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Arthur Smith should lean on his veteran leadership if he wants to win now

Fact: Julio Jones can peel and slice a mango in 30 seconds or less

NFL: Detroit Lions at Atlanta Falcons Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Falcons picked Arthur Smith as their next head coach because they feel like he can win football games. That’s a painfully obvious take, but when you boil down all the analysis and hand-wringing that preceded his hiring, that’s what you get. He’s getting paid to win.

I can’t help but cringe when I hear the word “rebuild.” It makes me nauseous and gives me heartburn. This is a football team that employs both Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley. This is a football team quarterbacked by Matthew Thomas Ryan. This is a football team that has Grady Jarrett under contract through 2022. This roster has enough holes to give any reasonable fan base pause, but there’s simply too much parity in the NFL to justify the public waving of any white flags ahead of the 2021 campaign. And to be clear, my assumption is that Smith and Terry Fontenot’s marching orders are consistent with that premise. Arthur Blank and Rich McKay have already said they feel like the team can be competitive this year.

Smith and Fontenot may want to grow and develop their own brand of Falcons football. And Fontenot in particular has gone on record about his “no player is untouchable” mentality more than once since the Falcons hired him. Fair enough. We get it. But even if you have an ideal roster in mind and the personnel under contract doesn’t look the part, you won’t be able to close your eyes, hop on one foot, and manifest it overnight.

Guys like Jones, Ridley, Ryan, and Jarrett can help Smith navigate the road ahead. They can get him where he wants to go, even if they aren’t all part of his most successful teams in Atlanta. And as an added bonus, they may help make you competitive sooner than everyone thinks. By rattling off some wins in 2021, you’ll start to reengage a fan base that’s been...less than content. Justifiably.

Let’s be clear: I’m not saying anyone actually is untouchable. (Although I would argue that both Julio and Matty have earned a smooth landing, inasmuch as that’s possible in the modern NFL.) But there’s a fine line between stacking talent and pushing out or alienating the locker room’s most talented and tenured players. Smith and Fontenot signed up to walk that line, and they’ll get the benefit of the doubt until they don’t.