Flowery Branch — Assuming he hasn’t done so already, Thomas Dimitroff should take several moments to prop his feet on the nearest ottoman, pour himself a tall glass of cabernet and crank his main man Bob Seger to 11 on the hi-fi. Dimitroff has it coming.
The great general manager aced his greatest test. Half his offseason business had been left undone. He’d traded 21 spots upward to draft Julio Jones, the wide receiver of vast promise, but the still-sought pass rusher would have to come via free agency, which owing to the NFL lockout would be rendered a frenzy.
Speaking in his office shortly after noon Friday, Dimitroff said, “I feel calm amid this ostensible disarray.” An hour later, he felt positively serene. An hour later, the Falcons had their pass rusher.
They’d landed the free agent Ray Edwards, formerly of Minnesota. And here we stand back to assess what the Falcons have done over an offseason complicated by a work stoppage: Upgraded at receiver, upgraded at defensive end and retained right tackle Tyson Clabo, a free agent himself. If they do nothing else, they look to be a better team than they were last season, and last season they were 13-3. They look to be better because their master planner had, yet again, planned masterfully.
“When we’re called on to adapt,” Dimitroff said, “we want to be adaptable. This league is about being adaptable. The best teams are.”
There was a time — decades of it, actually — when the Falcons were among the NFL’s klutzes. That time ended when Arthur Blank found this GM by way of a webcam interview. Since January 2008 this has been a model organization, smart and assertive and prescient. These Falcons had a plan to handle the lockout. These Falcons have a plan for everything.
“Nothing has surprised me as yet,” Dimitroff said, meaning about the post-lockout process Blank had called “free agency on steroids.” The Falcons made a quick pitch to Charles Johnson, but that defensive end chose to re-up with Carolina for the stunning sum of $72 million ($30 million guaranteed) over six seasons.
Dimitroff again: “This is a puzzle, and it all has to fit together from a skill standpoint and a character standpoint, but it also has to fit financially.”
The Falcons landed Edwards for $30 million ($11.5 guaranteed) over five seasons. That’s a fit cut from regal cloth.
The day had begun with the Falcons shedding Jamaal Anderson and Michael Jenkins, first-round draftees from a previous regime. That was done to clear money for Edwards, who would come aboard not long after the first practice of Training Camp 2011 — a short and sedate walkthrough – ended. (There would be another session, this one with helmets, in the afternoon.)
“As a staff, we were so prepared going into this,” Dimitroff said. “We’ve done a good job of being patient, and we’d said that going in: ‘We have to be patient when things go awry a little bit.’ ”
Nothing really did. The Falcons took a run at Johnson but wound up with Edwards, who’s likewise a left end and who has had 29 1/2 sacks over five NFL seasons to Johnson’s 21 1/2 over four. And they did it at less than half the price.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but these aren’t your father’s Dumb Ol’ Falcons. Dimitroff is shrewd enough to know what to do, bold enough to do it. “When we started, we said we didn’t want to get to the point where we were over-analyzing things,” he said. “There can be a tendency to second-guess and to hesitate, and when you do that you don’t get the person and you’re left holding your backside wondering, ‘What happened?’ ”
What happened Friday was this: The Falcons reported to camp and were given an immediate jolt by news that their GM had delivered. The first day of on-field work ended with this franchise closer to holding the Lombardi Trophy than at any time since Rod Smith beat Eugene Robinson deep in the second quarter of Super Bowl XXXIII.
It’s traditional on the first day of camp to guzzle Gatorade by the jug. On this Friday, an exception needed to be made: The Falcons should have raised a glass of the grape to their snowboarding architect. He’d done his part. The rest is up to them.
By Mark Bradley