Falcons owner Arthur Blank looks on during Atlanta’s loss Dec. 23 to the 49ers. (Reuters)
Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff and owner Arthur Blank thought their first losing season in six campaigns would never end.
Now, that the 4-12 injury-riddled mark is in the books, they are plotting for a quick turnaround after falling from Super Bowl contenders to tied for last-place in the NFC South.
Over the first five seasons, Dimitroff and Blank made football magic in turning around this once moribund franchise.
In 2008, nearly every move they made (selecting quarterback Matt Ryan over defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey) and free agency (signing running back Michael Turner) worked out fine.
They would follow with more strong drafts and trades (tight end Tony Gonzalez and wide receiver Julio Jones) as a first-time general manager/coach partnership.
There have been some bumps along the road, such as selecting defensive tackle Peria Jerry with linebacker Clay Matthews and cornerback Vontae Davis still on the board and signing cornerback Dunta Robinson and defensive end Ray Edwards. Despite some missteps, they’ve been widely credited with the franchise’s first back-to-back winning seasons (2008-09) and with making trips to the playoffs four times. In 2012, the Falcons reached the NFC Championship Game.
They have a recovery plan.
“Again, my comment is that we are going to build and acquire through different approaches, and one can be solely through the draft and one could be supplementing with free agency,” Dimitroff said. “We’ve always said that from the beginning. If the right player is there, both offensively and defensively along the front in both areas, we will consider (the options).”
The Falcons are picking sixth in the draft. They have all seven of their picks and could be awarded some compensatory choices. Dimitroff shared his philosophy on drafting in the top 10.
“We were up there that first year for Matt,” Dimitroff said. “That’s one of the things that we’ve talked about is that we’ve been fortunate and unfortunate with the fact that we went 11-5 that first year because we went from being a top-10 pick type team to going right back to the 20s to 32.
“So, we have not been in that area, but for moving up in the Julio (Jones) case. Honestly, those are the areas that are a lot more fun to evaluate … it can be a little bit more definitive about the talent in the top 10 vs. trying to project more from 20 to 32.”
The Falcons appear to have a glaring need for a big-time pass rusher.
“I think any NFL team needs to have a high-end pass rusher to pressure and to disrupt the quarterback,” Dimitroff said. “It doesn’t always mean that he has to come out with 22 sacks. It means that there could be a significant amount of sacks as well as a significant amount of pressures and disruptions. It’s our goal to find the right mix of those players who can affect the passer, as we always say.”
Replacing Gonzalez will be a chore. The Falcons selected Levine Toilolo in the fourth round last season.
“He progressed well,” Dimitroff said. “He came in and he had an element of rawness to him. (He is) a big guy who actually has the ability to wall off and block. He continues to get better and better at blocking. He’s improving in the hands area.”
The Falcons are hoping they’ll get a cornerstone for their revival in the draft with that top-10 pick.
“We would be extremely calculated in our decision and our contemplation of taking anyone in the top six quite honestly, because the people that land in the top six slots are difference-makers,” Dimitroff said. “If we deemed a difference-maker is there at any position, we would contemplate it.”