Atlanta Falcons General Manager Thomas Dimitroff could do no wrong when he first came aboard as the Birds new executive. He selected Matt Ryan with his first pick in the 2008 NFL Draft, who became Rookie of the Year and later made the Pro Bowl. He snagged Michael Turner in free agency, who has made 2 Pro Bowls since. He has been named the NFL Executive of the Year two times in four years, so much of this is playing devil’s advocate.
He hit on picks Curtis Lofton, Harry Douglas, Thomas DeCoud (at least initially), William Moore, Sean Weatherspoon, Kroy Biermann, Vance Walker, Jacquizz Rodgers, Michael Palmer, Corey Peters, Dominique Franks, and engineered a big trade for Julio Jones. He traded for Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez and has helped the Falcons to their best four years in franchise history, including making the playoffs 3 out of 4 years and a #1 seed in the NFC. Perhaps his biggest accomplishment was resurrecting a broken franchise from the ashes to immediate relevance and contention.
His accomplishments are long and you will be hard-pressed to find any Falcons fans who won’t agree that Dimitroff is already the best GM in franchise history. However, the shining glow he’s always rightfully enjoyed has faded just a little bit.
The conversation started when AJC columnist Jeff Schultz wrote a very poignant piece questioning whether Dimitroff has done enough to improve the Falcons after 3 playoff losses, with the last two being embarrassing blowouts where the Falcons shouldn’t have even been on the field. Dimitroff, always the cool customer, seemed a little irritated with the accusations he hasn’t done enough. A look at some of TD’s potential issues….
One of the main points of criticism towards Dimitroff has been his selection of two players in the 1st round that many consider to be busts. After hitting on Matt Ryan with his 1st pick as Falcons GM, he then traded back into the first round to select Sam Baker. Dimitroff decided to move up to get Baker, who many draft experts didn’t believe to be a left tackle in the NFL, possessing short arms among many other things. To be fair, Duane Brown was the only other tackle to become successful in the NFL.
Baker also had an injury history while at USC and was considered by many to be too high of a risk to take in the first round. The injury bug bit in his first season where he only played in 8 games and started 5. Objectively, he did go on to start the next 30 games the next two seasons, including going 13-3 in 2010 and gaining the #1 seed in the NFC. However, Baker seemed lost last year getting injured and essentially losing two starting jobs, one at LT and the other at RG. Perhaps its unfair to call Baker a bust, but most fans have seen enough of him going forward, especially at an almost $4 million dollar hit against the cap.
While Baker had two solid years, including being part of an OL that led the way to a 13-3 record, the same can’t be said of DT Peria Jerry. Maybe its not his fault due to injury, but Jerry has had almost no impact on the Falcons defense in 3 years as a pro. The former Ole Miss defensive tackle showed promise as a rookie before tearing his ACL in the second game of the season. He’s never really been the same since.
In 3 years as a Falcon, Jerry has 20 combined tackles, 2 sacks, and started only 6 games. Again, it’s not Jerry’s fault he was injured, but he battled several injuries at Ole Miss and was considered a major injury risk at the time. Likely one reason he dropped to the Falcons in the first place after being considered the number one defensive tackle prospect in the draft after BJ Raji.
There have been glimpses of Jerry getting back to his original potential, but he’s never turned the proverbial corner. Peters appears to have permanently replaced Jerry as the starting DT, and even 7th round draft pick Vance Walker may have bumped Jerry in the tackle rotation. Dimitroff took Jerry over players such as Hakeem Nicks, Kenny Britt, Louis Delmas, Jarius Byrd, Ziggy Hood, Lesean McCoy, Phil Loadholt and most painfully of course, Clay Matthews taken 2 spots later. Hindsight is 20/20 and its not a completely objective way to look at drafts, but the point is that TD could have gone in many other directions and hit success.
To his credit, Dimitroff showed a good ability at trying to correct his mistakes, drafting very promising DT Corey Peters the very next year, and also generally staying away from injury prone players. Also, Dimitroff’s still has a pretty good batting average with the selections of Ryan, Sean Weatherspoon, & Julio Jones. It still smarts to think about what could’ve been with those two picks.
It can’t be said enough that Dimitroff generally has done a very good job in all aspects of the Falcons organization, including free agency. He signed Michael Turner, who’s made two Pro Bowls and is on the verge of becoming the Falcons all-time leading rusher and rushing TDs scored. He traded for Tony Gonzalez, who needs no description. He’s also signed valuable role players such as Will Svitek, Erik Coleman, Dominique Foxworth, and James Sanders among many others.
There are really only two point of criticisms for Dimitroff in free agency, with one still being too early to judge. The Falcons GM signed Ray Edwards, the top DE free agent after Charles Johnson, to address the Falcons lack of pass rush. He signed him for a very reasonable deal and even went after Johnson. Edwards had a disappointing year, but battled injuries all season. It’s still a little early to call Edwards a bad move.
The Dunta Robinson deal, however, is a completely different story. After having both Brent Grimes and Chris Owens show promise at CB towards the end of the 2009 season, Dimitroff signed one of the best available free agent cornerbacks to a monster deal. the deal Robinson signed was shocking: 6 years, $57 million dollars, with $25 million being guaranteed.
Robinson was a very good cornerback before he had injury issues and a former 1st round draft pick, so it’s not as though he didn’t possess talent. Maybe he’s suffered from a poor scheme fit or less than spectacular coaching, but Robinson has done very poorly overall. He gets torched on coverage, takes poor angles, often whiffs on tackles, and has been the second best cornerback on the field since he’s been here. Dimitroff obviously didn’t feel confident enough in Robinson or the other CB’s to franchise tag Brent Grimes and possibly pay him over $10 million dollars a year. Maybe the move will finally pay off under a better scheme and defensive coordinator, but so far its been one of his biggest black eyes.
This one is mostly reaching here since he’s done a great job of keeping players he considers to be core guys. He’s kept Roddy White, Tyson Clabo, Jonathan Babineaux, Justin Blalock, Stephen Nicholas, Harry Douglas, Thomas DeCoud, Kroy Biermann, Jason Snelling, John Abraham, and Brent Grimes (at least for a year) among many others. He’s always been very fair in his deals as well.
There’s only been a few head-scratchers to date. The biggest one seems to be RG Harvey Dahl. It seemed impossible to keep all three of Dahl, Blalock, & Clabo in one year of free agency, so Dahl was the one that got away. Fans found out quickly how valuable Dahl was when Garrett Reynolds, Mike Johnson, and even Sam Baker were no answer at RG. The Falcons finally settled on center prospect Joe Hawley. While not many can blame him for not having the money to keep all 3, he’s shown he can cut in other places when he really wants to keep a player.
After being the best defensive player for the Falcons in 2007, OLB Michael Boley fell out of favor with the coaching staff for whatever reason, lost his starting job, and was snatched up by the New York Giants, which seemed like a good move until Boley was a main factor in the Giants Super Bowl run (starting with a steamroll over Atlanta nonetheless).
Dimitroff appears to have played the Curtis Lofton move just right since several teams have been interested but have yet to sign him. The Eagles even decided to part with a draft pick for Demeco Ryans instead of signing Lofton. #50 and his agent are evidently asking for the moon. This one’s still undecided, but if Tatupu and Dent struggle to replace Lofton’s production, this is another question mark. News just last night that the hated Saints have signed Lofton will give us a really quick answer to whether this was a good move in letting him go or not.
This is another less than objective hindsight criticism, but two haven’t worked out quite as well. This also involves some serious nitpicking, but deserves a look nonetheless.
No one faulted TD for shipping Chris Houston out of town at the time. The former 2nd rounder just seemed to stall in his potential and development. The Falcons shipped him to the Lions for a 6th round pick in 2010 and a 7th round pick in 2011.
Houston had a Pro Bowl worthy year in Detroit this year with 14 passes defensed and 5 interceptions. The Falcons, in turn, have had a huge disappointment out of Dunta Robinson and is preparing to give Grimes over $10 million with the franchise tag. They used the draft picks to select Shann Schillinger and Andrew Jackson. Ultimately, fans feel that Houston may have been another product of under-coaching and under-development and may have been given up on too early.
Former 3rd round draft pick WR Laurent Robinson isn’t really TD’s fault, per se, but he did possess talent. He was traded for only swapping places with the St. Louis Rams in the 5th & 6th rounds, essentially nothing. He could never stay healthy and even the Rams and Chargers both gave up on him. He caught on with the Cowboys and finally caught fire. He was subsequently given a $32 million dollar contract from none other than new Jaguars head coach Mike Mularkey. Can’t really blame TD for this one, but maybe they pulled the trigger just a little too soon.
No point in rehashing “the trade” for Julio Jones since its been analyzed to pieces. There’s no questioning Julio Jones, for he nearly hit a 1,000 yards receiving and 8 TDs while missing 4 games. However, maybe the roster wasn’t as deep as many thought as evidenced by an underachieving year and another playoff embarrassment. Help on the OL, RB, S, DL, and TE would have been nice with those 4 picks and they could’ve had Torrey Smith for no picks at all.
In four years as the general manager of the Falcons, Thomas Dimitroff has yet to hit on one anchor of the offensive line through the draft. Perhaps this is one of Dimitroff’s biggest issues as they get ready for the 2012 season. To his credit, he kept very underrated guard Justin Blalock and Pro Bowl right tackle Tyson Clabo. The draft, however, has yet to yield any results.
He reached for Baker by trading up in the first round, and even though he’s trying to give Baker every chance to re-invent himself, he’s nowhere close to being an anchor. He drafted right tackle project Garrett Reynolds in the 5th round. Reynolds has not shown anything more than being a good backup, although he’s never got his chance at his right tackle position.
He drafted Mike Johnson out of Alabama in the 3rd round, potentially to be starter one day. Johnson was a major cog on a dominant Crimson Tide offensive line that won a National Title and helped pave Mark Ingram’s way to the Heisman. He also had started more games than any other Alabama player in its storied history. On paper, it’s hard to argue with this pick. For whatever reason, Johnson has never developed and couldn’t even beat out a player who had only played right tackle his entire career, who later lost the job himself. This doesn’t mean that Johnson doesn’t still hold potential, but it has not been realized in 2 years.
Dimitroff drafted Joe Hawley most likely to be the future at center in the 4th round. So far, Hawley has been one of his best OL picks. Hawley finally helped stabilize the guard position after going through Reynolds and even Sam Baker. Hawley also started center at the beginning of the season for an injured Todd McClure to mixed results. Of all the picks, Hawley seems to have the most potential to win a starting spot and be the closest to being an anchor on the offensive line.
He’s also drafted Andrew Jackson, who has a chance to win a starting spot this season but also struggled to make the 53 man roster last season. He also signed Vince Manuwai this off-season who has the potential to be a very good pickup if he can get back to his original potential. He picked up Will Svitek as a player with potential and Svitek did well in relief of Sam Baker, but he appears to have a limited ceiling. Even though many fans saw great glimpses of Jose Valdez, he was allowed to be snatched up by the Minnesota Vikings because he wasn’t put on the active roster (a move hard to understand).
Simply put, it’s hard to understand why the Falcons continue to have so many questions on the offensive line, up to 3 open positions, after 4 years of drafts and free agency. Dimitroff seems to have a penchant for not investing high draft picks or a lot of money on the offensive line and this could be the Falcons Achilles heel once more in 2012. Some will try to rationalize that only a new coach will magically turn this group into an All-Pro OL and that could very well happen. But the offensive line woes can’t be completely blamed on former coach Paul Boudreau. Dimitroff has to take some blame as well. The Falcons GM talked about creating competition for every spot on the OL, but that evidently started and ended with the lone signing of Vince Manuwai.
As mentioned before, much of this may come off as nitpicking since Dimitroff has done an overall magnificent job as the Falcons general manager. If you looked at all the positives, it far outweighs the negatives, but doing a complete audit of the Falcons means that all involved aren’t beyond criticism, including the general manager.
1) What’s your overall thoughts on Dimitroff?
2) What’s been his best moves?
3) What’s been his worst moves?
4) Has TD done enough this off-season?
5) Overall thoughts on his efforts in free agency?
6) Overall thoughts on his trades?
7) Is the offensive line Dimitroff’s Achilles?
8.) What does Dimitroff need to do right now to help Falcons?