Flowery Branch – In the past 16 months, the Falcons have gone from one of the most beat-up, put-down, staggered, dazed, lost and certainly humiliated franchises in pro sports history to one viewed as possibly just this side of Eden.
When that happens, plans change.
Tomorrow becomes today.
Hall-of-Fame-in-waiting tight ends are acquired for second-round draft picks.
On Sunday, the Falcons completed their second draft under Thomas Dimitroff. Screaming Twitters and ESPN’s mock-till-you-drop coverage notwithstanding, the names really don’t mean much yet. Nobody has played an NFL game. The fact that the Falcons took two defensive linemen and three defensive backs in their first five picks said something about their objectives.
But the transaction that tells you the most about where the Falcons are as an organization — and maybe where they’re going — was the trade for tight end Tony Gonzalez.
A team that acquires a 33-year-old, 12-year tight end is not a young, rebuilding team just looking for respectability. It’s a team looking to make the leap to the next level.
“I’d like to think we would have still gone after somebody like Tony if we were 6-10 last year,” Dimitroff said Sunday. “But there’s a side of me that thinks most of the highly heralded veteran players in this league would not have wanted to come to a 6-10 team.
“We’ve become a much more marketable team and we have a quarterback who is adept, yet evolving. We have some pieces on the offense and a coaching staff that’s very attractive to other players. If we were 6-10, the probability of landing Tony Gonzalez would not have been the same.”
The Falcons went 11-5 last season, when 5-11 seemed more likely. They have an opportunity that most clear-thinking people presumed they wouldn’t have so soon, not even the GM or the coach or the owner.
Remember, it was only a year ago when the Falcons desperately were trying to peddle season tickets based on “hope.” Or was that prayer?
Dimitroff’s pursuit of Gonzalez shouldn’t suggest that the Falcons have a small window for a Super Bowl. As he said, “We never thought, ‘It’s now or never.’” The team’s core is young, particularly on offense (Matt Ryan, Michael Turner, Roddy White, Sam Baker).
But, “Any time you’re a playoff team, you approach the draft and free agency a lot of more creatively and a lot more calculated,” he said.
“This is about the here and now. It’s always been that way in this league. We have to capitalize on opportunities we have right now. None of us want to sit back and think, ‘Let’s see where we are in five years.’ This is about the competitive side of it. You strike while you can, and you be consistent with your strikes.”
If last season wasn’t an aberration, if Ryan really is that good and everybody around him gets better, the Falcons are closer to contending for a title than most teams in the NFL and certainly any pro team in Atlanta.
The Falcons have flaws. The defense will be painfully young. The players are faster — but they may just run in the wrong direction. On some Sundays, they’ll need one last-gasp score to pull out a 35-31 win.
But when Gonzalez continually referenced the Super Bowl in his news conference, it wasn’t merely to pump up the masses. It’s what he believes. Perceptions have changed, and so have plans.
And suddenly, there’s a window.