That noise you hear in NFL offseason? It’s not Falcons

Mike Smith's new coordinators, Mike Nolan (left) and Dirk Koetter (right), have to make existing pieces better. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Falcons made more news with new coordinators (Mike Nolan, Dirk Koetter) than roster. (Curtis Compton)

In their most noteworthy decisions so far during NFL free agency, the Falcons have signed two players who are coming off injuries and didn’t play a single down last season (good news: Vince Manuwai and Lofa Tatupu should be well-rested), they’re seemingly allowing their leading tackler (Curtis Lofton) and sacker (John Abraham) to walk out the door, and they just gave a three-year, $9.15 million contract to a defensive end (Kroy Biermann) who is three years removed from his best season.

This probably isn’t the best time to launch the season-ticket marketing campaign.

Yes, it’s only March. No team has played a game yet. Granted, every significant NFL player seems to be holding signing ceremonies or meeting with owners and coaches in other cities. But we’ve experienced the hazards of assuming what big names on paper can mean. So it’s premature to assume the Falcons will be gum on the bottom of every team’s shoe next season, just as it is to believe the road to the Super Bowl suddenly runs though Buffalo. (The Bills gave Mario Williams $100 million and closed the deal with, “See that big waterfall over there? You can have that, too.)

But fans are concerned, and it’s easy to understand why. While it’s still possible the Falcons will sign a guy or two, cut a guy or two, maybe even pull off a trade or two, between now and next month’s draft, it is becoming apparent that there will be no major changes to a team that has been drop-kicked in three consecutive playoff games.

Mario Williams to world: "My contract is 'This big.'" (Too big for Falcons.)

Mario Williams signals,"My contract is 'This big.'" And that was too big for the Falcons. (AP photo)

The Arthur Blank money train was prevalent in springs past. Now it’s parked, in part because the team is hitting its head on the salary-cap ceiling.

This doesn’t so much mean that general manager Thomas Dimitroff and coach Mike Smith didn’t plan well (as in cap pacing) as it does that some plans just haven’t worked out (as in roster quality). For example: If cornerback Dunta Robinson had been as good as advertised and was living up to his original six-year, $57 million contract, the Falcons might not have felt so desperate to slap the franchise tag on cornerback Brent Grimes (a $10.281 million commitment).

If you’re wondering what this muted offseason means for the Falcons’ future, it’s just this: Dirk Koetter, the new offensive coordinator, had better be really good. Mike Nolan, the new defensive coordinator, had better be really good. Mike Smith, the head coach, needs to be better.

When there aren’t new players to work with, it means the old players have to be coached up. It means schemes have to be better. It means the Falcons can’t sell you on “new” so they have to sell you on the expectation of  “improved.”

So far, no obvious help for the offense is on the way, either on the line — assume nothing with Manuwai — or in terms of weapons. That means Koetter has to find ways to get more out of quarterback Matt Ryan and make the offense less predictable. It’s possible. But it’s hard to give the benefit of the doubt when Koetter oversaw the NFL’s worst offense last season in Jacksonville.

With another pass rusher (and possibly minus Abraham), Nolan needs to find new ways to create pass pressure and take some of the onus off an error-prone secondary. It’s possible. Nolan is good. But his predecessor, Brian VanGorder, also was good and he worked for a head coach with a defensive background. (We may never know how much latitude Smith gave VanGorder in terms of scheme.)

Nolan has to make Dunta Robinson better. He has to make Ray Edwards, a huge disappointment in Year 1, a factor again on game day.

Overall, Smith, Koetter and Nolan need to find the reasons why this team keeps hitting a wall in its 17th game. If they determine there was a missing piece, that’s a problem because there’s no indication right now that help is on the way.

Think of this as trying to make a new soup with the same ingredients. If by next December we’ve determined that it tasted the same, it won’t be difficult to figure out why.

By Jeff Schultz

210 comments Add your comment

weaseal

March 15th, 2012
4:21 pm

Falcons First– Not we need to make some noise !!

weaseal

March 15th, 2012
4:23 pm

awww shucks back to the basketball tourney..

Joe Johnson Quit On His Team Because He Know He Sucks

March 15th, 2012
4:28 pm

no playoffs next season my god every atlanta team sucks…when does wnba season starts?

Steve Fartkowski

March 15th, 2012
4:33 pm

Ray Edwards (n) – modern day Ed Hartwell

1990_Champs_GT

March 15th, 2012
4:35 pm

We don’t get Williams (but he got way too much), Bucs get Nicks. Guess our “big signing for 2012″ is Mr. Jones…

Is the plan really just new coordinators?!

Mountain Man

March 15th, 2012
4:36 pm

This same defense, over the last several years, has been awful. Now we loose Lofton and Abraham and we expect to be better? Our players on defense suck. Plain and simple.

Nolan better have brought some magic fairy dust with him from? He’ll need it for this group.

authur blankie

March 15th, 2012
4:38 pm

we already made big moves, Van Gorder and Mularky is out of town. Duh

D Green

March 15th, 2012
4:38 pm

The Falcons are who we thought they were.

Herschel Talker

March 15th, 2012
4:39 pm

Schultzie:

The Falcons have one big thing going for them: stupid Fredi isn’t leading them. I believe in Mike Smith. No one should believe in that fool Fredi. That clown needs to be fired ASAP.

FIRE FREDI GONZALEZ!!!

HT

Reality

March 15th, 2012
4:40 pm

No cap room and no draft picks. Just a dynamic organization-like always.

doggoneit

March 15th, 2012
4:41 pm

Hinds Wards lets go after him, At least he’ll drink er i mean sell more beers!!!!

Sid

March 15th, 2012
4:43 pm

If the coaches could get them to belly up to the bar and order a few glasses of swagger maybe we would get that extra play out of people like Edwards, Robinson, and even Biermann who in past years looked like he had a few sips but recently put down his shot glass.

Mountain Man

March 15th, 2012
4:43 pm

The Falcons defense generates no discernible pass rush. Opposing QBs have all day to unload the ball. If you can’t generate a pass rush, you better have lock-down corners and ball-jarring safeties. We have neither.

This does not look good at the moment. Robinson, Grimes, DeCoud, and Moore? Really?

Gman

March 15th, 2012
4:45 pm

The Falcons are modeling themselves after the Braves. The Braves made no offseason moves and look at how they’ve set the Grapefruit league alight! Getting into the playoffs is the highest organizational goal. Losing immediately is fine as long as you get to hoist a meaningless banner.

I suppose when all of your past free agent moves have been busts and put you in salary cap hell, doing nothing is attractive by comparison.

cousin vicker

March 15th, 2012
4:45 pm

This team is extremely close to needing to completely rebuild. It will give them a great opportunity to trade Matt Ryan without a lot of backlash. I believe the organization has finally caught up with the rest of the NFL in realizing that he is nothing more than a middle of the pack qb that can’t win games by himself. WIll never understand the trade for Julio Jones. Mortgaging your future for a deep threat with a QB that is one of the absolute worst at the deep ball in the NFL.

FalconJim

March 15th, 2012
4:46 pm

Gettin’ worried….I’m thinking the cup is half empty, here, and no intention of filling the glass.

For me, if we don’t win at least one playoff game this year, Mr. Blank should start thinking about finding a new GM and Head Coach, at the very least.

This lethargic effort (at least so far) at fielding a potential Championship team, has been a joke!

I’m a “lifer” with this team, and have spent literally thousands of dollars on tickets, parking and memorabilia over the years….and now I’m thinking I may never even live long enough to reap any of the joy, or benefits from my investments, much less, see a Lombardi being hoisted by my beloved team.

C’mon, man…

Michael

March 15th, 2012
4:47 pm

Jeff, I thought they Saints were up against the cap worse than we were. How come they went after Grubbs and we didn’t? I can see that we may not have had enough money to get Mario. What I don’t get is why we seem so content with the Oline, especially Baker. Are the Falcons really that comfortable with their personnel on both lines?

J-Man

March 15th, 2012
4:47 pm

You reporters need to be more critical of our teams. The Falcons get bounced in 3 straight play-off games and score 2 points in the last 1. Yet we dont make any significant player moves and lose our 2 best defensive players and some how you beat writers just ignore it. Thats 1 reason the Braves and the Falcons don’t get any better its because the media here doesn’t put pressure when it is needed. All you want is a bunch of “good guys”.

Mountain Man

March 15th, 2012
4:48 pm

I prefer a pass rush up the middle to lock-down corners. I like DT’s that can collapse the pocket from the middle, giving opposing QBs no room to step up and make a quick throw. Partner that with an edge rush and you don’t need outstanding corners.

We don’t have anything close to that. We have backups on the line and backups in the secondary, with Moore perhaps being the exception.

It’s looking like a long season thus far.

Jerry Galnville

March 15th, 2012
4:48 pm

Just getting to the playoffs is going to look pretty attractive come December 2012

rafael

March 15th, 2012
4:51 pm

Now that Liberty CHEAPIA also owns the the Falcons, does this mean “Dome Dogs” and other concessions will be 33% off?????!!!!!!!!!!

bsg3003

March 15th, 2012
4:51 pm

Actually mike nolan is working with less than what dirk is working with. Nolan better be damned good if we are gonna go anywhere

ATL Fan

March 15th, 2012
4:51 pm

Next year looks like a good year for draft picks.

TD

March 15th, 2012
4:52 pm

Jeff,

What are you talking about?? We just re-signed Chris Redman!!

Big Crimson 75

March 15th, 2012
4:56 pm

sick & tired of being sick & tired of this trio — TD – Smitty & Matty Ice.

Big Lou

March 15th, 2012
4:56 pm

Two days into the free agency and the sky is falling. You guys are a piece of work.

No Worries

March 15th, 2012
4:56 pm

We are keeping our powder dry until after the draft when we will plug all holes with undrafted free-agents.

MaxxFalcon

March 15th, 2012
4:59 pm

Decades of Heartbreak

March 15th, 2012
4:59 pm

Taking a page from the Braves. Do nothing and expect better results.
Get ready for serious rebuilding because this may well be the last year of this dog and pony show.

Fun Fact

March 15th, 2012
5:02 pm

After 3 years, Perra Jerry has 2 more Rs in his name than career sacks. I suppose it’s better for TD to trade 1st round picks than draft stiffs like Jerry.

nobody

March 15th, 2012
5:03 pm

TD, as an ex college scout coordinator, has A LOT of confidence in his draft picks. Just like the Bravaes. So far outside of 5ish picks, TDs drafts haven’t been spectacular. Lets hope Dent, the O and D Linemen he drafted blossom this year or were screwed

bigdave

March 15th, 2012
5:04 pm

“I like DT’s that can collapse the pocket from the middle, giving opposing QBs no room to step up and make a quick throw.”

preach! havent seen that since Rod Coleman.. or Ellis Johnson..

Tommy

March 15th, 2012
5:05 pm

Everyone is freaking out about Abraham and Lofton probably leaving (although neither has signed with another team yet). But keep this in perspective:

Abraham is 34. He leads the team in sacks, but when is the last time he got a game-changing sack or big play? He piles up his numbers against average linemen. You know during the first defensive series how he is going to do for the game. If he can’t beat the opposing tackle right off the bat, he’s done for the afternoon. And he’s not getting younger.

Lofton led the team in tackles, but that is not an indicator of a dominant player. Weatherspoon is a much, much better LB, and Akeem Dent will probably put up similar numbers as a starter. Lofton has issues in pass coverage. The defense was designed to make the play flow to him. The Colts middle linebacker was near the top of the league in tackles, too. Does that make him an elite player?

Everyone needs to take a deep breath. They’ll do something big soon.

Fun Fact

March 15th, 2012
5:06 pm

As hysterical as everyone was over Matty, we can all agree that he’s turned out to be a good game manager-nothing more and he’s reached his ceiling.

Think of where we’d be if Vick was busted BEFORE we let Schaub walk. Schaub is a much better QB than Matty and arguably better than MV7.

Jeff B

March 15th, 2012
5:08 pm

You claim we have no cap room and thus can’t make any moves… yet the Saints had LESS cap room and then proceeded to sign Colston and Grubbs. Now Pat Yak is saying they’re interested in Lofton. How can a team with less cap space be doing so much more in FA than us? We might not have much room, but we could do SOMETHING.

Jeff B

March 15th, 2012
5:10 pm

@Fun Fact – No, we can’t all agree. I couldn’t disagree with you more. Matty has the tools and smarts to be a great QB. He could be the next Peyton. Give him time.

Bucky

March 15th, 2012
5:11 pm

The Saints don’t need no stinking rules. They also have a Super Bowl. Something we will never have.

realitycheck

March 15th, 2012
5:13 pm

Again, it appears that Mickey Loomis has outmanuvered Dimwit. All this talk a couple of weeks ago about how Saints were going to fall off appears to have been premature. They signed Grubbs who was the 2nd best guard in FA and a better run blocker with a much better attitude and saved nearly 13 mil in the process. Losing Meachem, who was their no. 4 receiver won’t hurt them either. They got Colston inked and will get Brees inked before training camp starts. They will release Vilma who likely will be facing suspension and get a younger ML who will come cheaper and possibly be every bit as good. BTW, Curtis Lofton could be that guy, and their defense likely will improve under Spagnulo. The Falcons had chances to go after both Nicks and Colston which not only would’ve considerably improved the Falcons, but at the same time would’ve weakened the Saints. The Falcons didn’t do a thing to help themselves, nor did thet hurt the Saints when they had the opportunity to do so. Arthur should run Dimwit right out of town, and start looking for a Mickey Loomis. With the Bucs and Panthers likely to improve, the Falcons could be looking at a 3rd place divisional finish!

Fun Fact

March 15th, 2012
5:16 pm

Jeff B,

You are possibly right in that Matty could be the next Peyton (believe me I’d love to see it) but after 4 years, it’s more likely he will be what he is. I used to think that gaining so much experience early in his career set him up for a great, great career (Aaron Rodgers didn’t start until year 3). Trouble is Matty didn’t improve in year 3 and year 4 was more of the same.

PMC

March 15th, 2012
5:18 pm

That noise is air coming out of the balloon filled with all that hot air about making real changes…

Festus

March 15th, 2012
5:19 pm

Get Tim Tebow. At least he’s interesting. And bring Jerry Glanville back as coach.

PMC

March 15th, 2012
5:20 pm

The Falcons HAD CAP ROOM, and they chose to bring back a bunch of players who in the last 2 years proved that they were hopelessly over matched against playoff teams.

PMC

March 15th, 2012
5:21 pm

17 million dollars were spent on Brent Grimes, Thomas Decoud and the housewife baby daddy.

PMC

March 15th, 2012
5:22 pm

The Falcons brought in Haden and James Sanders last year because the guys they had signed couldn’t cut it…. so they fix that by BRINGING BACK GUYS LIKE DECOUD WHO WERE PART OF THE PROBLEM??????????

Peachtree John

March 15th, 2012
5:23 pm

And why are the Falcons up against the salary cap? Simple: bad decisions on the part of the general manager. Possibly he failed that part of his Patriots schooling. Ryan is a good QB, but he will never make the difference to put this team in the super bowl. We don’t have that player, but we have too many being paid the salary to do so. Sad, but true.

JTH

March 15th, 2012
5:23 pm

What is it with these Atlanta teams doing nothing to actually improve their teams? It’s disheartening as a fan.

rollo lawson

March 15th, 2012
5:24 pm

If we don’t sign Abraham, we are in trouble. Pain and simple. Where is the pass rush coming from? Kroy ? Sidburry? Edwards? What is Dimitroff doing?

rollo lawson

March 15th, 2012
5:24 pm

Plain and simple!

Mave

March 15th, 2012
5:25 pm

Look, the Patriots, Steelers, Giants, Ravens, Packers are teams we would like to be like…playoff teams, year in, year out (and win playoff games and Super Bowls). Those teams don’t make FA splashes, so please fellow Falcon fans, calm down. TD tried that with Dunta and Ray with mixed results (nice guys who play OK, but not to the level of their deals), so let’s go back to focusing on the draft and playing better. TD has drafted pretty well, with his only weakness being giving too many guys the dreaded Dimitroff Dot of Doom (patent pending) or going to bat on good players with injury histories (Peria Jerry), so I am focused on him doing better with the Draft and playing better with new coaches.

JTH

March 15th, 2012
5:25 pm

I agree about letting Abraham go. He’s done as a major sack threat. Let someone else overpay.