Every big-ticket free agent says he’s happy to have signed with his new team, for good reason: He has just punched a very big ticket. But Dunta Robinson wasn’t just happy Monday — he was ecstatic. The Falcons’ new cornerback was introduced to the media and did something previously believed impossible: He out-gushed Arthur Blank.
“This red and black — I can’t believe I’m standing in front of it,” Robinson said, gesturing to the Falcons-themed backdrop.
Actually, Robinson wanted to play for two teams that wear red and black, but one turned him down. He longed to be a Bulldog, but the hometown school, which was nearing the end of Jim Donnan’s regime, didn’t want him. (Robinson wound up at South Carolina.) And does he bear a grudge? Oh, yes.
“After that, the defensive coordinator was fired,” said Robinson, and then he laughed. But now, a decade later, Dunta — it’s pronounced Don-TAY, by the way — finally has the color scheme of his dreams.
He’s a Falcon. He’ll get to work in Flowery Branch, which is barely an hour from Athens. “I’m home,” he said, and his aim now is do what nobody has yet managed to do as an Atlanta Falcon: Win the Super Bowl.
With every offseason under the Dimitty/Smitty administration, the stakes get hiked. Two years ago the Falcons landed Michael Turner, who made the Pro Bowl. Last year they traded for Tony Gonzalez, who’s a Hall of Famer. This time it’s Robinson, whom coach Mike Smith lauded as having “the skill set you look for a No. 1 cornerback.”
It wasn’t so long ago — heck, it was every given Sunday in October and November 2009 — we wondered if the Falcons had even a No. 4 cornerback. Now they’ve paid, maybe overpaid, for a guy who has a reputation as a very good player but hasn’t yet made a Pro Bowl. And that’s OK. When you’re as close to something big as the Falcons are, you can’t pinch pennies. If you have a need, you fill it.
Robinson: “I think we really have a chance to do some special things … We’re strong up front and up the middle [on defense], and I’m that piece on the back end.”
Someone asked Thomas Dimitroff if the Falcons were closer to a Super Bowl than they were a week ago. Quoth the GM: “We are closer to being a team moving in the direction of being a perennial playoff contender.”
There was a time when the Falcons were capable only of perennial disappointment. That changed with the arrival of Dimitroff. Not every move has been a home run, but every move has been so well considered that a team in utter ruins when 2008 began is now viewed, and not just locally, as a real threat to unseat the Super Bowl champs in the NFC South.
And you can feel the difference. Since buying the team in January 2002, Blank has always spoken in bold terms, but today those words are backed by more than a rich man’s wallet. The Falcons aren’t paying Robinson $57 million over six seasons to help them make the playoffs every so often. They’re paying him to lift them ever closer to the Lombardi Trophy.
“Last year it was about getting the back-to-back winning seasons,” Blank said. That mission accomplished, there’s a new organizational mandate. Blank again: “It’s about getting rings now.”
Dunta Robinson could have shopped himself around. He’d have had a half-dozen suitors. He stopped at one. He told his agent a half-hour after free agency had begun: “If [the Falcons] want me in here, I want to be there.”
And now, the contract signed? “Now I’m here,” Robinson said, “and we’re going to take off running.”
Yeah, we’ve heard big talk before, and we’ve even seen the Falcons play in a Super Bowl. But never has there been such a vibe of positivity bordering on inevitability about this franchise. Never have we been able to say with any confidence, “The Falcons are going to win a Super Bowl within three years.”
But I just did. And I meant it.