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What we learned about Falcons’ plans from Terry Fontenot, Arthur Smith - The Athletic


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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.

 

 

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Fontenot did not say he will draft the QB if he is sitting at 4. This is an opinion piece with some cherry picked Fontenot quotes sprinkled in. QB is not usually a BPA pick, if it was teams would have

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 coac

Jeff Schultz seems really invested in the Falcons moving on from Julio and Matt. He never mention under performing players like Allen, Davision, Bailey, Carpenter, Fowler.

The more I think about the draft and QBs the more I think the media is overselling this draft, specifically the QBs in it. This was a weird season. Not all the players were active. Seasons were truncated. Competition was close in some games but in others it was uneven. Because the QB is so important to the team they get the most looks and the most hype. 

When you hear the "experts" talk they tend to talk down other positions in this draft. Either this is a bad draft that will lead to overhyping some positions or its a draft full of unknowns because the season was so full of unknowns. Without a combine and with most player interviews taking place remotely I'll bet a lot bad decisions will be made. There will also be a lot of surprises too.

With a new staff and front office I wonder how badly they want to make a big splash or if they want to play cautious. There doesn't seem to be a lot information either way in their answers.

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10 minutes ago, Jesus said:

The more I think about the draft and QBs the more I think the media is overselling this draft, specifically the QBs in it. This was a weird season. Not all the players were active. Seasons were truncated. Competition was close in some games but in others it was uneven. Because the QB is so important to the team they get the most looks and the most hype. 

When you hear the "experts" talk they tend to talk down other positions in this draft. Either this is a bad draft that will lead to overhyping some positions or its a draft full of unknowns because the season was so full of unknowns. Without a combine and with most player interviews taking place remotely I'll bet a lot bad decisions will be made. There will also be a lot of surprises too.

With a new staff and front office I wonder how badly they want to make a big splash or if they want to play cautious. There doesn't seem to be a lot information either way in their answers.

Arthur Smith pretty much implied it won’t be big change. They are going to retool in such a way it’s not just one year but next two years. I can see them making moves to grab some Titans, Aints and other players familiar with the staff.

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1 minute ago, FentayeJones said:

Jeff Schultz seems really invested in the Falcons moving on from Julio and Matt.

He never mention under performing players like Allen, Davision, Bailey, Carpenter, Fowler.

He is a bipolar dude. Never took him seriously. He could turn around and be the biggest proponent of keeping them both in few weeks. 
Arthur Smith interestingly mention Ryan, Grady, Lindstorm as core good players on the team.

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“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.”

 

Been trying to tell you "trade back" guys this FOREVER. Draft for the future TAKE THE BEST PLAYER AVAILABLE. If Fields or Wilson is there. GRAB HIM.

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5 minutes ago, falcons007 said:

Arthur Smith pretty much implied it won’t be big change. They are going to retool in such a way it’s not just one year but next two years. I can see them making moves to grab some Titans, Aints and other players familiar with the staff.

This is why I am so curious to see who we bring in on the staff.

The coaches from other teams will give us an idea of who we may or may not sign in FA.

The coaches usually like to bring in players who they are familiar with.

 

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Just now, falconsd56 said:

This is why I am so curious to see who we bring in on the staff.

The coaches from other teams will give us an idea of who we may or may not sign in FA.

The coaches usually like to bring in players who they are familiar with.

 

And early extensions before FA. That will be another give away on where the FA and draft might lead to.

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8 minutes ago, FentayeJones said:

It disingenuous because Matt's not going anywhere this year and although there is a minimal chance that Julio could be traded, he's not getting cut - we can all do math.

It’s a slippery slope, trying to force the hands of these coaches and GM to come out about Ryan and Julio. Last thing you want to do as new coach and GM is to create a controversy with two of your best players on team. If they let these clowns go unhinged, the players may feel disrespected in public and start asking for trades. I doubt Ryan/Julio are those guys. 

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34 minutes ago, jetpac said:

“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.”

 

Been trying to tell you "trade back" guys this FOREVER. Draft for the future TAKE THE BEST PLAYER AVAILABLE. If Fields or Wilson is there. GRAB HIM.

You do realize you can still trade back and draft the best available player?

Going BPA in no way, shape, or form implies no trade backs. They are not mutually exclusive actions.

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3 minutes ago, Mr.11 said:

You do realize you can still trade back and draft the best available player?

Going BPA in no way, shape, or form implies no trade backs. They are not mutually exclusive actions.

Sometimes BPA argues in favor of a trade back, in fact.  Deuce McAllister was talking about that this morning.  You have 3 or 4 guys you like at 4, and you're good with any of them.  So you trade back, accumulate picks and get one of the 3 or 4 guys you like anyway.

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22 minutes ago, falcons007 said:

It’s a slippery slope, trying to force the hands of these coaches and GM to come out about Ryan and Julio. Last thing you want to do as new coach and GM is to create a controversy with two of your best players on team. If they let these clowns go unhinged, the players may feel disrespected in public and start asking for trades. I doubt Ryan/Julio are those guys. 

They also talked about keeping players with high character traits and good values and who were humble and contributed (I think that was more in AS's interview). I guess Julio is staying. That was the first thing I thought. 

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1 minute ago, JDaveG said:

Sometimes BPA argues in favor of a trade back, in fact.  Deuce McAllister was talking about that this morning.  You have 3 or 4 guys you like at 4, and you're good with any of them.  So you trade back, accumulate picks and get one of the 3 or 4 guys you like anyway.

Exactamente. Makes the decision easier, get more high draft picks to get the BPA, and if you have a top 5 pick with several teams needing a QB, it's likely resulting in another 1st round pick.

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1 hour ago, falcons007 said:

Fontenot did not say he will draft the QB if he is sitting at 4. This is an opinion piece with some cherry picked Fontenot quotes sprinkled in. QB is not usually a BPA pick, if it was teams would have first round back up QB and other positions with undrafted rookies. 

You REALLY don't want nothing to interrupt Ryan at quarterback...:lol:

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3 minutes ago, celtiksage said:

They also talked about keeping players with high character traits and good values and who were humble and contributed (I think that was more in AS's interview). I guess Julio is staying. That was the first thing I thought. 

Character or not, Falcons have to go out of the way to get rid of both Ryan and Julio coz of the contracts. There are no tangible benefits for doing so for a rookie HC and GM. It’s TATF annual tradition to get rid of Ryan and Julio. And, usually folks here are set on a player or two in draft and would want the team to do what ever it takes to get them. Put Wilson and Fields on the list this year. 

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9 minutes ago, JDaveG said:

Sometimes BPA argues in favor of a trade back, in fact.  Deuce McAllister was talking about that this morning.  You have 3 or 4 guys you like at 4, and you're good with any of them.  So you trade back, accumulate picks and get one of the 3 or 4 guys you like anyway.

Yep. If you can trade back and pick up a future 1st and still get your BPA, that's the VERY best case scenario. 

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2 minutes ago, Spts1 said:

You REALLY don't want nothing to interrupt Ryan at quarterback...:lol:

I never said anything about Ryan. If they think future Qb is at 4. Go ahead and trade Ryan. I don’t get the sitting a #4 draft picks as back up. I want this team to win and fix the defense and other crap.

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1 hour ago, Jesus said:

The more I think about the draft and QBs the more I think the media is overselling this draft, specifically the QBs in it. This was a weird season. Not all the players were active. Seasons were truncated. Competition was close in some games but in others it was uneven. Because the QB is so important to the team they get the most looks and the most hype. 

When you hear the "experts" talk they tend to talk down other positions in this draft. Either this is a bad draft that will lead to overhyping some positions or its a draft full of unknowns because the season was so full of unknowns. Without a combine and with most player interviews taking place remotely I'll bet a lot bad decisions will be made. There will also be a lot of surprises too.

With a new staff and front office I wonder how badly they want to make a big splash or if they want to play cautious. There doesn't seem to be a lot information either way in their answers.

 

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1 hour ago, Jesus said:

The more I think about the draft and QBs the more I think the media is overselling this draft, specifically the QBs in it. This was a weird season. Not all the players were active. Seasons were truncated. Competition was close in some games but in others it was uneven. Because the QB is so important to the team they get the most looks and the most hype. 

When you hear the "experts" talk they tend to talk down other positions in this draft. Either this is a bad draft that will lead to overhyping some positions or its a draft full of unknowns because the season was so full of unknowns. Without a combine and with most player interviews taking place remotely I'll bet a lot bad decisions will be made. There will also be a lot of surprises too.

With a new staff and front office I wonder how badly they want to make a big splash or if they want to play cautious. There doesn't seem to be a lot information either way in their answers.

I seriously hope they just want to get the best player for the team.  "Making a big splash" is a headline move.  They can pick whoever they want -- if they don't start winning, people aren't going to pay attention.

And if they do, nobody will care that they didn't make a big splash in FA or the draft.

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