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The Falcons must accept that urgency is still a huge gamble

Atlanta swinging for the fences won’t guarantee a home run.

Indianapolis Colts v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

For the majority of his tenure, Arthur Blank has been a very tactical owner for the Atlanta Falcons.

He’s not the type of owner to make the hero play; he’s historically been very methodical, loyal and, above all, patient. We’ll never know the totality of his influence over the operational side of the building, and if that has ever hampered the team in its successes.

Sure, the “Falcons for life” mentality that sank too many overwhelming contracts on the salary cap never helped, and the ubiquitous presence of Rich McKay in the franchise looms as a giant mystery without many answers (even if it’s probably not as harmful as it is vague).

Ever since the Bobby Petrino fiasco, Blank has been extremely careful while picking his head coaches. His last three head coaching hires have been up-and-coming talents who found success at their previous stops, and he’s never really tried to take on an established name who has succeeded and failed elsewhere.

Part of me thinks because he has valued the importance of patience; he’s wanted to slow walk the development of his franchise into something sustained. He hasn’t wanted to make the Hail Mary throw with hopes that someone will come down with the ball at the buzzer.

However, the disastrous DeShaun Watson pursuit that briefly alienated Matt Ryan from the franchise signaled that this will no longer be the mentality in Flowery Branch, and really the post-Super Bowl era has been a slow but steady acceleration. Blank will be 82 in September, and he’s one of the unlucky owners of his generation left in the NFL who does not have a Super Bowl to show for it. By and large, Blank has been a commendable owner for the Falcons, but his team has fallen into disarray in the last decade, sans the 2016/2017 stretch that featured an NFC championship and the worst Super Bowl loss in history.

Everything about the team’s reported interest in New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick screams urgency, something that will likely only grow now that Belichick is officially out in New England. It even hints at a little desperation, understandable for where Blank is in his life but tenuous all the same. Firing Arthur Smith after three seasons is not something the Blank of five years ago would do. It’s a post-Super Bowl, post-2020, post-Watson chase Blank, one that’s willing to do basically anything he can within reason to bring the idea of a championship to Atlanta, barring the team actually realizing a championship.

The Watson debacle was morally abhorrent and a stain on Blank’s legacy. It’s not unforgivable, but you have to hope Blank realizes the stark error of his ways by trying to send heaven and earth to trade for an alleged sex pest. Watson is now the Cleveland Browns’ problem, and it’s very unlikely that trade will be viewed as anything but one of the worst in the league’s history. The Falcons dodged it, but there was still tangible fallout from Ryan’s trade to the Indianapolis Colts and the post-Ryan decisions at the quarterback position.

Smith got fired in part because of the mistaken faith in Desmond Ridder to lead the franchise without any meaningful competition in 2023, but the lack of a high-end stopgap option in 2022 certainly contributed. Not having Ryan around hurt.

Trying to swing for someone like Belichick or Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh comes with a caveat. These are not long-term moves for the franchise. Belichick will be 72 in April, likes to control all aspects of the building, and failed to really capitalize on the post-Tom Brady era of Patriots football. Harbaugh seemingly enters your franchise with a ticking clock because of his obtuse personality and knack for not getting along with other people in the power structures that be, though he is younger and a builder by nature. Still, neither guy can be expected to be around long.

However, Blank probably recognizes that. He’s trying to make the big leap for immediate success. It has to sting to see your franchise foe in Tampa Bay sign Brady for a couple of seasons and get a Super Bowl out of it. It has to worry you that the Carolina Panthers could snag Belichick and possibly do the same thing. The stink of 28-3 has never fully left the Falcons, and Blank likely hears the sands of time falling more clearly than he once could.

The older Blank gets, the more aggressive he is going to get about winning right here and now. The Falcons took three years to slowly but surely dig themselves out of the cap constraints and roster deficiencies of the Dan Quinn/Thomas Dimitroff years, but firing Smith means that the process didn’t go fast enough for his liking. It means that the expectations for the next coach hired will be a Super Bowl soon, with meaningful playoff appearances a must to show a championship is obtainable.

The Falcons haven’t had a winning season since 2017, so it feels a like a huge gamble to take a team with six-straight losing seasons and expect a coach and quarterback change will propel the expectations to the league’s elite franchises. However, that is the reality of the Falcons. Don’t miss the forest for the trees; the Falcons have entered firm win-now territory.

That probably means Blank pushing his chips in on a proven winner like Belichick or Harbaugh, even if neither is guaranteed success. That might mean making a huge trade for a quarterback like Justin Fields or even Dak Prescott if Jerry Jones is hellbent on doing something crazy, or signing a free agent like Kirk Cousins or Russell Wilson. It might mean trading a king’s ransom for the draft’s top pick if the Chicago Bears keep Fields for the long haul.

Heck, it might mean camping outside of Brady’s house and holding up a boombox to beg him to come out of retirement for one last season with a franchise he routinely punked on the football field. It’d feel silly to rule out quite seemingly any possibility right now.

However, any solution will likely come with a fierce message of urgency, an unwillingness to wait around for things to coalesce for a brighter day tomorrow. The Falcons tried that approach with Quinn and Smith, and it failed them each time. Blank seems like he’ll do what’s needed to put his team within position to win, and we should expect the team’s moves this offseason to reflect that.

This might not be a rebuild any longer, but it’s also not necessarily the best direction for the franchise to press the gas and hope speed and experience make up for roster holes and years of disappointment. There is wisdom in not getting greedy, even when you feel like time is running out. Hiring Belichick to run your team doesn’t turn you into New England South overnight. It could absolutely backfire if the offense never gets fixed, and a win-now focus that doesn’t yield wins will leave this franchise in a worse position than it is right now.

You’re hopeful that Blank and the Falcons leadership recognizes that when you come to a fork in the road, there isn’t necessarily a sign pointing you in the right direction. Just because you might choose a path you’re used to going down, the path of trying to microwave success instead of baking it, it doesn’t mean that it’s going to automatically work. Eschewing another first-time hire for an established coach is as much a risk as taking a chance on a lack of experience.

Hiring Belichick might hypothetically raise the floor, but you don’t know that it will. Hiring someone like Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson or Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald carries the same amount of risk that hiring Belichick or Harbaugh does. They’re all a crapshoot, even if some of those names have won before; the difference is that the younger coordinators are full of fresh ideas and have the chance to hang around for a very long time. There are no sure things.

It’s not to say Belichick can’t work; he absolutely could. Getting Josh McDaniels in to run his offense with the right quarterback and keeping the defensive momentum going could pay off in a huge way. It could also sputter out and fail on the laurels of yesterday. It’s accepting either solution is possible that should dictate where this franchise goes, not banking everything on that first possibility without accepting the real chances for the latter.

Blank wants a full stadium on Sundays, one filled with adoring fans who have bought into your vision for a title as soon as possible. Hiring Belichick may well enthuse a fan base that saw that coach take away Atlanta’s Super Bowl in stunning fashion. Making a big move for a brand-name quarterback may sell lots of jerseys and make Atlanta a trendy playoff pick.

However, it’s vital that this team make the best decision possible, not just the one that speeds up the timeline contention. As much as you miss the playoffs, we have seen the Falcons get there and do well in the past. That’s not new. It’s where you absolutely want to get, but the franchise can’t let getting antsy prevent them from being judicious.

There is not a perfect path for the Falcons, and it makes sense for why Blank doesn’t want to wait any longer for a winning team again. However, making a big splash doesn’t mean the water is warm. Whatever path this team takes, there will be risk attached. Perhaps accepting that can help the Falcons make the best decision, not just the easiest and flashiest one.