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Dimitroff's smart moves helped Falcons emerge from doldrums


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Dimitroff's smart moves helped Falcons emerge from doldrums

by John Clayton, ESPN

The New York Jets' Mike Tannenbaum was my midseason favorite for executive of the year, but Thomas Dimitroff of the Atlanta Falcons will be my end-of-season selection.

It's not about how you start, it's about how you finish. Even though Tannenbaum acquired Pro Bowlers Brett Favre, Alan Faneca and Kris Jenkins, as well as Pro Bowl third alternates Tony Richardson and Calvin Pace, Dimitroff took quarterback Matt Ryan. End of story. Finding that once-in-a-decade quarterback is the most important move any general manager can make.

With Ryan, there is always hope. He makes the Falcons relevant for the foreseeable future. You have to go back to Peyton Manning in 1998 to find an acquisition of equal importance. Thanks to Manning, the Colts went from worst to first in the AFC East, jumping from 3-13 in 1998 to 13-3 in '99. Thanks to Manning and Colts president Bill Polian's ability to surround him with talent, the Colts have been a contender for a decade.

Ryan has the same type of potential. He has a major league arm. He's smart enough to run a complex offense. He's able to get to his third and fourth reads. He can run no-huddle on the road. He has taken the Falcons to the playoffs in his first season. Ryan is much more than the rookie of the year. He's the next great quarterback in the league.

By signing halfback Michael Turner, Dimitroff took a lot of pressure off his rookie quarterback. A power back who can handle 25 carries a game, Turner helped the Falcons' play-action passing game become an effective weapon.

The hiring of head coach Mike Smith also was a stroke of genius. Smith's name isn't flashy, but he's simply a good coach. The Jaguars suffered without him. Smith came in with a staff of quality assistants and a no-nonsense approach to the game. He taught the Falcons how to win.

It's hard to pass on Tannenbaum because he made bold moves, and almost every one of them worked. But the Jets have faded down the stretch. They've lost three of their past four games. At 9-6, they will be out of the playoffs if they lose to the Dolphins in Week 17. Even if they win on Sunday, they could miss the postseason if the Patriots and Ravens win.

In picking Dimitroff, I'm passing on a big name -- Bill Parcells of the Dolphins. Parcells has done an incredible job in his first season running the Dolphins, who have gone from 1-15 to possibly finishing first in the competitive AFC East. Parcells improved depth and wasted no time grabbing QB Chad Pennington after the Jets cut him.

The only flaw in Parcells' plan was passing on Ryan. Jake Long should be a great left tackle for the next decade, but a franchise quarterback has more long-term clout.

Every season, a team or two goes from worst to first in a division race. Good moves, easy schedules, better quarterback play, health and luck are big factors. The challenge, though, is staying on top. Manning has kept the Colts at the top of the league during most of his tenure. The Patriots won three Super Bowls once Tom Brady took control of the offense.

Dimitroff took Ryan. The Falcons will be major factors in this league for years to come because of that move.

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Thanks for posting this. It is an interesting read, but somewhat superficial. For one thing it does not mention the other Falcon draft picks or free agent additions that TD also had a hand in. While it does mention the hiring of Smith and Turner, the real bottom line analysis boils down to this: "He selected Matt Ryan and that should make the Falcons contenders for a decade and so that makes him the exec of the year."

Well what I want to point out is that TD is a young man and not a salty old veteran executive like Bill Parcells who might decide to retire at any moment. The truth is that even if Ryan gets hurt and therefore does not fulfill his long term promise, there is every reason to believe that TD can keep on building this franchise and make it a winner anyway. And if I am correct and he can do this, there is no reason that the Falcons cannot be contenders for as long as TD decides to stick around. That could conceivably be two decades or more.

But selecting TD as the general manager was not the most obvious plan out there. In fact I doubt it was even the Falcon's first choice for the assignment. But somehow it got done. So who do we thank for getting TD on board? Was it Rick McKay? It seems like it had to have been.

So if someone wants to annoint TD as Executive of the Year for getting Matt Ryan and putting the Falcons in position to be contenders for a decade, you have to ask your self a simple question. Wouldn't the Executive of the Year have to have been the executive who hired TD in the first place? If I am correct and that move has the potential to make the Falcons relevant for several decades (much as John Sherholz has done for the most part with the Atlanta Braves), then the Executive of the Year must be ... Rich McKay!

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