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Training camp heralds a new era for the Falcons

After years in the wilderness, the Falcons are starting something new.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons-Training Camp Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

You might argue that the Falcons entered a new era when they fired all three of their coordinators following the 2018 season. You might more credibly argue that they entered a new era when they fired Thomas Dimitroff and Dan Quinn, replacing the duo with Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith as general manager and head coach. Hell, you could say that Matt Ryan being shipped out to Indianapolis signaled the beginning of that new era. It has been an era of new eras in Atlanta.

I’d take a slightly different tack and argue that the past five seasons have all been part and parcel of the same era, despite the shifting personnel and dramatic moves. Bogged down by heavy contracts and poor decision-making, the Falcons spent the last three years of the Dimitroff-Quinn era spinning in circles and turning in losing seasons. The first two years of Fontenot-Smith was an effort to chart a new course, but to do that, the brain trust determined that painful trades, cost-cutting, and teeth gritting was the way forward.

The net result? Depleted rosters gamely trying to win on Sundays without a clear, easy way to do so. The past five years have been one gray little era in Falcons history, one with exciting moments sparkling amidst an ever-growing mound of losses and question marks.

That era ended in 2023, and a new one has begun. The Falcons may or may not be great this year, but they’re no longer chasing fading glory or counting up dimes to sign affordable free agents. This is year three of the GM/head coach partnership, the first offseason in recent memory where the Falcons were legitimately able to splurge, and features the additions of an up-and-coming defensive coordinator and franchise quarterback hopeful. With the exception of franchise stalwarts like Jake Matthews and Grady Jarrett, very little remains of the Falcons who began their slow motion tumble down the NFL’s stairs in 2018. This slow motion, stop-and-start transformation has this team looking, if not brand new, very different and legitimately exciting.

Training camp heralds the true beginning for these Falcons, given that it’s our first opportunity to see the entire roster together and competing. What comes out of that summer of likely-to-be-intense competition should be a squad that is far more talented, balanced, and capable than any team since the 2017 Falcons. Set to compete in a lackluster division, facing a slate of relatively ho-hum opponents, and boasting talent they couldn’t even dream of stocking a year ago, Atlanta’s dreams of contention and even postseason glory don’t feel far-fetched. There are no guarantees, but there is a lot of justified optimism.

Whether this epoch in the team’s history is different and better than the last, not to mention the many that have come before it, remains to be seen. The kind of fresh air and daylight we’re seeing heading into training camp is very welcome, and if you’re excited about these Falcons and their chances of contending this year, for the first time in a long while it feels fair to say you should be.