A year ago in NFL.com’s annual general manager power rankings, Terry Fontenot was listed as “too new” to actually rank. A year later and sweeping changes under his belt, Fontenot is ranked at last, and comes in at...No. 21 on the list.
Gregg Rosenthal’s rankings clearly value the team’s success to this point in Fontenot’s tenure, which is a fair measure to take. That’s why Brad Holmes, the Lions general manager and a Falcons finalist for the job back in 2021, is No. 7 on this list and Fontenot is not. Detroit went 9-8 a year ago with a positive point differential and are building a quality roster, and the difference between that and a team going 7-10 for the second straight year
Here’s Rosenthal’s writeup on Fontenot:
“After two seasons of cleaning up the last regime’s mess, it’s go time for Fontenot and coach Arthur Smith. They spent huge money to retain two pieces on an offensive line that improved as a run-blocking unit in 2022. Fontenot has used the team’s ample cap space to sign or trade for a lot of veterans like Jessie Bates, Jonnu Smith, Calais Campbell, Jeff Okudah, David Onyemata, Kaden Elliss and Mack Hollins, most of whom will start.
Atlanta is the most confounding team to avoid Lamar Jackson, but that decision is certainly not only up to Fontenot.”
I find this difficult to quibble with, even if I personally think Fontenot has proven to be far better than the 21st-best general manager in the NFL, because I understand the need to see the success of the approach before an outside analyst is going to vault him up this list. The limitations Fontenot was working with the past two seasons were evident, and if some of those were caused by Fontenot himself (via Matt Ryan contract changes, the Ryan trade, Deion Jones’ inexplicable contract tinkering), his ability to make splashes was still very limited. The fact that the Falcons were vaguely scrappy and interesting into the winter months was a minor miracle, one aided by Fontenot’s ability to dig deep and find useful players on the open market.
Briefly flush with cash, the Falcons turned that money into a ton of a useful players, including the kind of haul that should lift this defense was mediocre to useful at minimum. I get that the questions about Desmond Ridder’s ability will endure until he answers them for good or for ill, but Fontenot’s done well with what he’s had to work with, and this Falcons team certainly seems ready to compete in a weakened NFC South. Those are all points in his favor, as is a destined-to-be-underrated 2022 draft class, What’s working against him in the here and now—the so-so results from the 2021 draft class, the lack of resources, the question marks about sticking with Ridder—can’t really be resolved until we see this team play.
If this all pays off—if Ridder is at least pretty good, his supporting cast strong, and the defense effectively rebuilt to bolster an already tough running game and superlative special teams group—the wins ought to follow in 2023. If that’s the case, Fontenot will get his recognition heading into the 2024 season, and I’m feeling confident that we’ll look back at this as a pivotal, promising offseason for Atlanta’s general manager.