Arthur Blank has not been here before.
Since purchasing the team in 2002, the Falcons’ owner had never watched his team endure more than three losing seasons until now. There were the playoff years with Michael Vick in 2004 and 2006, the somewhat sustained success from 2008-2012, and the brief burst of brilliance from 2016-2017 to break up the lulls. Over the past five seasons, however, an owner who doesn’t like losing has watched the Falcons post losing records in all five, leaving him yearning for wins just like the rest of us.
That’s why Blank seems so optimistic today, and why his expectations are heightened. Fresh off a major spending spree in free agency and three offseasons of roller coaster team-building work, the Falcons are primed to win more games. This was clearly the year Atlanta was targeting to get back to being a legitimate contender, and Blank made it clear Tuesday he sees and approves of where the team is.
“This is the third year of a three-year plan, and I think what I see and what I like a lot is coach (Arthur) Smith and (general manager) Terry Fontenot laid out a very careful, thoughtful, kind of methodical plan of what they were going to do,” Blank said Tuesday.
The first bit is the really important one. The Falcons have to build a sustainable winner beyond 2023, but the pitch to Blank appears to be the pitch we thought it was heading into last season: Endure a couple of rough seasons while we figure out the cap and the foundation of the roster and we’ll deliver you something better. An owner who had never sat through a half-decade of losing seasons willingly embraced that plan when he could have likely made hires who would’ve promised more immediate success, whatever the long-term costs of that approach, but did not. Blank is careful to measure his words and not say “playoffs or bust” or “we’re winning 11 games,” but it’s clear that another rough season would be a bitter pill to swallow after all this time and all these investments.
“I think they got us in a position now where our team is gonna be more competitive than it’s been the last couple years. I think they’d be disappointed if that wasn’t the case, I’d be disappointed, our fans would be disappointed,” Blank said. “So I feel good about the direction of where we are. You have to play, you’ve got to avoid injuries and all that kind of stuff. But we’re in a division that is going to be competitive. Everybody says, well it’s one of the weakest divisions. But 22 years owning a team in the NFL, you realize that divisions that start out apparently not so strong end up, by the end of the year, being very strong. There’s gonna be a lot of competition, but I feel good about where we are.
“I expect us to certainly win more games than we’ve won the last couple years, and where that puts us and what number that’ll be, I’m not sure.”
Desmond Ridder may well be part of that future. The team has made him the clear-cut starter this year, a move that earned the confusion and ire of some fans, but Blank made it clear that he and the team’s brain trust are bought in on the young quarterback. Part of expecting this team to do better is expecting that bet in Ridder to pay off, so you’d expect that confidence to be high.
“As the year progressed, he had an opportunity to play, and I think he played at a very competitive level. Those last four games each game seemed to be a little bit better. So, we feel pretty strongly that he’s going to be our quarterback of the future. We’ve got to play games and we’ve got to see, but we feel good about him.”
Blank is not making these personnel decisions—that’s always a terrible idea for an owner—but he’s signing off on the grand plan here and clearly sees the light at the end of the tunnel that we’ve been craving. Like the rest of us, he’s ready for the wins to start rolling in, as they should.