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The Falcons are a giant question mark, and that’s okay

It’s been a long decade, but there’s reason for hope.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

The Atlanta Falcons have had a really tough decade.

Ever since dropping that NFC Championship game in January 2013, the franchise has gone through some serious ringers. As hard as it is to believe after those Matt Ryan/Mike Smith years of consistency, the Falcons have not been wholly amazing since that loss.

In the past 10 years, the team has two winning seasons. One of those seasons was one of the best in franchise history, but it ended in arguably the worst sporting loss of all time. One of those seasons was pretty fun, but they also blew a lead to the Jay Cutler-led Miami Dolphins.

The other eight seasons have all slid on a frustrating spectrum of mediocre as a ceiling as dumpster fire as a floor. Since 2013, the team has fielded three head coaches. The team’s regular season overall record in this past decade has been 71-91. It’s been a long stretch.

However, things seem like they’re looking up for the Falcons with the past few years of trudging along through severe cap woes and a full roster churn. Arthur Smith has kept his teams competitive when they probably had no right to be, and Terry Fontenot has seemingly used his money wisely in free agency and gotten some good players in a couple of solid-if-uneven draft classes (understandable for a young general manager).

Falcons fans have gotten accustomed to waiting (and waiting, and waiting), but there’s a crisp feeling of hope in the air that the team hasn’t had in eons. It’s hard to really pinpoint a time in the past 10 years where an upcoming season felt quite like this, with even the buildup before the 2016 season mired in concerns about Kyle Shanahan’s status as the offensive coordinator and his rapport with Ryan (simpler times). This offseason has felt different; it’s been encouraging.

However, the intriguing visions of an explosive offense led by elite talents like Bijan Robinson, Kyle Pitts and Drake London and the dreams for a pass rush that actually rushes the passer won’t necessarily lead to any on-field success. Still, hope is a funny thing, and Smith’s innovative play calling, the uptick of a once-worrisome offensive line and intriguing additions on both sides of the ball are enough to make you wonder if this might be the autumn where everything clicks.

However, the team is also starting an unproven talent in Desmond Ridder at quarterback. We have no idea if Ridder is the guy for the Falcons, just as we haven’t much reason to just assume that he won’t be. He could come right in and prove why the team is so comfortable with throwing him the keys to the franchise. He might falter to the point where the quarterback fretting will become so nauseating that it detracts from anything else.

The blunt reality of the Falcons is that they’ve struggled to find any sort of consistency in the past decade, and that the team hasn’t given much reason for genuine anticipation past those offseasons when we were just hungry for any signs of improvement. The late Thomas Dimitroff years were largely spent chasing rainbows that had come and gone, and it’s easy to feel jaded after watching Smith and Fontenot dig the franchise out of the manure without any sort of promise that their efforts will be successful. However, there’s also no reason right now to think that this is all just going to fall apart like it always has in the past.

The Falcons are a mystery right now. That’s the bottom line, but that’s kind of refreshing after years of expectations evaporating in thin air when it became clear that the previous regime’s annual March duct-tape fest in free agency was failing, the play calls were getting stagnant and that the draft classes weren’t panning out as planned.

This year really could see the Falcons win meaningful games with a third-round quarterback and a young, promising roster buoyed by savvy veteran signings and improved coaching.

It could also be another year of growing pains and uneven quarterback play, hampered by veteran free agents who are past their prime and coaching that can’t cover the roster gaps. There might be growth, but it won’t satisfy.

The truth of the matter is that we genuinely have no idea, and there is a lot to be said about that. You’re not going to get any sort of guarantees that this is all going to work out, but you might as well dream big and hope for the best. This new regime has kept the team respectable through some dire straits, and things really might get better after time and money have been spent toward that end.

It’s been hard to be a Falcons fan for the past decade, but the team isn’t as snakebitten inherently as they’ve just been poorly managed. The new folks seem like they can achieve competency in squalor, so perhaps this is finally the year that smart decisions in the spring lead to legitimate victories in the fall. Maybe we’re entering the Falcons years that make the other ones worth the wait.

At least I hope so, and I’m sure you do, too. It’s be nice to just talk about the Falcons being good again instead of trying to find silver linings for something better to come along. We’re close to turning that question mark into something else, and we’ll soon know if that’s for better or for worse.