Falcons suddenly have a present, a future — and a window

Thomas Dimitroff, Tony Gonzalez and Mike Smith are all smiling for the same reason -- the sudden opportunity the Falcons have to do something special. (Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com)

Thomas Dimitroff, Tony Gonzalez and Mike Smith are all smiling for the same reason: It's the unexpected opportunity suddenly facing the Falcons. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

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.

Windows open.

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.

99 comments Add your comment

Joe Schmoe

April 26th, 2009
5:41 pm

Pretty good draft, I would have to give it a B to B+ range. Not all flashy players, but got what they needed.

Daniel Bell

April 26th, 2009
5:52 pm

You can’t really grade a draft until years later, but you have to respect that they pick position players than fit a need, just as they said they would. This creates good competition at those “weak” defensive spots.

Dawg4Life

April 26th, 2009
6:18 pm

If you consider Gonzalez as a draft pick, then I would say it was very successful.

Justafan

April 26th, 2009
6:23 pm

Funny how times change. The Braves and their GM, JS was the best sports team in Atlanta. Now the Falcons have a GM, Coach and owner that wants to win and have turn the organization around in one year. Shame the Braves are going in wrong direction, maybe they need new owner,GM and Coach.

Thanks TD, Smith and Blanks for putting some character, desire and ability on the field. Boy this is fun.

Damn wish Blank could buy Braves and clean house of the good old boys. Go Falcons great draft.

Greg

April 26th, 2009
6:23 pm

Agree completely with the comments by Joe Schmoe and Daniel Bell. I think they gave themselves the chance to sneak in a couple guys who may be sleepers and steals at the round they went in. William Moore was hurt last year—I think his junior year was more indicative of his potential, and he was a projected 1st-rounder then. Same with the GT DT. And Adkins, with his size and speed and hitting ability, should be a killer on special teams. Overall, B, with some chances for A after we see how things develop.

country boy

April 26th, 2009
6:23 pm

Guess TD and Smitty are smarter than me once again. Would have thought OLB would be a priority but apparently Wire, Nichols, Peterson on the outside are solid.

wxwax

April 26th, 2009
6:27 pm

As George Allen used to say, “The future is now.” Unfortunately he was profligate with his draft picks. But it’s nice to see that Dimitroff hews to the same philosophy. It really is true in the NFL, the only thing you can count on is the here and now.

If the picks pan out, the Falcons got some speed and depth on their defense.

With Gonzalez they now have a completely balanced offense and with luck, they’ll be able to hold the ball longer to help the D.

They’ll need all of it to tackle this season’s brutal schedule. If they come close to matching last year’s record they’ll have done exceptionally well. If they make the playoffs, they may be a tough out.

Chris

April 26th, 2009
6:29 pm

Sloth (Daniel Bell) is that you? Who knows how this draft will turn out. There really can’t be a whole lot of criticism or praise, simply more observations than anything else. The staff spent countless hours grading these players, so for anyone but other scouts, coaches, gm’s, etc. who have studied these players just as much to judge these picks is a waste of time. I have a lot of confidence in this staff (they earned it last year) and we will just have to take the wait and see approach to critiquing Dimitroff and Company’s sophomore performance.

grego

April 26th, 2009
6:32 pm

They are tossing around the S word. Two years-four years- this team is after Superbowls . I bet they win one.

powderdawg in denver

April 26th, 2009
6:38 pm

waiting till september is gonna be the toughest part of this draft!!

pj

April 26th, 2009
6:45 pm

I’m really intrigued by our pick at DE from Richmond. He might as well be considered the I-AA Defensive player of the year last year, and almost single handedly won the National Championship (4 sacks, etc). From what I understand, we got a bunch of high character, athletic guys with great motors.

This is truly alot more fun than being a Falcons fan once was. Grading a draft class is silly, since they havent played a snap, but I think the majority of Falcons fans feel confident in Dimitroff… and he instilled that in only 16 months? That’s inspiring.

Whopper Dawg

April 26th, 2009
6:52 pm

Counting TG, three definite starters from this draft with two contributors from which may spring one starter. After the fourth round, I see some reaches, but time will tell. Sure targeted the weak points of the team. TG will have an enormous impact on this team, I really couldn’t be happier. Great job, all in, A to A+.

Great Falconi

April 26th, 2009
7:05 pm

The main thing to remember when bringing up our “brutal” schedule is that the other teams in our division have to go through the same thing. If we can take care of business in the division and break even against everyone else, we’ll be fine.

JohnnyFalcone

April 26th, 2009
7:25 pm

“The main thing to remember when bringing up our “brutal” schedule is that the other teams in our division have to go through the same thing”

Falconi, we do play the NFC & AFC east like everyone else, but the rest of the teams in our division don’t have to play 4 teams coming off byes. I don’t care who it is, teams coming off byes in the NFL usually win & we play 4 of them.

Brian Hunt

April 26th, 2009
7:30 pm

The other teams in our division won’t play four consecutive games against teams that are coming off their bye week. That’s a tough schedule, but the Falcons will be a better team. This was a good draft. The defense probably got two starters and a lot of depth.

Karl

April 26th, 2009
7:31 pm

I like all the picks and the addition og Tony Gonzalez. Now TD needs to go grab our starting OLB for the next 5 years who has just become available in Seattle. Arthur needs to bring him in and not let him leave until he is signed. Get Leroy Hill and the Falcons will be complete for this year.

Jborodawg

April 26th, 2009
7:32 pm

pj…”… From what I understand, we got a bunch of high character, athletic guys with great motors…” That’s how a couple guys on ESPN put it too. The consensus there is that the Falcons did well.

FalconFan

April 26th, 2009
7:41 pm

I’d love to have Leroy Hill, but can we really afford to sign a guy like him?

I’d highly doubt it.

Dawg_Em_Out_09

April 26th, 2009
7:48 pm

this is for sure a top 10 draft class in the nfl in ‘09! great job falcons!

J-MAN

April 26th, 2009
7:54 pm

Sign Southerland and Ellerby from UGA in free agency for depth and Southerland will be our starting FB in 2 years

reebok

April 26th, 2009
8:41 pm

since i am always quick to blast the local teams when they screw up, i will say at this point “great job, falcons.” and i’m really glad to have a yellow jacket drafted by the home team!

loch dhu

April 26th, 2009
8:42 pm

I don’t think we should be grading the quality of the draft in April, I think we shold be grading it in December and January. Who gives out grade on the first day of class anyway. 11-5 would rank an A in my book. I hope to see another A next year after this blue collar draft has has gone to work and punched the clock a few times.

Daniel Bell

April 26th, 2009
8:51 pm

You forget about Ovie Mughelli? No way someone takes that big guy’s job. He’s the highest paid FB ever, so he’s going to be on the field.

Brownie

April 26th, 2009
8:51 pm

TD certainly ran a needs-based draft board, going almost exclusively for defense, but did get one OT (needed depth there). People keep talking about the Falcons losing 5 defensive starters, but they are not considering: Trey Lewis and Von Hutchins are back after an injured year off (that’s like picking up 2 really good free agents) and they’ll replace Foxworth and Big Grady. Right there we just got younger and quicker. Peterson is a definite upgrade over Brooking, and Coy Wire had already supplanted Boley at OLB.

At the end of the day, Falcons fans need to be realistic: an 8-8 year in ‘09 wouldn’t be bad considering the schedule. Can’t wait for September.

GT Falcon

April 26th, 2009
9:00 pm

Is it September yet? I’m a hawks fan and I didn’t even care that they go killed last night because the thought of Falcons football and the daft killed the little bball fan in me. I like the the Falcons draft. We got what we needed. The Vance Walker pick is a sleeper pick and he could prove to be a good pick in the future….he did some good stuff at tech. Glad I got my season tickets.

Poor McKay

April 26th, 2009
9:24 pm

With Chuncey Davis, Sidbury, Biermann and Abraham, I’m wondering what’s up with Anderson? Maybe they will try him at DT (rotating with Jerry, Lewis and Babineaux. Or, maybe, dude is on his way out the door. Hard to imagine that Davis, Biermann and Sidbury won’t be significant upgrades on passing downs to what Anderson provides. Oh and throw in some pressure from Babineaux and Jerry up the middle and our pass rush should be light years better this coming season.

mobetter

April 26th, 2009
9:27 pm

I can truely say that we have a great GM. THIS draft was speed and up the middle w/ nt then ss/fs that can play nickel more speed on the corner ,a bookend to go w/ ja55 that can play de/olb/ss then a4.3lb will sam mike ss/fs/pr/rb/cb we got hem in 6 two homeboys the only thing to bring know are them rings. gooooood draft TD

jake

April 26th, 2009
9:52 pm

Nice column, Jeff. Still can’t figure out what that shmutz is beneath Dimitroff’s nose. He looks like Snidely Whiplash.

gasportsfan

April 26th, 2009
9:53 pm

I really like this draft for the Falcons. Nothing flashy just need-based. And let’s not forget they will likely sign a veteran free agent or two before the seasn starts.

bama12titles

April 26th, 2009
9:55 pm

I became a Falcons fan and season ticketholder the day Arthur Blank took ownership. This was a guy who cared. A guy who wants to win. It took a little while to get all the pieces in place but the management team he has collected with Dmitroff, Mike Smith as the coach, etc. lets you know that this franchise is fully committed to winning. The falcons are on their way and the guys we got in this draft starting with Jerry fully reflect that. This franchise is in great hands and has a bright future. Its gonna be great to be a Falcons fan.

Great Falconi

April 26th, 2009
10:12 pm

Sorry about my failure to notice the bye week thing. I’ll start crying myself to sleep.

4-12, here we come.

Dawggy Style

April 26th, 2009
10:13 pm

We didn’t get anyone from Virginia Tech so it has to be considered an A+ draft!

uga_b

April 26th, 2009
10:21 pm

I think we got our 2 biggest targets in the first round so you can rate it high because we got what we wanted. The players still have to develop but it looks like we filled needs without having to trade up. Thats a good draft.

rod

April 26th, 2009
10:42 pm

Thanks Mr. Blank

PlusSizeModel

April 26th, 2009
10:47 pm

I have a question for you Mr. Shultz, and you’re just the man to answer this (no homo): Is Dimitroff the gayest looking GM in the history of sports?

mobetter

April 26th, 2009
10:49 pm

dont get down falconi i thank it will be mobetter than last yr . why fast fast fast team and a get staff that want let that happen.

mobetter

April 26th, 2009
10:50 pm

that great staff

PMC

April 26th, 2009
11:06 pm

Behind every genius is a good group of scouts. Perhaps his service in that role prepared him to make the good decisions he has made thus far.

These guys aren’t just a bunch of marketing gurus or corporate spin doctors. They do what they say they do and they are unpretentious.

I guess in a word… astonishing. I could not ask for a better draft or a better last two years football wise.

PMC

April 26th, 2009
11:10 pm

The youth will cause issues no doubt… but I think with the “speed and urgency” even though they might be out of place they are going to swarm to the football and the offense should keep us in games. Should be a little like last year. In every game, win some close on the final play lose some on the final play.

fanATicaL

April 26th, 2009
11:11 pm

Offensively creating several threats , so at any given game.You exploit the weakness.Whether you run to open up the pass.Or you pass to open up the run.We will only be limited to execution and creativity.And maybe how much Ryan has absorbed the playbook.Last TG should help us in our worst category.Our red zone offense .
Defensively Abraham/Lewis/Jerry/Davis should finally get sufficient pass rush. On any team we play on this schedule.Especially,within our division.Which will make our young secondary look amazing.
See you at the playoffs

chuck

April 26th, 2009
11:54 pm

All we need is for our draft picks to be solid not spectacular and combined with our potent offense we should win. I would like TD to sign Aaron Kelly to a free agent contract-he is really tall and set the record for career receptions in the ACC.

Dave

April 27th, 2009
5:44 am

A lot have Falcon fans realize in year two Dimitroff knows more than we do. Every year after a draft fans talk about a lot of players they have never even seen play even one game on TV. They pretty much base opinions about players on those who have draft websites. Few of these draft website guys can really focus that well on closely looking at all these players in detail. With the fans it becomes like wanting the 4 or 5 star high school players and when they aren’t picked they become disappointed. Last year Dimitroff earned the benefit of the doubt with fans. One thing you can say no matter what Dimitroff chooses players at positions of need now we shall see if they can play.

Bill

April 27th, 2009
6:49 am

Everybody calm down.As Jeff said the defense is very young.They will make mistakes.Has anyone looked at the schedule.It is brutal.

Don’t be dissapointed with 9-7 this year.This team could actually be a little better and still be 8-8.

But for once it looks like we have people that know what they are doing.

Caleb Turner

April 27th, 2009
7:25 am

Being a Tech fan, the Vance Walker pick made my day. Lawrence Sidbury looks like a great pick. I cannot wait until the summer practices begin. Life is great!

Bank Walker, Texas Ranger

April 27th, 2009
7:39 am

I really like this draft. First time I have come away feeling like this. I wish we could have gotten either Asher Allen or the DE from Tech, I think they both will be a steal for someone. I do hope we can pick up Suntherland (sp?), he will be needed when our current FB contract expires or relaesed for cap reasons.

Edgar

April 27th, 2009
7:44 am

Hey Jeff, If you watched just the ESPN coverage then you missed John “Chucky” Gruden on the NFL Network. During yesterday’s session the commentators kept going on and on and on about the turn-around of the Miami Dolphins and how they just got better by drafting Pat White for their “Wild Cat” offensive formations. “Chucky” finally cut into the conversation and really laid it on the rest of the crew about how the Falcons have risen from the dregs and also-rans of the NFL to one of the elite teams in the league. He went on to give credit to the whole organization for what they have done not only last season but for what they did Saturday and Sunday with their draft picks. I know it took a bit of humility for him to say those things about the Falcons since Rich McKay is part of this organization too. Anyway, I watched both days of this marathon event and I’ve got to say the Falcons kept their focus on “needs” and didn’t stray into the “best player available” scenario at any point during the session. The picks of William Middleton and Lawrence Sidbury shows they not only did their homework but they did it well by going outside of the FBS and choosing some players that some team would have grabbed today or granted a tryout later this spring or summer and we would have again looked like idiots for not seeing this talent in our own backyard. It’s also true that the draft still isn’t a sure thing but during the last few years most teams have become more aware of the cost from a “bust”. Commissioner Goodell said it best on Saturday when asked about the money that Stafford will get. He replied by saying that it not only hurts a franchise when a draft choice is a “bust” but it hurts the league as well because the money goes outside the club and the league. As a season ticket holder for the last 18 seasons I have nothing but praise for Mr. Blank. He stood up to the crisis during and after the ‘07 season and made practical decisions that will give this team security for many years. I’m grateful for that.

Leland

April 27th, 2009
7:53 am

Dear Mr. JS–not. But your comment, viz., Nobody has played an NFL game., was insightful. Your pal, Leland

Dan

April 27th, 2009
8:05 am

Is there any interest in Leroy Hill LB just released from Seattle? They rescinded the franchise tag? He is originally from Haddock GA 6′1 237lbs and only 26? Picking up him would solidify our LB core?
The only concerned I would then have would just be CB?

dlae in newnan

April 27th, 2009
8:07 am

Remember guys, when TD was in NE they as an orginization routinely out-scouted everyone. They always drafted players you never heard of, or nobody regarded highly. Have a lot of faith in him and his people. Could heady times finally arrive in Atlanta of Braves porportion?

AJC Sports jock sniffer for matt Rayan amd GM

April 27th, 2009
8:15 am

The player drafted They have not played the frist down and you call him a genius! I can see if this was after year two may be . you will eat your words after this year AJC. Just watch and see!!! If he is a good Gm time will tell . He was very luckey last year but not this year!