He could have taken half-measures: Dump three guys in one offseason, two more the next. Instead Thomas Dimitroff, who doesn’t eat meat, went whole-hog.
Five Falcons starters were cast off or allowed to leave. We knew such movement would yield growing pains, but events of the preseason suggest orientation might take a while longer. Already Dimitroff has had to make last-minute acquisitions to prop up a shaky secondary, importing cornerback Tye Hill and safety Brian Williams.
So, then, the question: Did Dimitroff overreach by changing so much? His e-mailed response:
“Absolutely no regrets as per our offseason defensive moves. Our desire at the outset of the 2009 offseason was to get younger, faster and increase our level of urgency. Our aim is to build for sustainability”
And that was always the key. The Falcons cut ties with four of the five starters because of that get-younger-faster-and-more-urgent mandate. The fifth was another matter. A look at each case:
Michael Boley, linebacker: There was a time — in 2007, say — when Boley seemed the Falcons’ next Pro Bowler. But he didn’t take to the new coaching staff, and the new coaches weren’t wildly enamored of him. The Dimitroff mantra for 2009 is “urgency and consistency,” and the Boley of 2008 failed on both counts. Which is a nicer way of saying he took plays off.
Keith Brooking, linebacker: The Falcons knew even before the playoff loss in Phoenix that Brooking had lost more than a step, but his feet didn’t fail him on that fateful third-and-16. He misread the play completely. And that sealed it. If you’re going to keep an experienced guy around as, say, a fourth linebacker, he’d better not get fooled like a raw rookie.
Domonique Foxworth, cornerback: This was the guy the Falcons wanted to keep, but he priced himself out of their market. Foxworth took a half-season of good work here and wrangled a $28 million contract from Baltimore (with $17 million guaranteed). The Falcons weren’t going to pay that much for someone they didn’t feel was a true No. 1 cornerback. A solid one, yes, but not a great one.
Grady Jackson, tackle: The Falcons liked Big Grady, too — everybody likes Big Grady — but he’s 36. And it wasn’t hard to find someone both younger and faster. Dimitroff did it by taking Peria Jerry with the first draft pick of 2009
Lawyer Milloy, safety: Outside perception held that Milloy was a team leader. The new regime thought he talked too much. (And they couldn’t have been thrilled when he was arrested for DUI following the second game of 2008.) The new regime also kept coming back to two plays in Phoenix, both Cardinal touchdown: On the first, Milloy got outjumped by Larry Fitzgerald; on the second, he got outrun by Anquan Boldin.
Let’s also recall that Dimitroff worked for the Patriots, whose M.O. is to dump a guy before he gets too old or too expensive. Let’s recall that New England dumped Milloy in 2003, only one full season after he’d helped the Pats win their first Super Bowl, because he wanted too much. Let’s note that they just traded Richard Seymour, the Georgia program and a stalwart since 2001, to Oakland.
Yes, New England is always dealing from a position of strength, but there’s never a reason to propagate a weakness for the sake of cosmetic continuity. The 2008 Falcons ranked 24th in total defense. To become a Super Bowl team, they had to get better. There’s no time like the present, Dimitroff said, and he took urgent action.