Tim Mazetti reacted to Goober Pyle in What we learned about Falcons’ plans from Terry Fontenot, Arthur Smith - The Athletic
by Jeff Schultz for The Athletic
The day before the nation begins anew, the Falcons held their own inauguration day Tuesday. It went pretty much as expected. They introduced their new coach, Arthur Smith, who sounded like the perfect choice. They introduced their new general manager, Terry Fontenot, who also sounded like the perfect choice. Arthur Blank, who has changed coaches five times and general managers three times during his ownership, talked about “a new era” and “feeling good” about the hires (again).
And this is where we all stand back and watch as Smith and Fontenot attempt to lay hands and Benny Hinn the Falcons to recovery after three straight losing seasons for the first time in two decades (1999-2001).
Predictions? Not going to read them here. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s never to prejudge coaches, general managers or whether something is ruled a catch. But what I heard Tuesday was impressive.
Neither Smith nor Fontenot was specific about plans for the roster, the draft or the team’s incumbent but late-career stars, Matt Ryan and Julio Jones. Nobody should have expected they would be specific on Day 1, even if they almost certainly already have discussed things with each other, Blank and team president Rich McKay.
But there were four things that stood out among the comments from Smith and Fontenot.
Point 1: Smith disdains ‘groupthink’
The Falcons slid in the post-Super Bowl years under coach Dan Quinn in part because he built a weak coaching staff. Some of this could be attributed to a lack of creativity (offense) or a lack of ability to adjust (defense). But some of the problems also stemmed from having too little diversity of thought. The Brotherhood suffered from a lack of healthy friction. Too often there was a lack of accountability from players. That’s how a team goes from a Super Bowl to 18-30 in three seasons so quickly.
Smith said unprompted when asked about his criteria for picking assistant coaches: “We don’t want groupthink. We’ve gone through a huge list already, and we’ll continue to do that with a diverse set of candidates and a diversity of thought.”
Asked to expand on that, he said: “The worst thing you can do is hire a bunch of yes men on a staff. You want guys with experience, you want young guys, you want creative guys. You want to share the same values, but you’ve got to challenge each other. The best thing that happens sometimes is there is fair criticism, and you have to constantly evaluate, as a head coach, making sure you get the right information, people telling you what’s really going on. I’ve taken leadership lessons from a lot of different businesses, and I love reading about history. … The consistent message is it’s a long hard road and the (key) is being consistent.”
Smith, the offensive coordinator the past two years for Tennessee, will call plays for the Falcons. But he wants his offensive coordinator to have input and to bring something to the table. He also worked for a great coach, Mike Vrabel, who learned from Bill Belichick, who knew how to build a coaching staff. Maybe Smith will bring that here.
Point 2: Fontenot isn’t hiding from salary-cap reality
Fontenot knows about cap problems. The team he left, New Oreans, is in even worse shape against the projected 2021 salary cap ($105 million over) than the Falcons ($32 million over). New Orleans tried to make one more Super Bowl run with Drew Brees, building a team that went 49-15 the past four years but couldn’t make it back to the title game. The Saints also were forced to rebuild during three non-playoff seasons (2014-16) because of cap issues. But here’s the good news for the Falcons: Fontenot’s background is primarily in pro personnel, he has a good business sense, and he excelled in both seeing the big picture and finding quality low-budget free agents. That’s important for the Falcons because they won’t have the cap space to go heavily into free agency.
“We understand where we are as a team,” Fontenot said. “We understand the salary cap. We’re not going to be prisoners of the moment. We’re not going to make decisions that help us in 2021 but hurt us in ’22 and ’23. We’re going to think big picture and do the right things because the goal here is to build the team the right way and have sustained success. … They can’t all be high-paid free agents. They can’t all be top draft picks. We have to hit on the mid- and late-round picks. We have to hit on the undrafted free agents. We have to hit on the lower-paid players and make sure we’re clear with our vision and in line with our coaches.”
Point 3: Fontenot won’t shy away from drafting a QB
It was amusing listening to both Smith and Fontenot avoiding specific questions about players, especially Ryan and Jones. Fontenot even said before taking questions: “This isn’t the time to talk about specific players on the roster. It’s not fair to the players or the staff.”
When asked about the possibility of drafting a quarterback, Smith said, “We have a long way to the draft,” and later added, “Matt Ryan has been a terrific quarterback, and I have all the respect in the world for him, and I look forward to working with him” — which was as close as either came to saying Ryan will be with the Falcons for the 2021 season.
Cap ramifications suggest Ryan will be retained, even if the Falcons draft a quarterback. Jones seemingly is the more likely of the two to go (though one of Fontenot’s daughters said he is her favorite player). But the most telling comments on Fontenot’s mindset came when he was asked about his draft philosophy: Take the best player. I’ve long maintained that with the Falcons in the rare position of drafting fourth overall and this being a quarterback-rich draft, it makes sense to draft a quarterback — and there’s a chance Justin Fields will be sitting there.
Question to Fontenot: With the backdrop of an aging Ryan and Jones, how much does Fontenot factor in draft position and available talent when determining whom to pick?
“As you assess your team, you’re not just looking at this year, you’re looking at years to come,” he said. “As you get into the draft, I really believe you’re going to take the best player. You can’t say, ‘Oh, we’re good (at that position), we’re not going to draft there this year.’ I know those two players (Ryan and Jones) are really good players, and I understand that. But we’re never going to be afraid to take a player at any position and build a strength.”
Point 4: Enabling days may be over
Some Falcons players have not lived up to either expectations or their large salaries. They got comfortable, either because of newfound wealth or coaches not holding them accountable. But often when a new regime moves in, players are on high alert, understanding the old ways don’t work. Being comfortable isn’t going to fly with a coach like Smith, who chose to start at the bottom of an NFL coaching career rather than wearing a suit in finance or working for his father’s company (FedEx).
“We’re going to hold our best players accountable,” Smith said. “Drop the entitlement. Not to say that was going on here. But that will be a big message in the locker room. And we want to be adaptable because things change.”
Fontenot had similar comments when asked about roster construction: “Self-scout. As a staff, we have to get in and drill down to the details of the roster, really determine how we feel about each player on the roster, where they are in their careers, what’s their plan for development. And from there, we can assess what are our major areas of need.”
There were some touching moments Tuesday: Fontenot choking up when asked about one of his mentors, Saints GM Mickey Loomis; Fontenot talking about shopping this week for a red tie — a forbidden color in Saints Country — in the same department store where he bought one 18 years earlier for his first job interview with the Saints; Smith talking about people who looked at him sideways for going into coaching instead of working for his billionaire father, Fred Smith, saying, “Maybe I wanted to prove them wrong. Maybe it gave me a little chip on my shoulder.”
It all sounded perfect. Now we’ll see how it works out.
Tim Mazetti reacted to papachaz in Falcons have favorable strength of schedule in 2021
right, because there are sooooo many changes coming to this whole organization, who knows what the team we field at the start of the season will look like. Sure, there are some we know will be there, but I do believe there will be a lot of familiar faces replaced with some not so familiar ones
Tim Mazetti reacted to ADAMSVILLE GYM in Falcons have favorable strength of schedule in 2021
Deen Worley Wed, January 20, 2021, 2:06 PM·1 min read After having one of the NFL’s toughest schedules in 2020, the Atlanta Falcons may finally catch a break in 2021.
Allison Koehler of Steelers Wire calculated the strength of schedule for each team next season and the Falcons’ opponents have the 25th-ranked winning percentage (.479). Atlanta plays four playoff teams — Tampa Bay (twice), New Orleans (twice), Buffalo and Washington — in Arthur Smith’s first year in charge.
Fellow NFC South rivals will also see favorable competition in 2021. The Buccaneers’ strength of schedule is ranked 31st in the league, while the Saints aren’t too far behind (27th). Lastly, the Carolina Panthers (21st) have the toughest schedule in the division.
The NFC South could look quite different in 2021. As the Saints move forward without Drew Brees, the Falcons and Panthers will look to challenge Tampa Bay for the divisional crown next season.
Tim Mazetti reacted to primetime in Hiring of Terry Fontenot is official
One of the key things I always thought we could get from this HIRE was the poaching of key defensive Saints players drafted in the last few years coming off their rookie contracts. The saints defensive drafts for the last few seasons have been fantastic and tbh are the main reason they still have been as competitive as they have been even with a declining Brees.
Fontenot would know these guys better than anybody and probably had a pretty decent say in their drafting. I was tempted to research this in more detail but I decided against this. But trust me when I say their defensive roster has been extremely well built from a good mix of draft and FA.
Tim Mazetti got a reaction from primetime in Hiring of Terry Fontenot is official
Under the microscope: New Falcons GM Terry Fontenot
The Falcons grab their next decision maker from their bitter rival.
By EricJRobinson Jan 19, 2021, 12:00pm EST It’s one thing to look for the next head coach in charge of an NFL franchise. It’s another to find a decision maker that oversees football operations, personnel, and management.
That decision maker is typically a team’s general manager, and is viewed as the one who sets the table for a franchise. The team’s success or failure in many cases will rest heavily on the shoulders of this individual.
Back in October, the Atlanta Falcons made a key decision to move on from their former general manager, Thomas Dimitroff. During his time with the Falcons, Dimitroff was instrumental in supplying the Falcons roster with the talents of Julio Jones, Matt Ryan, Calvin Ridley, Deion Jones and more. He was also ultimately the shot caller who made decisions such as signing Steven Jackson and Ray Edwards to free agency deals. The team decided to move on from Dimitroff during this past regular season after a long tenure and it was, in all likelihood, the right choice.
Reportedly, the Falcons, after conducting an extensive search, have decided to give the GM job to VP/Assistant GM for Pro Personnel Terry Fontenot of the New Orleans Saints. Today, I will focus on Fontenot and why the longtime Saints executive is tagged as the next general manager of the Atlanta Falcons.
About Terry Fontenot
Fontenot is a Louisiana guy through and through. Born and raised in Lake Charles, Louisiana, Fontenot attended LaGrange High School in Lake Charles and collegiately played as a safety at Tulane University between 1996-2000. Not long after graduating with his bachelor’s degree in business, Fontenot got his start with the Saints organization as a marketing intern, gradually working up the ranks to his present day position. A considerable part of his overall experience in the front office was spent within the pro scouting realm.
Once Fontenot was promoted to director of the pro scouting department, it gave Fontenot him a frontline position with the pro personnel aspect of a roster. That means he was directly involved with free agency, waiver wire, and trade acquisitions.
That also means that Fontenot was likely essential in free agency acquisitions of tight end Ben Watson, tight end Jared Cook, wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, and safety Malcolm Jenkins over the years, among others.
That position also appointed the responsibility of overseeing the scouting department component of scouting opponents on the regular season schedule. Throughout the years, Fontenot has also gained experience with college scouting alongside Saints general manager Mickey Loomis and more recently ex-Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland.
What he provides to the Falcons
Yes, on the surface, the hire of Fontenot brings its fair share of risks. Given that this is the first time that Fontenot will hold the position, expectations for the new general manager should be modest at the start. The Falcons have been down this road before with the hire of Dimitroff in 2008 after serving most of his career in the scouting department, where a handful of great decisions propelled the team forward and several mistakes ultimately held them back. But the one aspect that he will provide that can aid the Falcons tremendously is his ability find talent within the NFL. Sounds simple to most, but as I stated, being the director of the pro scouting department allows you to work hand-in-hand with the general manager in acquiring talent in free agency. That’s something the Falcons haven’t excelled at in recent years, often overpaying players who haven’t really worked out.
That particular aspect can play a considerable part in the future for the Falcons as over time, you may see the Falcons a little more active in free agency than years past. That is not a notion that the Falcons will be splurging heavily in the free agency market given their cap situation, but they may very well be a calculated organization that will poach a key free agent or two, and they may feel more comfortable stocking the back end of the roster with affordable veterans Fontenot has scouted in the past.
Also, with that position, Fontenot has gained plenty of knowledge in learning how to effectively manage a salary cap. He will have to roll his sleeves back a bit this offseason for Atlanta. But it does look promising that he can help the Falcons dig themselves out of a hole in the salary cap this offseason.
How he approaches the draft will be critically important, but his track record in that arena is less clear. As a key piece of the Saints front office and with an existing, experienced Falcons staff to assist him, hopefully he will be able to unearth great players in April.
It is without a doubt eye opening seeing someone within the Saints organization having interest in managing the Falcons. His initial approach with the team can allow the Falcons to set themselves up to climb out what has been a dark period for Atlanta.
This is a critical phase for the Falcons organization. Sitting in-between a rebuilding period and a period of reloading a bit and making playoff runs in the near future. A Louisiana guy has the keys to the team and a mandate to make things better. Let’s see what he can do.
Tim Mazetti reacted to thanat0s in Combine cancelled this year
As someone who had it, and countless members of my family also having had it, the idea that it is deadly to otherwise healthy people is absolute manure.
It’s just like having the flu, for the most part. Shutting down anything is nonsense, and shutting down the combine after both the NFL and NCAA just had a season of games is a joke, too.
Don’t get me started on the players not wearing masks, but all the coaches getting in trouble if they don’t. The world is run by imbeciles.
End of rant.
Tim Mazetti reacted to octoslash in Combine cancelled this year
What a bunch of bullsh*t.
Just make sure you vaccinate anybody in a risk category, and anyone who is not in the risk category can show up at the combine and wear a mask.
But that would make sense, and this plandemic was never about an actual pandemic.
Tim Mazetti reacted to DonOfThemBirds in Combine cancelled this year
I think this would be a very important thing that would be lost with the combine. Combined medical checks have unearthed medical conditions of prospects over the years that have gone unnoticed up to that point. It has helped save some of those prospects lives.
Tim Mazetti reacted to JDaveG in The truth about that number 4 pick
I don't know that it will. If we take a QB, then I'm assuming the owner is going to be patient and understand Rome is not built in a day. Taking a QB is not a "win now" move.
The only people who think it is are those who blame Matt Ryan for everything that goes wrong with this team. And those people are stupid.
Tim Mazetti reacted to CraigSmackDaddy in The truth about that number 4 pick
I’m not gonna be mad if they take a QB at # 4 unless it’s not Lawrence, Fields, or Wilson. I don’t think drafting a QB is the right pick but I understand the logic if it’s one of these 3 and they don’t have the opportunity to trade down. It’s that simple for me. Chances are this draft is going to define this regime so I hope they get it right, whether I like what they do or not.
Tim Mazetti reacted to Atl Falcon in The truth about that number 4 pick
Personally I think Blank McKay hired Smith because he is a quick fix two yr rebuild that includes keeping MR and probably JJ. This team isn’t far away from being a playoff contender. I think it could be that way drafting Wilson and letting MR go after next yr.
Tim Mazetti reacted to JDaveG in The truth about that number 4 pick
.....and it's really simple. The team should, and I think the team will, rank the players available there. I do not think they will take QB off the board, but I also do not think they will or should insist we must get a QB at 4 no matter what. So the truth is that nobody should be surprised if someone like Fields falls to us and we take him, and nobody should be surprised if we're down to the 3rd or 4th QB and we don't, and nobody should be surprised if Fields falls to us and we pass.
The reason for all this is simple. The team's math is not based on fans wish casting Matt Ryan out of town (or for him to retire as a Falcon). The team is looking at where the holes on the team are and which players will best improve the team with those picks. For better or worse, QB is not really a hole. We could use a backup, we do not need a starter. So the FO is not going to go into the draft saying "QB or bust." But neither are they going into the draft saying "we cannot under any circumstances take a QB at no. 4."
They are going to try as best they can to fill the major holes in FA, but we're hamstrung by the cap this year, and then they are going to try to maximize talent on the team without reaching for perceived need in the draft. Fontenot has been a part of a Saints organization that took a d-lineman or o-lineman with their first draft pick 4 of the past 5 years, and 6 of the past 10. They have also drafted 2 corners, a safety and a WR in that 10 year period, and they ended up trading the WR away and lost the safety (Vacarro) in FA. That team builds by acquiring talent, and specifically they built this current team by fortifying the trenches. I don't think Fontenot is going to come over here, look at this roster, and say "we must get a QB." I also don't think he's going to leave the most talented player on the board simply because we don't need a QB today. I would not at all be surprised to see us take Sewell if he is there at 4 either.
So don't be surprised at whatever happens. People saying "we must do this" or "we can't do that" are missing the boat. Fontenot and Smith will do whatever they think makes the team better, and we'll find out what that is on draft day and really not before then.