After injuries killed the 2018 season, in 2019 Atlanta Falcons were primed for a playoff run but the reality is, the season is over and it isn’t even November. So where do the Falcons go from here and more importantly how do they get there?
Much has been said about the future of head coach Dan Quinn who put himself in the firing line during the off-season when he and general manager Thomas Dimitroff fired coordinators Marquand Manual (defense) and Steve Sarkisian (offense). Those under achieving coordinators to this point would have outperformed the current play-callers, Quinn (defense) and Dirk Koetter (offense), oh the irony.
Unless the Falcons win out (they won’t) nothing can save Dan Quinn from being given his marching orders, or can it?
After Atlanta’s home loss to the Rams on October the 20th, Julio Jones a player who rarely says a word reportedly raised his hand in the locker room interupting his head coach to give an emotional speech.
Jones was reported to have said:
This man has done everything for us, it’s on us. It’s not on Q (head coach Dan Quinn). Everything matters, every play matters. This is bigger than just one person. Q can’t do more for us.
Team owner Arthur Blank was in the locker room when Jones spoke up. If Quinn has the backing of the veteran players such as Jones, Grady Jarrett and Ricardo Allen who have both stuck up for the head coach in the last few weeks, would this carry enough weight to save Quinn his job?
To this point Blank has supported Quinn at least publicly, stating that the coach would last until at least week 9, the Falcons bye week. The speech made by Jones will not be lost on the team’s owner who was present for the Bobby Petrino fiasco and refused to fire former head coach, Mike Smith during the season when things went South for him.
Smith’s final season included an early season capitulation against the Detroit Lions in London. After which the normally quiet Blank spoke up.
“You’re up 21-0,” Falcons owner Arthur Blank said, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “There’s no way you lose that game — just no way. There’s nothing else I can say.”
After having his second straight losing season in 2014 Smith was a Black Monday casualty and was replaced by Quinn who is well on course to have his second straight losing season.
The facts remain that a team that was expected to be significant in 2019 is losing and in some cases losing big and that means an empty stadium. Blank can’t be happy that the sparkly new $1.6 bn Mercedes Benz Dome has more empty seats than full ones. It simply can’t continue.
One player who won’t be around in 2020 is Mohammed Sanu. The wide receiver was traded to the Patriots in exchange for a much needed 2nd round draft pick.
The roster has talented players and the team are considered to be in a SuperBowl window, a window that appears to be closing quickly.
While I am not here to discuss just how awful the Atlanta Falcons defense has been it is worth noting that Coach Quinn fired a defensive coordinator so he could run the defense that he created – a defense that is currently dead last in points allowed. Dan Quinn’s scheme relies on getting pressure with the front four; the team is again, dead last in sacks with just five.
Things aren’t much better on the other side of the ball either. Amongst other things, the offensive line has given up the second most hits on their own quarterback, not exactly a recipe for success.
Some of the rules of football may have changed but the basics remain. Win in the trenches or don’t win at all.
One plus side of the Falcons terrible season is the top five draft pick they are currently in possession of. If Chase Young (D.E / Ohio State) isn’t the pick they might want to trade down to accumulate more picks.
Can The Atlanta Falcons Solve Talent Issues Via Free Agency?
General manager Thomas Dimitroff’s supposed area of expertise is manipulating cap space, legally of course. If Dimitroff or whoever else the general manager might be wants to improve those lines and that defense by dipping into free agency then moves will need to be made.
According to the website spotrac the Atlanta Falcons will head into the 2020 league year with just over $1.5m in cap space, in other words, nothing they can do anything with. Trading Sanu frees up a further $5.1m. The annual league increase is expected to be close to $10m but the amount needed for the 2020 rookie class is approximately the same amount.
So where can they create cap space?
Cutting or better still, trading running back Devonta Freeman, whose production has dipped significantly over the last few seasons would save $3.5m in 2020 but more importantly saves $22m over the next 3 years.
Cutting veteran center Alex Mack would save $8m but would also provide another large hole to fill on an already troubled offensive line.
Getting rid of Tackle Ty Sambralio who has been in and out as a starter would save $3.75m. Allen Bailey (DE) saves $4.5m and Keanu Neal (safety) who would have missed almost the last two seasons with significant injuries would save $6.5m but create another hole to fill.
Doing all of this would give Atlanta $33m in cap space for 2020. The Atlanta Falcons will want to re-sign tight end Austin Hooper who will be an unrestricted free agent (UFA) and will take another $8-$10m off the budget.
Two other UFA’s Vic Beasley and DeVondre Campbell should be gone. The Falcons could free up a further $5m by trading corner Desmond Trufant but he carries a dead cap figure of $10m and is also the team’s best corner by far so this makes no sense whatsoever.
So with very little cap space to play with, the draft becomes all the more important. Atlanta currently has 4 picks in the first three rounds and will need to hit on all 4.
In short whoever, the general manager is will not be able to tear down this roster and will need a significantly good draft. A young innovative mind such as Oaklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley could breathe new life into this franchise.
It is fair to say that the next few months are going to be very significant for the Falcons going forward. (All photos courtesy of Google Image Search.)
I’m a sports writer specialising in feature articles although will write shorter pieces. I write mainly about the NFL and the Premier League.
Diploma in Freelance Journalism
Follow me on Twitter @davefalconUK