Atlanta Falcons Stay True To Their Off-Season Plan. Will It Pay Off?
There's beauty in watching a plan come together. Abraham Lincoln once said that if you "give me six hours to chop down a tree...I will spend the first four sharpening the axe." Atlanta Falcons fans have been watching Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith sharpen the axe for two years now. And it has not been pretty. From Teez Tabor to Auden Tate and everyone in between, the Falcons have been shopping in the bargain bin when free agency comes around. And now, with almost seventy million dollars and plenty of glaring holes to fill, the Atlanta Falcons...still bargain-shopped. I guess old habits die hard. Or was this the plan all along? We dive deeper into what seems to be the plan for the Atlanta Falcons this off-season...and if it will pay off in the long run.
Will Staying True To Their Plan This Off-Season Pay Off For The Atlanta Falcons?
On March 28th (oh my God, yes, it's 3/28. Get over yourselves.), the Atlanta Falcons unveiled their starting quarterback for 2023: James Desmond Ridder. Arthur Smith's presser at the Owner's Meetings in Phoenix, AZ, along with other statements like this one with Steve Wyche of NFL Network, confirmed that Desmond Ridder will be the starting quarterback in 2023. At least, that's the plan for now.
National media has already voiced their displeasure with the move. Not necessarily because of the play of Ridder. But because of the 26-year-old former MVP that is available and vocal about his plans to move on from the team that drafted him in Baltimore. But time and time again, the Atlanta Falcons have shown that they have no interest in Lamar Jackson and I don't see that changing.
However, now it's starting to seem that their lack of interest in Lamar has been the label for the off-season for the 2023 Atlanta Falcons. And given their other moves, I guess it makes some sense.
No Flash, Just Functionality
There haven't been any flashy moves from the Atlanta Falcons this off-season. I mean, other than bringing in the former 2nd-team all-pro safety Jessie Bates. And even then...it's a safety. It's not a Jalen Ramsey or a DeAndre Hopkins trade. Just a really good safety coming in and bringing versatility to the back end of a new defense.
Then you look at the other signings and moves: David Onyemata, Kaden Elliss, Jonnu Smith, Joe Gaziano. How many of these can be seen as flashy moves? I mean, these aren't premium positions. The only premium positions the Falcons addressed are backup quarterback with Taylor Heinicke and wide receiver with probable depth pieces Mack Hollins and Scotty Miller. Still not flashy. What else is there to talk about except the perfect marriage between Lamar Jackson and the Arthur Smith offense? It's enticing. It's sexy. It's what the people want!
But it's not what Arthur and Terry want and the more I look at it, it's clear what they want.
Stabilize And Thrive
It seems that the plan for this free agency period was not only to bring in solid contributors but to stabilize the foundation of this team. Let's look at some of the moves:
Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary both are back on long-term deals to stabilize the right side of the offensive line. Atlanta was first in frequency running both off the right tackle and right end according to Football Outsiders. That does not happen without the outstanding play of both Lindstrom and McGary in the run game.
Ryan Nielsen gets David Onyemata and Kaden Elliss for continuity in his front seven as he gets acclimated to the talent in Atlanta. What they do up front is still anyone's guess but they look to be attacking in a variety of ways. Which is perfect for the swiss-army knife in Elliss. The hybrid front also allows guys like Troy Andersen and Arnold Ebeketie more freedom to attack in their own unique ways.
Jonnu Smith allows Kyle Pitts to be more versatile like he was his rookie year in Arthur Smith's offense. Mack Hollins and Scotty Miller opens up the wide receiver position in the draft as they continue to bolster the offense with young, talented pass-catchers.
While these aren't the splashy moves that draw the ire of a casual fan or fans of either teams. They are good moves. These types of moves are ones that you make when you're still trying to build something. Trotting out a third-round pick at quarterback to give him a shot at the franchise spot and relying on second-and-third-year guys to "take the next step" to compete sends a clear message. We are not at the finished product yet.
But the question remains: Will this plan ultimately work?
Will Their Plan Work?
This season will be the first where we should see the vision of what the Atlanta Falcons are to look like for the near future. What Nielsen and Smith will be cooking up for their respective offenses and defenses.
Will their plan work? Unfortunately, there's no telling. There are too many methods of team-building that have worked to know for sure.
But Terry and company are sticking to their plan. They are holding firm to the fact that they see a vision for this team. And they don't care whether the moves are flashy or not. As long as they continue to sharpen that axe. Maybe, just maybe, they'll be able to chop down that tree after all.