It’s very telling, based on the first week on Free Agency, at least, the size of the job on the hands of the Atlanta Falcons. After letting a historic lead slip in Super Bowl LI (lest we forget), the Atlanta Falcons could easily have slipped into “win at all costs” mode, and thrown their pittance of cap space at the biggest names in the Free Agency pool. I mean, they did that once. 2013, look it up. Spent big on Osi Umenyiora and Steven Jackson, following a historic NFC Championship Game collapse, and went 4-12 the next season.
Clearly the Dimitroff/Pioli/Quinn braintrust has learned from lessons past. Despite a few issues here and there, this side is, by and large, pretty good. It didn’t get to the Super Bowl through sheer chance and dumb luck, there was a design to it. A process that was clearly followed from day one. And, unlike in 2013, that process has not been castaway in pursuit of fixing the problems that occurred in the “Heartbreak in Houston” (I’m coining that term).
Defence Wins Championships
The process, of course, begins with assessing the season as a whole, rather than focusing on the last 20 minutes of the last game of the season. Across the board, defensively, Atlanta sucked. I can’t even find a fancy word to say it any other way, that perfectly sums up the truth. We sucked. I even said it in my Super Bowl preview; unless we score 30 points, we aren’t winning. That can be said for, pretty much, the entire season.
Yet, as a collective, it’s difficult to point to any major issues in defence. Future Superstar (mark my words) Cornerback Desmond Trufant missed the second half of the season, but will be fine for the upcoming season. The assumption is Keanu Neal and Deion Jones will build upon their impressive rookies campaigns, De’Vondre Campbell will continue to settle as a fourth round pick, and Vic Beasley and Grady Jarrett will see further growth in their third years. There are no glaring holes in the defence, and Dan Quinn knows that.
The emphasis has been to deepen the depth of talent, rather than pour all resources into one or two pieces (ala 2013). First port of call, in that case, was to retain contributors. Courtney Upshaw impressed enough in his dual defensive end/defensive tackle role to earn an extension. Kemal Ishmeal, who dabbled in Safety and Linebacking roles, also penned a one year extension. Neither are big, bold, sexy moves. But they’re necessary. It’s securing reliable pieces that can be rotated if needed. It’s about making sure you don’t have the same 11 guys on the field for 40 minutes of the biggest game in the sides history…
Strength in Depth
This mindset was taken into Free Agency. It could have been easy for Dimitroff to invite Calais Campbell into Flowery Branch and throw dollar bill after dollar bill at him until he signs a contract, but that wouldn’t have achieved anything. The nucleus of a great defence is forming, all you need to do is add more bulk to it. So, on day one, the Atlanta Falcons announced terms had been agreed with Jack Crawford. You know…Jack Crawford! THE Jack Crawford! Yes! The English one! No wait, come back!
Again, Crawford isn’t a bold move. It’s barely even a boring move. But it’s a decent one. Crawford is a guy who showed flashes of ability, especially in Dallas. He’ll join a line rotation that already has Derrick Shelby, Adrian Clayborne, Brooks Reed, Ra’Shede Hageman, and the aforementioned Jarrett and Upshaw. There’s plenty of depth along that line to survive an injury scare (knocks wood).
The biggest move of Free Agency for Atlanta came in the shape of Dontari Poe; a 25 stone mammoth of a man. Atlanta were 28th against the run last season, and Poe is something of a run stuff specialist. Give the cast of running backs Atlanta will face the likes of Ezekiel Elliott and LeSean McCoy next season, it’s fair to say that this was an area that needed addressing. Poe does just that. At $8 million for the season, Poe is a bargain compared to some of the other signings made this offseason.
In fact, I asked fellow Inside Zone writer, BritChiefUK, what he thought about the move, and his words were; “The Chiefs could’ve obviously got him for that money, but they maybe wanted to move on.” Hopefully he’ll give Atlanta a reason to invest long term. At the very least, he’s better than anyone we had last season.
Retaining the Record Breaking Offense
Offensively, all that was required was to keep some pieces in place. Given his quietly impressive season, Levine Toilolo secured himself a contract extension. The depth on Tight End is something to be excited. As with Neal and Jones, Austin Hooper had a pretty impressive rookie season, and will look to become more useful in the passing game next. He and Toilolo, as well as the prospects of Josh Perkins and D.J. Tialavea, make up a tight end group with plenty of difference making ability.
Aldrick Robinson followed Kyle Shanahan to San Francisco, and Eric Weems moved out to Tennessee, meaning there is an opening at wide receiver and punt/kick returns. Andre Roberts signed on a small contract, presumably to compete with Devin Fuller (2016 7th round pick, injured all last season), and possibly a rookie from this years draft.
Setting up for future successes
The moves made in this seasons offseason mean Atlanta are poised to extended the aforementioned nucleus. Desmond Trufant is at the end of his rookie contract and, unless franchise tagged, will be extended. Matt Ryan is probably due an extension after last seasons heroics. Devonta Freeman is banging the table for one. By keeping the contributors onside, the starting core can be extended as and when is required.
It must also be added that Atlanta have lessened the absolute needs on the team. There is no need to draft a big defensive tackle early on now. There is no need to draft a wide receiver at all. Aside from at Guard, and possibly EDGE, to bookend Beasley, Atlanta can be afforded the opportunity to choose the best player available in every round. And, if your squad is well-rounded enough that you can make that choice, you’re in a pretty good place moving forward, my friend.
The Falcons moves, so far, haven’t been headline stealing, but they’ve been enough to cause a little ripple in the pond. And you know what they say: the smallest ripples can cause the biggest waves. At least I hope they say that. I say that. I’ve said it once. Just now.