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Atlanta Falcons Takeaways from Last Week – June 16, 2014

June 16th, 2014 Comments off
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Sean Weatherspoon

Once again, the Atlanta Falcons have lost linebacker Sean Weatherspoon to a major injury. This time it is for the rest of 2014 due to a torn Achilles heel which he suffered last Tuesday during practice.

There seems to be three presiding theories on what Weatherspoon’s impending absence will mean to the Falcons.

There’s the conservative theory that losing Spoon is not a huge loss. The presences of second-year linebackers in Paul Worrilow and Joplo Bartu will allow the Falcons defense to navigate the loss of its leader to a competent level.

This theory makes sense given Worrilow and Bartu had to perform the same task a year ago as undrafted rookies. They certainly will be better prepared to fill Spoon’s shoes with a full year under their belts.

But it still does not adequately encompass the loss of Spoon on the field. Which creates the second theory: that Spoon’s absence will have a dramatic negative effect on the team’s defense in 2014.

That is also somewhat fair given the simple fact that neither Worrilow and Bartu are Sean Weatherspoon.

Falcons Have a Leadership Void That Needs to be Filled

Weatherspoon was the defensive leader for a reason. That being that he is one of the team’s best players on the field and has a natural outgoing personality that makes him capable of adopting a leadership role. Neither Worrilow nor Bartu are of Spoon’s talent level on the field, and while Worrilow especially, has shown solid leadership traits, he is not the defensive leader.

Leadership in the National Football League often comes simply from the fact that you’re the best player on the field. Leaders are supposed to rally the troops and when the team needs it and have to be the guys to step up in the face of adversity. Simply put, you can’t lead from the bench.

That being said, it would be more advantageous for the Falcons if Desmond Trufant was the second-year player that stepped up and took on a leadership role in Spoon’s absence versus either Worrilow or Bartu. Trufant was the team’s best defender a year ago and he’ll need to have possibly an even better second season to follow up. Other players like William Moore, Jonathan Babineaux, Osi Umenyiora, Kroy Biermann and Jonathan Massaquoi will also have to step up in the locker room as well as produce on the field.

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Falcons to be Featured on HBO’s Hard Knocks This Summer

June 12th, 2014 Comments off
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Thomas Dimitroff and Arthur Blank celebrate

The Atlanta Falcons announced today that the team will be featured on HBO and NFL Film’s documentary series, “Hard Knocks,” this summer. The show is set to premiere on August 5, 2014 at 10 p.m. Eastern. The team will be featured in five hour-long episodes every Tuesday night.

Rumors surrounding the team’s interest in being featured on the show have persisted for years. Prior to the 2012 season, the team was considered the favorite in league circles to be featured. Instead, the Miami Dolphins were the featured team. The Cincinnati Bengals hosted the series last summer. During the lockout in 2011, GM Thomas Dimitroff indicated that the team was open to the idea, but again had no immediate plans to be featured on the show.

The NFL instituted new rules this past October, nicknamed the “Hard Knocks Rules,” which would require one team per year to be featured on the documentary series. One rule was that it would still allow for volunteers, but one would be ultimately appointed if one wasn’t found. Another that would have seemingly eliminated the Falcons was the reprieve teams would get if they’ve made the playoffs in either of the past two seasons. Presumably that indicates the Falcons volunteered.

Falcons owner Arthur Blank had the following to say about the news:

“We are excited about the opportunity to give our fans a behind the scenes look at what it takes to prepare an NFL team for the rigors of a 16-game regular season and beyond. This marks the first time that our franchise will be featured on HARD KNOCKS and we look forward to showcasing our great players and coaches to football fans all across America.”

Takeaways from Last Week – February 24, 2014

February 24th, 2014 Comments off
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Jadeveon Clowney speaks at the Combine on Saturday

Discussion of the possibility of the Atlanta Falcons trading up made headlines this past weekend following general manager Thomas Dimitroff’s press conference on Friday at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. And of course the dots are being connected to the possibility that South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is the primary target.

But I’m going to pump the brakes on getting too “icky-balooky” over Dimitroff’s revelation. Because frankly, it wasn’t much of one. Dimitroff said nothing in his presser that he hasn’t said leading up to the past two drafts. The only real difference is that Dimitroff made these comments not in April but in February at the Combine, a place where a record number of media members have gathered. Of course it’s going to create headlines and generate buzz when you have such a magnified media presence.

It’s no different than the revelation that Clowney is interested in being a Falcon. Of course he is as Clowney should be interested in any team that is going to take him very high in the draft.

Does this mean that a Clowney-Atlanta marriage is one made in heaven? Perhaps, but there is still a long way to go in the draft process before we reach that fateful evening on May 8.

I indeed hope the Falcons find a way to get Clowney, as he is a once in a generation sort of prospect. I can recall three times in the past where I have been exuberant about a Falcons draft selection. The first was in 2001 when the team’s move to trade up for Michael Vick was first announced. The second came when the team selected Matt Ryan in 2008. And the third was when the team traded up for Julio Jones in 2011. While I didn’t initially approve of that trade, Jones’ talent was to a degree that had me excited about the potential he could bring to the team.

But it is that Jones trade that has me currently hesitant about another move to climb the boards to get Clowney. Unfortunately, when revisiting the Jones trade, there is a tendency to draw a line in the sand with people on either side suggesting that it was all good or alternatively all bad for the Falcons. It’s much more complicated than that, with both costs and benefits to the trade.

I have little doubt that the Falcons would not have achieved the highs of 2012 without making the move to acquire Jones. But at the same time, I don’t think the lows of 2013 would have been quite as bad in the absence of the trade either.

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Falcons Announce Extensions for McKay, Dimitroff, and Smith

January 27th, 2014 1 comment

The Atlanta Falcons today announced that they have reached contract extensions with the three principal figures within the organization: team president Rich McKay, general manager Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Mike Smith. McKay’s deal adds four years to his contract, while both Dimitroff and Smith add another year to their deals. McKay’s deal now runs through 2019 while the latter two are signed through 2015.

McKay last received an extension at the end of the 2009 season. He joined the Falcons in 2003 as the team’s general manager but was relieved of those duties following the team’s disastrous 2007 season. He was then replaced by Dimitroff, and assumed duties solely as team president. In those duties, he has been instrumental in the team’s attempts to build a new stadium, and his extension likely is indicative that owner Arthur Blank intends him to continue those duties through the construction of the stadium. Ground has yet to be broken on the stadium, which is projected to cost in excess of $1 billion, but it is expected to open in 2017.

Dimitroff and Smith appear joined at the hip, and Blank made comments earlier this month that indicate that expectations are for the team to get back on track and have a winning season and playoff berth after a disappointing 4-12 campaign by the Falcons in 2013. Both Dimitroff and Smith received contract extensions following the 2010 season, extending their deals through 2014.

Smith’s extension is pivotal as concerns over his lame duck status have been an underwritten subject this offseason.

Falcons hire Scott Pioli as Assistant GM

January 22nd, 2014 Comments off

John Rieger-US PRESSWIRE

Scott Pioli

The Atlanta Falcons announced today that former Kansas City Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli has been hired as the team’s new assistant general manager. Pioli is a long-time friend and associate of Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff due to their shared time with the New England Patriots. Pioli will join Atlanta when his current contract with NBC Sports and Sirius XM Radio expire on February 3.

Pioli spent four seasons with the Chiefs (2009-12) as their GM after leaving New England. He spent nine seasons in New England, co-running the team alongside head coach Bill Belichick as their director of player personnel. There, Pioli earned NFL Executive of the Year honors from Pro Football Weekly twice (2003, 2007) and Sports Illustrated twice (2003, 2004). He would earn both honors again in 2010 with the Chiefs. SI named him their top sports Executive of the Decade for the 2000s. Prior to his stint in New England, he was pro personnel director for the New York Jets under his father-in-law Bill Parcells from 1997-99. Pioli first encountered Parcells and Belichick when both were with the New York Giants in the 1980s as a student at Syracuse that would visit team practices. Pioli got his first foray into scouting as a pro personnel assistant with the Cleveland Browns in 1992, again with Belichick.

While responsible for drafting Pro Bowlers like safety Eric Berry, defensive tackle Dontari Poe, and linebacker Justin Houston during his time in Kansas City, Pioli was criticized for other poor picks like first rounders defensive end Tyson Jackson and wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin, as well as the trade that brought quarterback Matt Cassel to the team, and coaching hires like Todd Haley and Romeo Crennel.

Dimitroff consulted with Pioli before pulling the trigger on the trade that brought Julio Jones to Atlanta. In his new capacity, Pioli could help alleviate some of the turnover the Falcons have had in their front office in recent years.

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Lionel Vital Sticking With Falcons

January 21st, 2014 Comments off

D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that Atlanta Falcons director of player personnel Lionel Vital has opted to remain in Atlanta rather than join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as their new general manager. Vital was a candidate for that position and interviewed for the vacant job after the Buccaneers dismissed Mark Dominik this offseason.

Vital joined the Falcons shortly after the 2008 draft and was promoted to his current position a year ago when David Caldwell left the team to become the general manager of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Vital is dubbed the next in line in the string of Falcons front office employees that could become an NFL GM.

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Lionel Vital to interview for Bucs GM Job

January 8th, 2014 Comments off

CBS Sports Jason La Canfora first reported that Atlanta Falcons director of player personnel Lionel Vital was under consideration to become the next general manager of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Pro Football Talk indicates that interest has taken the next step as Vital will interview for the vacant position. No reports yet on when said interview will be conducted.

Vital was first hired by the Falcons in May 2008, but was promoted to his current position a year ago after the hiring of David Caldwell by the Jacksonville Jaguars to be their GM. Vital’s name was first indicated a year ago to be one of the potentially hot names entering 2014:

He was a candidate a year ago for the GM position for an expansion CFL team in Ottawa.

Vital has an extensive scouting history, with connections not only to Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff, but also to Baltimore Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome and New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. Prior to landing with the Falcons, Vital served three seasons under Newsome as a national scout in Baltimore. Before that, he was a member of the Patriots front office for five seasons mainly as an assistant director of college scouting, where he worked closely with Dimitroff and Belichick. Vital was a scout for the New York Jets from 1997-99 where he scoured the southeast region of the U.S. He also served as a scout under Belichick with the Cleveland Browns from 1991-95. Prior to his stints as an NFL scout, Vital was a personnel director with the Montreal Machine of the World League of American Football in the early 90s after a brief stint as a running back with the Washington Redskins (1987).

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Takeaways from Week 12

November 25th, 2013 Comments off
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Thomas Dimitroff Will Face Greater Scrutiny in 2014

Last week, Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank gave head coach Mike Smith a vote of confidence. That was followed up on Thursday, with further elaboration that Blank fully intends to bring Smith and GM Thomas Dimitroff back for 2014. Then later on Thursday, the Falcons played their best game since Week 7.

Maybe, Blank should have backed Smith a month ago.

Blank indicated in Silver’s report that regardless of how the Falcons finish this year, the Terrible Twosome in Smith and Dimitroff will be back. I guess that nips my belief that if the Falcons were to finish 2-14 or 3-13 that Smith would be fired. Although never say never. The Falcons could revert back to getting blown out for the final five games, and I think Blank would have to strongly consider making a change.

But truth be told, I don’t want the Falcons to blow things up. Or at least, I don’t want to feel like the Falcons have to blow things up.

What is most concerning about Blank’s comments is that it may lead to this team not making major changes to their “process.”

For the most part over the years, I have backed the so-called “process.” But the problem with the Falcons process is that it represents very little progress.

Complacency, more so than Injuries are Falcons Downfall

The story of this season will center on injuries and complacency. This team has obviously suffered a number of injuries which have limited their ability to field a competitive team. My personal opinion is that the amount of injuries doesn’t explain how uncompetitive this team has been since the bye week, but I’m sure that is going to be what the Falcons chalk their struggles up to this off-season.

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Falcons promote Vital to replace Caldwell

January 11th, 2013 Comments off

Adam Schefter of ESPN first reported, which was later confirmed via release by the Falcons that Lionel Vital has been promoted to Director of Player Personnel. Vital was previously titled Associate Director of Player Personnel, and now takes over the vacated position of David Caldwell. Earlier this week, Caldwell was hired to become the new general manager of the Jacksonville Jaguars. That position was previously held by Les Snead, who left the Falcons following the 2011 season to become the GM of the St. Louis Rams.

Vital joined the Falcons in following the 2008 draft as the Assistant Director of Player Personnel a week after Caldwell joined the franchise. Prior to joining the Falcons, Vital spent three years with the Baltimore Ravens as a national scout. He worked closely with Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff during their shared time with the New England Patriots, prior to Vital’s stint in Baltimore. Vital was a member of the Patriots front office for five seasons. He also worked with Dimitroff and many of his Patriot cohorts in the early 90s with the Cleveland Browns.

Given the recent pipeline of general managers from Atlanta’s front office, many suspect Vital will be on the short list of top candidates heading in 2014. He’s already been linked to being a candidate for the GM position with the CFL expansion team in Ottawa that begins play next year. Although this promotion likely rules him out there.

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Caldwell on the verge of becoming Jaguars’ next GM

January 8th, 2013 Comments off

Jay Glazer of FOX Sports tweeted earlier tonight that the Jacksonville Jaguars have “tabbed” Falcons VP of Player Personnel David Caldwell as their next general manager. Caldwell is set to take over for Gene Smith, who was fired at the end of the season. Caldwell has been a member of the Falcons front office since 2008. Per Glazer, he is in the midst of negotiating a contract with the team.

The expectation that Caldwell was the Jaguars top choice became clear when he was granted a second, then third interview with team officials. Caldwell was also in the running for the GM position with the New York Jets.

Caldwell will be tasked with determining the immediate coaching future of Mike Mularkey, who just finished his first season as the Jaguars head coach with a 4-12 record. Mularkey spent a previous four seasons as the Falcons offensive coordinator. But several sources have indicated that Caldwell could lean towards hiring 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman as Mularkey’s replacement. Caldwell and Roman were once college roommates and teammates at John Carroll University.

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