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Joe Brady, Eric Bieniemy? Who will Falcons target? What’s Matt Ryan’s future? - The Athletic


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by Tori McElhaney and Jeff Schultz for The Athletic

 

The Falcons made a big change Sunday night, firing coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff after the team’s 0-5 start. That came on the heels of back-t0-back 7-9 seasons without playoff berths in the franchise’s slow decline.

So where does that leave the team? What’s next? Who are the candidates the Falcons should consider? Falcons beat writer Tori McElhaney and columnist Jeff Schultz discuss all that and more.

McElhaney: I want to start off by going back to something Joe Person wrote in the last roundtable we did before all of this went down on Sunday. We were discussing the possibility of Quinn getting fired if Atlanta lost Sunday, and he made a joke: “Who knows, maybe next year we’ll be covering Matt Rhule versus Joe Brady when these teams meet. I’m kidding.”

Then he added: “(kinda)”

Now, this isn’t me saying this will happen, but if it does, this is me saying I’ll owe Person some money for his intuition. So, with that in mind, I know Raheem Morris is guaranteed 11 games, and I know the process to find Quinn and Dimitroff’s replacements won’t happen overnight, but let’s talk candidates: Brady, Eric Bieniemy, Josh McDaniels maybe? Who’s on your list? And does Morris make that list at all?

Schultz: Ha. OK, first of all: Person stole that line from me! As soon as Brady left LSU for the Carolina offensive coordinator’s job, I told him, “Enjoy the one year. He’ll be the Falcons’ coach in 2021.” I also was kidding. Kinda.

So let’s start with Morris. He’s a good guy. Everybody likes him. That’s one reason he was named interim. But he had one good season (10-6) sandwiched between two awful ones (3-13, 4-12) as Tampa Bay’s coach. Short of him going 9-2 or better, I don’t see him being seriously considered. He’s basically another version Quinn and I believe — and more importantly, I’m certain Arthur Blank believes — he needs to start fresh with a new approach.

There are three potential candidates I like a lot. In no particular order: 1) Brady, even though he’s only 31 years old; 2) Bienemy, who should have gotten a head coaching position last season; and 3) Indianapolis defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus. McDaniels is a smart guy but honestly gives me the willies because of how he accepted, and then withdrew, from the Colts’ head job in 2018. He burned a lot of bridges with that one. And he was a disaster in Denver. There are certain issues with all these coaches, but let me hear your thoughts on the search first.

McElhaney: I’m with you on a lot of this. You have to almost imagine Bienemy will have his pick as to where he wants to go at the end of this year. I know we’ve discussed Eberflus in the past, and I like what he’s done with the Colts’ defense, particularly against the run. I believe the last two years was the first time the Colts’ defense was ranked in the top 10 in the league in stopping the run since the 1970s? Not too shabby considering we know how much help the Falcons’ defense needs. Another interesting name to throw in there is Lincoln Riley. BetOnline has him as the 3-1 favorite to be the Falcons’ coach. I feel as though he’s always on these coaching candidates lists, but to have him as the favorite is quite interesting.

But to be quite honest, I am almost more curious just how many any of these coaches would want to come to Atlanta. Is that too harsh to say? The Falcons are 0-5, and a common theme of the past few years has been that the roster is underperforming. Many people say the Falcons are better than what they show and their record, but are they really? I know there are issues with any new coach (or GM for that matter) coming in, but how many issues are there with this roster and with the way it’s constructed? This may be too harsh, this just seems like a powder keg about to explode. The Falcons need a lot of help to lighten the load. (If no one gets this reference, I’m quitting).

And while there are some good pieces to build around (Grady Jarrett and Calvin Ridley), some of your stars (Matt Ryan and Julio Jones) are on the back end of their careers. Then, there’s the salary-cap situation being what it is. Is taking on the Falcons if you’re a GM or head coach a worthwhile job to even have?

Schultz: I think you hit on a key question: How good is the Falcons’ job? There are a couple of ways to look at it. The first is that there are only 32 NFL head coaching jobs and it’s hard to find a football coach who wouldn’t want one. But when compared to other NFL vacancies, how will the Falcons’ position rank? Will it be considered better than Houston, where a coach would inherit a young and athletic Deshaun Watson at quarterback? The Texans have their own salary cap issues, but I don’t know that they rise to the level of the Falcons’ problems.

There generally are five or six NFL jobs open every offseason. Now, the upside of the Falcons’ job is they do have some talent, and they have an owner who’s committed to winning. The dark cloud of the salary-cap issue can be overcome with candidates simply by giving them a long-term contract for security — at least six years, which is what Kyle Shanahan originally got in San Francisco.

But there’s some big-picture stuff to wonder about. If, hypothetically, the Falcons go to Bienemy and say, “We want you as coach, and here’s how much power you will get, and you can bring so-and-so from the Chiefs’ personnel department with you as general manager,” what happens if he and the GM balk at Rich McKay’s presence? I already have had one NFL person tell me that some potential good candidates out there are wondering about McKay. I touched on this in the column the other day.

It doesn’t necessarily mean that someone will flat out say no. But there’s no question in my mind that McKay’s presence is an issue that will be addressed in the recruiting and interview process. And to me, the whole coach/GM thing runs together because whoever is hired first is not going to come here unless he has some assurances who he is working with and how much power they will have. This assumes both the coach and GM are coveted candidates. If they’re weak candidates, they’ll just come for the job.

OK, now the big question: Lighten the load?

McElhaney: HAMILTON, Jeff! It’s a Hamilton reference. Someone out there reading this got it. I know they did.

But yeah, you’re right about the McKay situation. I think his direct quote in the news conference was: “The GM will have final say on personnel, and they’ll report to me.” I don’t think it’s too much to say some brows furrowed when he said it. Granted, this is how it was structured this past year with Quinn and Dimitroff, but it does make you wonder what the working dynamic will actually look like, especially when paired with this quote from Blank:

“When you hire people like that the last thing you want to do is tell them, ‘This is the way you need to do your job.’ You really want their thinking. You want it unencumbered by anything and that’s the way it should be. I think both Rich and I will become very good listeners and understand where people are coming from and we will figure out the very best formula that, going forward, will produce the kind of wins for us that are important for the franchise.”

So, with that considered on the back of “and they’ll report to me,” it does make me wonder just what type of collaborative process this next year will look like with a new coach, a new GM and McKay sandwiched together.

Speaking of next year, do I dare ask you your thoughts on Ryan’s future with the Falcons?

Schultz: I feel shame for not getting the Hamilton reference, but I shouldn’t be surprised by it because you’re young, scrappy and hungry.

OK, on Ryan: I will not throw away my shot.

(Enough?)

Ryan will be on the roster next season. I say that not because I’m necessarily convinced he’s here long-term but because it could be a financial disaster if he’s not. The Falcons have restructured his contract three times. It’s fine for a team to do that if a player isn’t going anywhere, but if he’s cut or traded, there’s a problem because of up-front money given to the player who can no longer be prorated.

Bottom line: Ryan’s salary cap number for 2021 is $40,912,500, but if he’s traded before June 2, the “dead money” on the cap actually will be a few million dollars higher. The Falcons could trade him post-June 2 and divide the cap hit across two seasons (2021 and 2022). But I just don’t know if they would take that risk, especially since he’s not a problem and would not likely make a fuss publicly.

Now, if the Falcons are in a position to draft Trevor Lawrence or Justin Fields, it will get interesting. Do they pull a Green Bay? The Packers drafted Jordan Love late in the first round but kept Aaron Rodgers for this season. I could see the Falcons doing the same. We’re a long way from knowing the NFL draft order. But at 0-5, it certainly makes for fun conversation. Can we stretch this out for another 11 or 12 weeks?

McElhaney: Gosh, I don’t know how much more I can stretch out with this team. It’s truly hard to believe we’re only five weeks into this season. It’s even harder to believe I’ve been on this beat for only two months. I feel as though I’ve aged two decades in two months.

Is this what it’s like to follow the Falcons? Because I’m exhausted!

I guess that’s as good a note as any to end on.

 

 

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49 minutes ago, wnyfalconfan said:

I'm deeply concerned about this situation with McKay. It may end up being nothing but its not a good look right now. Thankfully its only the middle of October and not early January so Arthur has time to get this cleared up

I just wish we would sever the succaneer connection completely and be done with it. This tether with TB has-beens is annoying, odd, and clearly hasn't done much to help the franchise. Article hits on something I have been thinking for some time, and that is if I were a top candidate, I wouldn't want to work somewhere where I knew I wouldn't have the freedom to guide the franchise in the direction I wanted, and I feel like AB and McKay wouldn't be able to help themselves...as soon as things started to turn sour, I feel like I would get a phone call about 'you need to do this or that', etc. The only less appealing franchise IMO is Washington.

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3 minutes ago, tl;dr said:

Joe Brady? He's been an OC for less than a full season. Let's pump the brakes on him as a HC right now 

He’s a hot name because of what he was able to do at LSU. I’m not against the idea. However we’ll need to do our due diligence on EVERYONE no matter what.

Joe Brady is such an aesthetically pleasing name. It combines two of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play; Joe Montana and Tom Brady. LOL

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People I have interest in, In some particular order:

Shanahan coaching tree

  • Gary Kubiak
  • Mike Shanahan
  • Mike McDaniel - OC

Offensive Minds

  • Brian Daboll
  • Josh McDaniels
  • Greg Roman

Other Options

  • David Shaw
  • Urban Meyer
  • Lincoln Riley
  • Dave Toub
  • Marvin Lewis
  • Dave Fipp

 

I'm not a fan of Bienemy because I think Andy Reid is the master mind and secret sauce behind that offense (from a coaching standpoint).

I prefer an offensive mind HC because most of our $$ is invested in offense and I don't want to keep replacing offensive approaches every time our successful OC (feels like wishful thinking right now) gets poached.

 

Edited by me@MyHouse
Added Fipp
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32 minutes ago, JD dirtybird21 said:

I wonder why that is...seems odd

Agreed. And why him over some of the other top college coaches, as well as some of the coordinators? Guess the 'pay up or I'll break your legs' guys know something we don't. Not sure how I would feel about the hire, I would think the idea of hiring a college coach would make AB grimace, but maybe he has enough perspective to figure that was a uniquely crappy turn of events, and Kingsbury seems to be doing alright.

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2 minutes ago, Pacific_Falcon said:

Agreed. And why him over some of the other top college coaches, as well as some of the coordinators? Guess the 'pay up or I'll break your legs' guys know something we don't. Not sure how I would feel about the hire, I would think the idea of hiring a college coach would make AB grimace, but maybe he has enough perspective to figure that was a uniquely crappy turn of events, and Kingsbury seems to be doing alright.

Those odds definitely mean something. I just can't figure out why

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32 minutes ago, JD dirtybird21 said:

Those odds definitely mean something. I just can't figure out why

I kinda feel the same way but I remember that the same was true for the Cowboys last season up until 2 weeks before they hired McCarthy. Maybe that's who we're planning to pursue the heaviest.

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2 hours ago, me@MyHouse said:

People I have interest in, In some particular order:

Shanahan coaching tree

  • Gary Kubiak
  • Mike Shanahan
  • Mike McDaniel - OC

Offensive Minds

  • Brian Daboll
  • Josh McDaniels
  • Greg Roman

Other Options

  • David Shaw
  • Urban Meyer
  • Lincoln Riley
  • Dave Toub
  • Marvin Lewis
  • Dave Fipp

 

I'm not a fan of Bienemy because I think Andy Reid is the master mind and secret sauce behind that offense (from a coaching standpoint).

I prefer an offensive mind HC because most of our $$ is invested in offense and I don't want to keep replacing offensive approaches every time our successful OC (feels like wishful thinking right now) gets poached.

 

Don’t forget Arthur Smith. 

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4 hours ago, tl;dr said:

Joe Brady? He's been an OC for less than a full season. Let's pump the brakes on him as a HC right now 

Wasn't Matt Lafleur an OC for just 1 season before becoming a head coach? Zac Taylor was a QB coach with the Rams prior to becoming a HC. 

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6 hours ago, me@MyHouse said:

People I have interest in, In some particular order:

Shanahan coaching tree

  • Gary Kubiak
  • Mike Shanahan
  • Mike McDaniel - OC

Offensive Minds

  • Brian Daboll
  • Josh McDaniels
  • Greg Roman

Other Options

  • David Shaw
  • Urban Meyer
  • Lincoln Riley
  • Dave Toub
  • Marvin Lewis
  • Dave Fipp

 

I'm not a fan of Bienemy because I think Andy Reid is the master mind and secret sauce behind that offense (from a coaching standpoint).

I prefer an offensive mind HC because most of our $$ is invested in offense and I don't want to keep replacing offensive approaches every time our successful OC (feels like wishful thinking right now) gets poached.

 

I agree, although the Andy Reid coaching tree has done pretty well offensively lately. 

Pedersen and Reich have put together pretty good offenses.

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11 hours ago, Sidecar Falcon said:

He’s a hot name because of what he was able to do at LSU. I’m not against the idea. However we’ll need to do our due diligence on EVERYONE no matter what.

Joe Brady is such an aesthetically pleasing name. It combines two of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play; Joe Montana and Tom Brady. LOL

Or Joe Webb and Tom Savage 👍

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