(Originally posted: 9:13 p.m. Updated: 10:30 p.m)
FLOWERY BRANCH – Last week, I had a private conversation with a general manager (guess who?) of an NFL team (duh) about his team’s draft plans. Because of what just happened, I feel safe in concluding that the Falcons’ Thomas Dimitroff won’t mind if elements of that conversation now go on the record.
Me: “Go get A.J. Green. He’ll probably have the greatest impact of any player in the draft.”
Dimitroff: “How do you think people would react?”
Me: “More than half will love you. The rest will think you spent too much and should draft for defense. But I’m guessing you won’t do it.”
Dimitroff: “Why not?”
Me: “You won’t want to trade that much for one player. You’re conservative.”
Dimitroff: “Hah! So what you’re saying is, if I make a trade, you’ll write that you goaded me into it.”
Me: “Yeah, probably.”
We laughed, and I eventually hung up the phone believing Dimitroff would stay at 27th, at best moving up five picks for a defensive player he liked. I was wrong about Dimitroff. He’s not conservative. He rolled the dice and made a move that, while expensive, was a risk worth taking. The Falcons dealt a boatload of draft picks to Cleveland Thursday night to jump up 27th to sixth in the first round, where they took Alabama wide receiver Julio Jones.
The Falcons needed to make a splash after the January playoff beatdown by Green Bay. Sports franchises that believe they’re on the verge of something big have a window in which they feel they can make this move. This was the Falcons’ window.
“Our feeling was where we are on the draft, where we are as a team, where we are on our roster … we felt we needed to make a bold statement as far as an impact type of player,” Dimitroff said.
Dimitroff will face some criticism for sacrificing so much for an offensive player after the Packers shredded their defense in the 48-21 playoff game. But there wasn’t a defensive player in this draft, save Texas A&M linebacker Von Miller, he viewed as a difference-maker. Dimitroff’s focus has been on Green or Jones for several weeks.
“I’ve been very open about the fact that we needed to add explosiveness on the defensive side or the offensive side,” he said. “In our mind, the explosiveness we were going to get with a player like Julio outweighed what we were going to get on the defensive side. We’ll never get away from the idea that if we see something we want, we’re going to jump up and get aggressive and go after it.”
That is the attitude you want a team to have.
Dimitroff made a significant statement about the franchise’s goals and expectations. He attempted to swing a deal for a pick as high as No. 2, ostensibly to get Green. But he has known for a few days they would end up at six or seven.
The cost of moving up: steep. A No. 1, 2 and 4 this year and No. 1 and 4 next year. But Jones is a playmaker. He’s a burner. He ran a 4.39 at the NFL scouting combined despite having a fractured foot.
Alabama coach Nick Saban praised Jones, Dimitroff said: “Julio embodies what Nick coaches – hard-nosed, competes on every play, goes up for the ball, sacrifices the body and plays to the whistle.”
It doesn’t fix the defense? But it enables the Falcons to open up the offense and take over games when they couldn’t in the past.
The Falcons still have time to add pieces to the defense. But understand: It’s not like they’ve ignored building that half of the depth chart. Since taking over as general manager in 2008, Dimitroff has invested heavily first- and second-round picks and free agency on defense: Curtis Lofton, William Moore, Peria Jerry, Dunta Robinson and Sean Weatherspoon. Compare that to four early picks or acquisitions on offense: Matt Ryan, Michael Turner, Sam Baker, Tony Gonzalez.
Dimitroff and the organization, still somewhat hung over from the loss to the Packers, realize they are at the point where people are going to start focusing more on the team’s postseason results (0-2) than the regular season (33-15). “That’s what adds to some of my drive at this year’s draft,” he said.
It drove him to make a big move. It was a risk worth taking.
By Jeff Schultz
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