It came as no surprise when Falcons owner Arthur Blank decided to pull the plug on head coach Dan Quinn and longtime general manager Thomas Dimitroff. It’s clear air came out of the balloon after their epic collapse to the Cowboys in week two. They followed up that performance with another debacle where they gave up three 4th quarter touchdowns from Bears backup Nick Foles en route to another loss.
The Falcons have looked really flat the last two weeks leading to the inevitable:
A new voice could help in the short term. You never wanna see anyone lose their job, as Quinn held the fourth highest winning percentage and fourth most wins among Falcons coaches in their franchise’s history. He won two division titles but unfortunately, his tenure will be highlighted by their epic meltdown against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 51. Quinn was a good coach but his voice may have been getting a little stale and this team’s talent is not indicative of an 0-5 team.
There are a lot of intriguing pieces to this team and it ultimately makes Atlanta an attractive landing spot for any prospective head coach or general manager. However, a lot of this talent is tied up with huge contracts and is aging really fast.
According to Spotrac, the Falcons have the third highest salary going into 2021 being $25+ million over the cap. The salary cap is always fluid, but this team is not nearly as flexible financially as a team you’d like to see going into a rebuilding process.
This process will require a lot of patience in an effort to fully overhaul and organizationally reconstruct their front office and roster.
Here are the necessary steps that the Atlanta Falcons need to take moving forward:
- General Manager Search
Thomas Dimitroff saw a ton of success in his tenure as general manager of the Falcons. Starting off as a scout in Cleveland under Belichick in the 90s, Dimitroff came from a football background where his father had played and coached at a really high level.
The problem with Atlanta has never been a deficiency in talent. Dimitroff saw a lot of success in his tenure as GM and brought in transcendent talents in the landscape of their franchise. He found the likes of their franchise’s winningest QB Matt Ryan and an all-time draft day move where he sent five picks to move up and acquire the league’s best receiver for the next decade in Julio Jones.
It was time to move on but much like Dimitroff’s approach, the Falcons need to have a holistic big picture outlook when finding a new general manager. We’ll get into their cap situation later but as I alluded to earlier, it’s quite restricting at the moment. Ideally, you need to bring an expert talent evaluator who can find good, cheap talent to surround this aging corps and hopefully transition into a new age of Falcons football. Here are the best candidates that fit that bill:
Ed Dodds, Colts Assistant GM
Dodds’ name has been floated around the scouting circles for quite some time now. He is highly regarded throughout the league. Dodds grew his prowess as Seattle Seahawks GM John Schneider’s secret weapon. Dodds was viewed as the man who had a heavy influence in bringing in QB Russell Wilson and assembling the legion of boom. Colts GM Chris Ballard saw this and poached Dodds away from Seattle and made him his assistant GM.
Dodds apparently turned down an opportunity to interview for the Cleveland Browns vacant GM position last January. There are rumors that Dodds, an expert talent evaluator, wants a role that is more behind the scenes rather than the spotlight of a GM.
That very well may be true, but Dodds’ name will continuously be mentioned as a potential GM as he’s been in the NFL for nearly two decades. After the abrupt retirement of franchise QB Andrew Luck going into last season, with the guidance of Dodds, he has helped the Colts assemble a top-tier offensive line and made them a solid contender overnight by acing their draft picks.
Eliot Wolf, Patriots Front Office Consultant
Similar to Dodds, Wolf has been in NFL circles for quite some time but is still really young. Wolf, 38, is the son of former Packers general manager Ron Wolf. Eliot has climbed the ladder since 2004 from a low-level personnel assistant to a general manager.
His stint as a GM was short-lived in Cleveland as he was serving as an interim for John Dorsey,. Wolf was offered a position to stay in Cleveland but decided to leave with a new regime coming into the 2020 season.
Wolf was thought to be a serious candidate for both the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers GM positions in 2016 and 2018, respectively. It is only a matter of time before Wolf solidifies a full-time opportunity as a GM and Atlanta makes a ton of sense.
Daniel Jeremiah, NFL Network Draft Expert
This is a wildcard candidate but Jeremiah will be taken much more seriously now that we’re seeing that success that Vegas GM Mike Mayock has already attained. Jeremiah, a former NFL scout, covers the NFL draft 365, 24/7 as a draft expert on NFL Network.
The Falcons need a long term vision for what’s ahead in their franchise. They need to hit on the draft and who better to bring in then Jeremiah? He would need to surround himself with football executives and long-time coaches that would assist him in football/free agency decisions, cap movement, and building a culture.
But we’re seeing it unfold in Vegas; Mayock teamed up with longtime coach Jon Gruden. They controversially moved Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper yielding a myriad of picks including three first rounders. They’ve been patient and are starting to reap the rewards.
Could the Falcons envision something similar with all their aging talent and an inevitable roster overhaul in the making?
- Head Coach Search
Eric Bieniemy, Chiefs Offensive Coordinator
It’s a crime that Bieniemy still hasn’t coveted a head coaching position in the NFL. He’s the hottest name in the head coaching market and rightfully so. He’s had a huge hand in unleashing QB Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs revolutionary spread offense.
The combination of Bieniemy and head coach Andy Reid has terrorized opposing defenses and it’s matter of time before Bieniemy gets his own gig.
Reid has a storied coaching tree with the likes of Ron Rivera, Doug Pederson, Matt Nagy, among many others. Bieniemy is loved by his players and his offensive background could do wonders for a turnaround in Atlanta.
Bieniemy spent a decade as a position coach before obtaining the OC spot in Kansas City for the past three years. He has had to be really patient but the Chiefs ability to spread the field, attack vertically, and light up the scoreboard in such quick spurts could prove to be a beautiful fit in Atlanta.
Besides Mahomes, what makes KC tick on offense is all the speed on their perimeter. WRs Tyreek Hill, Mecole Hardman, Sammy Watkins, and Demarcus Robinson are all 4.4 40 guys or under. They challenge defenses vertically and are a threat to score on any snap.
Atlanta has Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, and Russell Gage who are all 4.4 guys. Jones is certainly on the decline and Matt Ryan certainly isn’t Patrick Mahomes but a resurgence could be in store with a new offensive approach from Bieniemy.
Brian Daboll, Bills Offensive Coordinator
Daboll has been the Bills OC for three seasons. He came from Alabama where he served as their OC and was highly criticized during his stint for his lack of creativity but that couldn’t be further from the truth during his time in Buffalo.
He has witnessed and aided QB Josh Allen from being one of the league’s biggest projects to one of the league’s top weapons in a matter of three short seasons. He has transformed Allen into what the modern day QB looks like: big, fast, strong, an uncanny ability to extend the play, and having a proficiency to deliver the ball down the field.
In his three seasons, he has shown the ability to adapt to his personnel. Once a ground and pound, grind it out operation, has turned into a vertical, spread attack with some of the league’s best perimeter playmakers.
He has a multiple approach on offense that can adjust year-to-year and week-to-week if necessary.
Joe Brady, Panthers Offensive Coordinator
Similar to Jeremiah, Brady is a little bit of a wildcard selection. He’s only been in the NFL ranks as a coordinator for five games but his genius is undeniable. Brady was the passing game coordinator at LSU a year ago. LSU was known for squandering its’ potential on the offensive side of the football for many years. They’ve had the likes of Jarvis Landry, Odell Beckham, Leonard Fournette, individual college greats but minimal success as an offense unit collectively. He flipped that narrative in just one season where he helped lead LSU to a national championship and a record setting offense.
QB Joe Burrow was viewed as a fringe day three selection going into his senior season. With the guidance of Brady, he shattered nearly every major NCAA passing record with 5671 yards and 60 touchdown passes.
Brady is a brilliant play caller who gives his players a ton of freedom to go and just play without thinking in his system. Brady, who is only 31, may just be the next McVay that every team seems to be looking for nowadays.
- Financial Purgatory
Although this is an enticing landing spot for prospective GMs and coaches, the Falcons cap situation going into 2021 will be by far the most daunting task to deal with. Going into the 2021 offseason, the Falcons have the third highest cap in the NFL and are projected to be $25.4 million over the cap.
Before the pandemic, the cap was projected to be expanded to $210 million and the Falcons have $214.9 million on the books going into next season. There are all sorts of ways to create cap space and the new GM will need to get creative:
The most obvious way is to release certain players. It’s the most immediate way to bring down salary but that’s also a quick way to get rid of talent and potentially pile up dead cap for the future. Potential cut candidates that stick out are DB Ricardo Allen ($6.25 million) and OL James Carpenter ($4.7 million).
This has become the most popular and prevalent way to stay under the cap from year to year. In 2021, the Falcons have $124 million tied to their offense. More than half of that ($63 million) comes QB Matt Ryan and WR Julio Jones. Besides Michael Vick, these are two of the most prominent Falcons in their franchise’s history. I wouldn’t be surprised if the new GM who came in arranged a way to restructure their contracts to ensure they are under the cap for next year but also to make sure they get their money as a prorated signing bonus at a later date.
Notable UFAs for Atlanta will be S Keanu Neal, EDGE Tak McKinley, RB Todd Gurley, C Alex Mack, and K Younghoe Koo. The only players that would be worth resigning are Neal and McKinley since they’re still young and developing.
Although Gurley has seen some short term success, Hill is a much cheaper option who can replicate similar production at the running back spot. Alex Mack is the leader of their OL but they drafted his replacement in the third round of the 2020 NFL draft in Matt Hennessy. Unless they feel he isn’t ready, Mack will probably be gone.
Because of how strapped they are, they can’t be avid buyers in free agency. They can look for backloaded, smaller acquisitions but in general, they don’t have the ability to be that active in free agency.
- 2021 NFL Draft
If you’re a Falcons fan, this is what you have to look forward to. Because of cap constraints, the draft becomes exponentially more crucial. They cannot try to patch up flaws through free agency. With a new regime, the Falcons will have a changing of the guard and it starts in the draft.
At 0-5, they currently hold the second pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. After the firings of Quinn and Dimitroff, expect a greater sense of urgency from this Falcons team because these players know they are next on the chopping block if they don’t perform. This year doesn’t necessarily matter that much but these players are putting on tape for the next staff to show they belong.
Although they are 0-5, without two epic collapses, they’d be 2-3. They are one of three winless teams along with both New York squads, but I’d be shocked if 1-win clubs like the Jags, Bengals, or Washington ended up with more wins than the Falcons do come the end of this season.
So, as much as fans wanna cry that they need to tank for Lawrence, I really don’t see it happening. If they somehow end up at #1, it’s a no-brainer.
But let’s explore the other options:
Quarterback: This is the sexy and appealing option at the moment. Ryan is on a steep decline. Realistically, no team would dare take on that contract until 2022 so he’ll undoubtedly be on the team next year. Now, there goes a saying, “the worst time to find a quarterback is when you need one.” It couldn’t be more true in most cases; there are countless examples of teams like the Packers when they took Rodgers (or Jordan Love this past season), the Chiefs selecting Mahomes, or most recently when the Dolphins picked Tua Tagovailoa that selected their guy. The same can go for Atlanta this upcoming draft. If you were to bring along someone like Bieniemy who has experience with this situation in Kansas City where he saw an Alex Smith mentor Mahomes for a season, it could pay off great dividends.
If the Falcons remain in the top 8/10 mix, guys like Justin Fields or Trey Lance become enticing options to explore.
Defense, defense, defense: This is what I think is the more realistic option. Whoever the Falcons bring as their new coach, they will try to revamp and regain some of that 2017 Super Bowl form on offense and if it doesn’t work, you still have young talented guys like Calvin Ridley, and OL Kaleb McGary and Chris Lindstrom to build around.
This team is an absolute mess on the defensive side of the football. They are allowing a league-worst 8.9 adjusted net yards per pass attempt. They’ve allowed the second most yards per game and really don’t have too many guys on that side of the ball that you get excited about.
During Matt Ryan’s career, he’s been held back with porous defenses that you can’t sustain a lead. This past season, we saw Carolina get a new regime led by Matt Rhule. For the first time in the common draft era, the Panthers used all their picks on one side of the football. Given, Rhule is a defensive-minded coach so he wants to build around that side of the ball.
However, even if the Falcons bring an offensive coach, they have enough juice on that side of the ball to give it a shot for a year or two and try to make it work. The Falcons need to completely revamp that defense with new fresh blood because they have issues at each level of that defense. Their EDGE rushers haven’t shown an ability to get after the QB consistently, their LBs are expendable, and they have one of the worst secondaries in all of football in a passing league.
Maybe they aren’t as drastic as Carolina and dedicate all of their draft choices to defense, but what they’re doing hasn’t worked and it isn’t a quick and easy fix.
The Falcons are in a weird spot moving forward. I wouldn’t quite call it purgatory because if they bring in the necessary personnel evaluators and coaches, this can turned around quickly. This isn’t the NBA where it’s much harder to find those difference makers later in the draft if you don’t have a top pick.
The best thing the Falcons can do is scoop up one of these offensive gurus and try to revive and squeeze out anything Matt Ryan and Julio Jones have left. The draft becomes much more important for Atlanta as they’ll be very restricted cap wise through 2021. They need to emphasize defense; specifically attaining a prominent pass rusher and getting some help on the back end at safety.
If the Falcons are able to nail the draft, they can become competitive and back on the rise similar to the Raiders and Colts at the moment.
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