I understand that not winning is disappointing. What I couldn’t understand was the amount of vitriol directed toward the Falcons this offseason. They were Doing Nothing. (As if keeping eight key free agents was tantamount to nothing.) They were Content With Mediocrity. (As if four consecutive winning seasons could be deemed mediocre.) They needed — this is always a personal favorite — to Show More Urgency. (As if hyperventilation is a hallmark of clever management.)
I understand that we as a society demand instant gratification at all times. What I couldn’t understand was the utter misreading of the Falcons as an organization. Being a member of the media offers access that the general public doesn’t get, so I can excuse the masses for not knowing better. But anyone who has been around the Falcons since January 2008 surely must know that Thomas Dimitroff and Mike Smith are not men who spend their days reclining in Barcaloungers eating Tostitos and watching “Three’s Company” reruns instead of game tape.
These are smart, driven men, and here I want to underscore the second adjective. Not a day passes that Smitty and Dimitty don’t ask themselves the question that stewards of every professional team must ask: How can we get better? The giddy turnaround of 2008 didn’t satisfy them. (If it had, they wouldn’t have dumped half their defense.) The 13-3 season of 2010 didn’t satisfy them. (Otherwise they’d never have done the five-for-one Julio Jones trade.)
To suggest that the Falcons have grown fat and happy just to keep making the playoffs in Round 1 is, at least to these eyes, a grievous error. To suggest that this front office would leave an avenue unexplored is an affront to the brainpower housed at 4400 Falcon Parkway, Flowery Branch, Ga. Have there been draft picks who haven’t hit big? Absolutely. Has every imported free agent had the desired effect? No. But this isn’t an organization that’s apt to be outsmarted.
Having worked here since 1984, I can tell you that hasn’t always been the case. There were Falcons management teams I wouldn’t have trusted to pour Pepsi from a boot, and those who followed the team in those dark days will recall my disdain over nearly every move. But Dimitroff and Smith are different: They’re the best GM/coach in team history, and I don’t mean that as faint praise. I’m willing to cut a team almost any amount of slack if I believe it is well run.
Not every John Schuerholz move panned out, but I was never of the opinion that the Braves under that Hall of Fame general manager weren’t in wise and capable hands. I feel the same about these Falcons. Have they won a Super Bowl yet? No, but winning championships isn’t easy. It took Schuerholz’s Braves five seasons (one of them a strike year) to take the World Series. If my abacus is correct, Dimitroff and Smith are in Year 5. And their team looks better by the day.
They have new coordinators, at least one of whom was sorely needed, and a new line coach, also a necessity. (For all who wondered: Why did the Falcons stick with Mike Mularkey/Brian Van Gorder/Paul Boudreau so long … well, the 2011 season marked the first step backward under this administration, which had gone from 11-5 to a fairly gutty 9-7 to 13-3.) They kept those eight free agents, and now they’ve traded for cornerback Asante Samuel, once a Pro Bowler and still spry enough to bolster the secondary.
This has not been an offseason spent Doing Nothing. This has been a time of mid-course corrections. The Falcons got good in a hurry, but they haven’t quite gotten to great — which isn’t to say they’ve stopped trying. (And they’ll keep trying via the draft, which begins Thursday for most teams but is scheduled to commence Friday for the Falcons.) This has become an aggressive organization, and just because they didn’t make a run at Mario Williams shouldn’t have been construed as a lack of commitment.
I’m not here to serve as an apologist. This administration has made mistakes, and this team played to 60 percent of its capacity last season. But I see nothing in Dimitroff and Smith — or Arthur Blank or Matt Ryan or Julio Jones — that would preclude these men from winning a Super Bowl. They’re bright enough, and they’re hungry enough. With the Saints in chaos, the Falcons will reclaim the NFC South this fall. And then?
On March 8, 2010 — the day the Falcons signed Dunta Robinson — I wrote that this team would win a Super Bowl within three years. There’s one year left. I stand by that belief.
By Mark Bradley