Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank mentioned in a recent interview that he liked his team as it is constructed and that the coaching changes they have made will help them get over the playoff hump they have encountered the past four years. I’m sorry to say it but that’s hogwash and he knows it.
What he was really saying is that his team has done a poor job of managing cap space and that his coaching staff must do a better job of evaluating talent.
The Falcons have over-paid for sub-par talent and have done a poor job of finding talent in not just the higher rounds but the lower rounds of the draft during the four years that head coach Mike Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff have been in Atlanta.
Name one rookie free agent, practice squad player or low draft pick that has made a significant contribution to the Falcons over the past four years. Sure you have undrafted players like Tyson Clabo and Brent Grimes on the roster but this coaching staff didn’t find either one of those players.
Both of those guys were discovered by a previous coaching staff. Finding those gems is very important to building a roster though.
Just look at last year’s Super Bowl contestants. Both the New England Patriots and New York Giants do a good job of locating talent through the draft but look at the undrafted free agents who made valuable contributions to their team.
The Patriots have Danny Woodhead, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Wes Welker who were all undrafted free agents that contributed to their Super Bowl run. The Giants received big contributions from Victor Cruz, Jake Ballard and Mark Herzlich.
It seems like Dimitroff would understand how important it is to locate and develop talent since he was brought in from the Patriots’ organization. The draft is nice for finding talent to build your roster but the Patriots and Giants have also located talent in other ways.
Welker was an undrafted free agent by the Miami Dolphins. He was a backup receiver and return man for the Dolphins during his time there. The Patriots brought him in and he ended up winning the starting position alongside Randy Moss. The rest as they say is history.
Victor Cruz made an enormous impact for the Giants as a big-play receiver. He made it possible for the Giants to let wide receiver Steve Smith go during the offseason saving them money under the cap. The same is true of Ballard whose presence allowed the Giants to let Kevin Boss walk in free agency.
And while it’s a lot easier to name offensive players who made it big without being drafted because they get more television exposure; good defensive players come out of the undrafted ranks too. Defensive players like Sam Shields of the Green Bay Packers, Erin Henderson of the Minnesota Vikings, Akeem Jordan of the Philadelphia Eagles and of course Grimes who I mentioned earlier were also undrafted.
Solid talent has also been found on other teams’ practice squads. The Cowboys picked up Laurent Robinson off of the San Diego Chargers’ practice squad last year and he ended up having a great year. So great in fact that it landed him a lucrative contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars over the offseason.
But we haven’t seen this kind of effort by the Falcons to locate talent that will help improve this team. Free agency isn’t really an option for the Falcons since they have so little room under the salary cap which means that the Falcons will have to find more low budget options in order to continue building this team.
Or continue to rely on aging talent which is not a very good idea. The Falcons have some very old players occupying key positions on the team which means they not only need to fill the spots where they are weak they also need to be grooming successors for aging players like Tony Gonzalez, John Abraham, and Todd McClure.
And that’s not going to happen with the six picks the Falcons have in the upcoming draft. The Falcons won’t have a first round or a fourth round pick because of the Julio Jones trade which means they better get more creative finding talent. If not they may end up taking a few steps backwards in the next couple of seasons.
Roosevelt Hall is an NFL Blogger for The Sport Mentalist and an NBA Blogger for The Sport Mentalist 2. He is also a Sports Reporter for Pro Sports Lives. He can be contacted at RHall_TPFB@Yahoo.com and be sure to follow him on Twitter @sportmentalist.