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Falcons’ GM, coach making sure no player feels comfortable … good - The Athletic

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by Jeff Schultz for The Athletic


The Falcons have a first-time general manager and a first-time coach. So while Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith both come highly recommended — and isn’t that always the case, except maybe that time when ownership hired Marion Campbell twice — nobody really knows how this is going to turn out. The team is $20 million above the salary cap. The roster is half empty. Last season: 4-12. OK, guys: Fix it.

But this much seems certain about the immediate future: No player should feel comfortable.

This was reaffirmed when Fontenot and Smith visited with the media remotely this week. It wasn’t just what they said but what they didn’t say. Some examples:

• Smith was asked about watching tape from the 2020 season and whether any players stood out to him whom he had not been overly familiar with. (He acknowledged previously he wasn’t overly knowledgeable about most of the roster since he was coaching Tennessee). Smith’s answer: “Younghoe Koo.”

So the first player the new coach thought of was the kicker.

• A short time later from Smith: “There some good (offensive) pieces here. Calvin Ridley had a heck of a year. Matt (Ryan) still threw at a high level. You’re excited about Chris Lindstrom.”

Let’s talk about who Smith didn’t reference — nor did the player’s name come up during the entire 35 minutes that Fontenot and Smith spoke: Julio Jones. Maybe it was just an oversight. Maybe it was something more than that. I’ve written before that it would be logical for the Falcons to draft Ryan’s replacement but keep the 36-year-old for another season, purely to avoid further salary-cap Armageddon. The situation with Jones is less certain. His projected cap hit in 2021 and the “dead” money should they trade him is roughly the same and they could get a draft pick for him. He also missed seven games in 2020.

• Fontenot, when asked about how he can improve the roster against the backdrop of the cap situation: “We’re going to have to make some hard decisions on some players on this roster. We’re going to have to earn our jobs as scouts, right? We’re going to have to go find players.”

The key sentence there: “We’re going to have to make some hard decisions on some players.” When a general manager says that, it’s usually foreshadowing to players being released, not having their contracts restructured. For example: A team kind of likes Player A, who makes $1 million. The problem is that the new regime needs to trim payroll and thinks, “We might be able to get a guy in free agency or the draft to do almost the same thing for half that much.” So the team cuts Player A. I’d rather not speculate on names because it’s too early to get a sense of how the new coaching and personnel staffs are evaluating this roster. But it’s safe to conclude several players fit into this category.

Back to players not feeling comfortable. It has been a need in Flowery Branch for years. The Falcons have had an accountability problem for the past few years.

Players — notably established starters who received lucrative second contracts — became overly comfortable. As much as former coach Dan Quinn maintained he was a different guy behind the scenes than he was in public view, too many players felt secure. There also was too much agreement among coaches with little dissenting thought. A team doesn’t want players to feel nervous, but neither does it want them to feel like they can’t be replaced.

I’ve referenced Bill Walsh several times in terms of what made him such a great coach. It wasn’t his sideline X-and-O brilliance as much as it was his ability to get the most out of each player. I had a conversation in training camp one year with the late Dwight Clark, a great wide receiver and franchise icon for The Catch. Clark was a low-round draft pick out of Clemson and constantly felt he had to prove himself to Walsh. Clark told me about one camp practice in particular when he was killing himself on every route, every drill to the point of exhaustion.

When practice finally ended, Clark was walking slowly off the field when Walsh passed by. “You’re kind of dragging on me,” Walsh said and kept going.

“I was devastated,” Clark said.

But it had the desired effect.

Walsh was a coach who moved on from Joe Montana. Nobody ever felt comfortable.

Coaches don’t have to be loved or hated. They just have to be acknowledged as a leader who can affect change — or a player’s security.

Fontenot said the Falcons want players with “situational awareness. You’re talking about critical times at the end of games and at the end of halves. That’s at every position.”

That would be a switch. How many coverages did the Falcons’ defensive backs blow on third down or near the goal line or certainly late in halves and games? How many times on offense did somebody miss a block or an open receiver?

Fontenot has learned quickly how to answer questions without really saying anything. It’s like asking somebody specifics on how to build a clock and being told how important it is to have a great clock and why knowing the right time is so important.

I suspect the Falcons are far more concerned about 2022 and beyond than next season. That’s not to suggest they won’t try to win in 2021, but that likely can’t be the primary focus. When I asked Fontenot about this, he responded: “We have over 50 percent of the roster to fill from where we are now. We have such a long way to go. We’re going to work hard to bring in the right players. I don’t think any of those players are going to say they’re not coming here to win every game that they can. And whether we’re talking about this year or three years from now, we’re always going to have the future in mind and make calculated decisions.”

Appropriately vague. That’s just the way he and Smith want it. It’s more than enough to keep players uncomfortable.



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TF and AS are just messing around. Everyone is trying to read between the lines, but they simply aren't saying enough -- and they shouldn't. And even if they did, it would probably be BS. I did appreciate the Koo part though. I feel like he may have thought about that answer beforehand. 

This forum should just put up a "Gone Fishing" sign because there's not much more to say about anything.

Edited by PuppyMonster
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He might have not mentioned Julio after watching tape for as simple of a reason as he was injured for like 6 games. Maybe he didn't watch any games where Julio was playing. This is the perfect example of why the off season can get so infuriating. Everything gets put under the microscope.

But then again, Julio is the highest paid WR in the league coming off of a season where he was injured for half and gimpy the other half, and we still have to fill up the rest of the roster. I'm sure they've at least lightly talked about if they can move Julio. I would be devastated, but at the end of the day it's still a business.

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Man newsflash the Falcons finished 4-12 GM no Coaches preach the lack of player comfort and having to earn your job.

Wow really it’s come to this from the media.

BPA I’m still yet to find out what that means from our GM.BPA according to who and what.What is BPA according to TF.

We all know what BPA is to the average fan that watches every mock thrown out there in the media.

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2 hours ago, PuppyMonster said:

TF and AS are just messing around. Everyone is trying to read between the lines, but they simply aren't saying enough -- and they shouldn't. And even if they did, it would probably be BS. I did appreciate the Koo part though. I feel like he may have thought about that answer beforehand. 

This forum should just put up a "Gone Fishing" sign because there's not much more to say about anything.

wait what? gone fishing? not much to say? 


are you somehow not aware of all the 'we'll draft _____________QB at 4', that's countered by the 'we're not drafting a qb at 4' threads that go up EVERY SINGLE DAY!!!

LOL  this place never changes, always been this way, always will be

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21 minutes ago, Herr Doktor said:

To me, the Koo statement was a stealth jab at the previous coaching regime.  

It was no different than the shot Fontenot took at Dimitroff. I think most of us felt that this team has been poorly run on the sidelines and the front office for a while and I think we are going to find out how bad it really was

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