside the building and here in our homes is that 2023 is a far better season than any we’ve seen the past five years, after all. After just learning the dire consequences of chasing after a short-term dream in a way that harms the future, though, it’s difficult to imagine that the Falcons will try to go all-in to win their shaky division this year. Given the work ahead, it’s best we pound the table for a playoff-caliber team this year while understanding the Falcons won’t go all-in.