It was about a year ago this time when Thomas Dimitroff took his first vacation as a general manager.
Of course, he brought his laptop. Also, a stack of DVDs of players in the next draft. Also a cranium that must have felt like it was about to implode at any minute.
“I worked a lot, and took quite a bit of heat for that,” he said Wednesday. “I’d watch players. I’d study the league rules and the salary cap. I was still getting my feet wet. I was in uncharted territory as a general manager, so there was a little bit of apprehension not knowing what was around the corner. But, yeah, sometimes I’d would be there at 2 o’clock on a Saturday afternoon, sitting and watching tape of a player, and thinking, ‘Why am I doing this?’”
Dimitroff’s second vacation as the Falcons’ GM begins next week. Two weeks in Colorado and Montana. He’ll bring the laptop. And a stack of DVDs of players in next year’s draft. But, “I’ll be better this time,” he insisted.
The roster tweaks are done. The OTAs are over. After a first season in which almost nothing went wrong, Dimitroff just completed another off-season in which, well, nothing went wrong. Adding veteran offensive lineman Jeremy Newberry this week was the final addition, he said.
Did everything go as planned?
“Yes,” he said.
In retrospect, did you do anything wrong last year?
“I don’t think so. There was that one tie I wore to a certain game.”
He was trying to be funny. He’s really not that egotistical, even though after last season it would be understandable if his head were the size of Colorado or Montana.
The Falcons went 11-5 with a playoff berth. Expectations have gone from extraordinarily low to extraordinarily high, and Dimitroff doesn’t have a problem with that. He’s as excited about the offense and the addition of tight end Tony Gonzalez as anybody. He believes the loss of five veterans from the defense, including Lawyer Milloy and Keith Brooking, isn’t a big deal. When asked about the youth and inexperience on defense, he said, “I can tell you that we as a staff will never be afraid to play our young players.”
One Matt Ryan-like rookie season will embolden a guy. And yes: He believes next year’s team will be even better.
“You’ll see improved speed and urgency on both sides of the ball,” he said. “We’ll definitely be an improved product.”
Last year, he had to clean up a mess, hire a coach, establish structure, set direction and tone. Relatively speaking, the past few months have been like sitting on the beach and drinking something out of a smoking coconut. He admits he now has a comfort level in the job that didn’t exist before. He and coach Mike Smith are in tune on personnel and salary cap issues, not always common for a GM and coach.
There is, “lucidity,” he said.
In year one, he felt compelled to be myopic: coach, roster purge, draft, free agency, scouting.
In year two, he said, “There’s more breathing room. I can look at things with more of a broad scope.”
He wanted to re-sign Michael Jenkins, Jonathan Babineaux and Chauncey Davis. He did. He wanted to bring in a veteran linebacker. He got Mike Peterson. He added a “quintessential team leader” in Gonzalez, then Newberry.
One other thing: “We didn’t want to have to spend the summer answering questions about Michael Vick.”
So Vick’s gone. Before vacation.
Colorado and Montana await. The laptop will make the trip. But maybe one night, he’ll just watch a movie.