Dimitroff confident Falcons can fill holes in draft, free agency

New England coach Bill Belichick instructs former Georgia linebackers Davin Bellamy  (center), Lorenzo Carter (far left) and Reggie Carter (rear) on how to run a drill at the Bulldogs’ Pro Day Wednesday in Georgia’s indoor practice facility in Athens.
New England coach Bill Belichick instructs former Georgia linebackers Davin Bellamy  (center), Lorenzo Carter (far left) and Reggie Carter (rear) on how to run a drill at the Bulldogs’ Pro Day Wednesday in Georgia’s indoor practice facility in Athens.

Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff has done a commendable job re-building the team in concert with coach Dan Quinn over the past three years. But perceived criticism also has a tendency to bring out his sensitive side -- albeit in an amusing, fun sort of way.

So it wasn’t surprising on Wednesday when Dimitroff responded to a question about free agency by looking in my direction and saying, “Well, you edified me in your most recent column, so I appreciate that.”

(Note: This prompted several sports writers to pull out their smart phones and Google “edified.”)

It has been a quiet offseason to this point for the Falcons. They followed a relative self-inflicted playoff loss to Philadelphia with an early free agency period in which they’ve mostly watched while rival NFC teams sign potential game-changing players. Meanwhile, the Falcons picked up the modestly priced Brandon Fusco to fill a gaping hole at right guard.

So, yes, last week I wrote a column illustrating how other teams had done more to improve themselves to this point of the offseason than the Falcons.

Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff (left) and coach Dan Quinn were among those in attendance at Georgia’s Pro Day.
Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff (left) and coach Dan Quinn were among those in attendance at Georgia’s Pro Day.

Credit: David Goldman

Credit: David Goldman

Dimitroff, who was among about 20 Falcons’ officials, coaches and scouts attending Georgia’s Pro Day, acknowledged that economics has factored into the team’s relative hands-off approach to free agency.

Other obvious factors: Last year’s lucrative contract extensions given to running back Devonta Freeman and cornerback Desmond Trufant, both of whom could have become free agents this offseason, as well as the impending, roughly $30 million a year extension for quarterback Matt Ryan.

Dimitroff said the Ryan deal “could be just around the corner” but reiterated that there’s “no rush” because the Falcons have a working dollar figure in mind.

“We knew what we were getting into,” said Dimitroff, speaking for the first time since the start of free agency. “We weren’t going to spin off in (another direction) free agency. It’s not just about trying to get some shiny new cat in here.”

Let’s be clear about something: NFL teams are best built through the draft, player development and identifying and re-signing the roster’s most important pieces. The Falcons have done that as well as or better than any NFL teams in the last three season, punctuated by three tremendous drafts. New young defensive talent includes Takk McKinley (2017), Keanu Neal (2016), Deion Jones (2016), DeVondre Campbell (2016), Vic Beasley (2015) and Grady Jarrett (2015).

But free agency can go a long way toward putting a team over the top. The Falcons are a prime example of this. Two years ago, they signed center Alex Mack and wide receiver Mohamed Sanu. Both were instrumental in the team getting to the Super Bowl.

But Dimitroff said he feels no angst about an offseason that has seen Philadelphia, Minnesota, Los Angeles and San Francisco all make significant pre-draft moves.

“You have a valid point when you talk about what other teams are doing and what we have done in the past,” Dimitroff since. “Since I’ve been here we’ve done one or two (signings) here or there, never four or five and going hog wild. … (But) we’re excited about what’s out there in the draft.”

The loss of Dontari Poe to Carolina is a hit to the run defense. But coach Dan Quinn, a defensive line assistant by trade, feels comfortable with his front four in nickel situations, which accounted for approximately 70 percent of the defensive snaps a year ago. That front (left to right) will be Beasley, Jarrett, Jack Crawford (who’s coming back from a bicep injury) and McKinley.

With the free agency loss of Poe, as well as Adrian Clayborn, defensive tackle is a top priority going into the draft. Tight end (preferably a veteran), fullback, wide receiver and linebacker also are needs.

Not surprisingly, the Falcons appeared enamored with Georgia’s linebackers at Pro Day, led by Roquan Smith (who could be a top 10 pick), Lorenzo Carter (projected to go in the second or third round) and Davin Bellamy (fourth round or later).

“It’s a talented group,” Dimitroff said. “Big guys who have range. When you talk about Carter or Roquan, those guys can fly. Their range is so important for our defense.”

New England’s Bill Belichick was among the four NFL head coaches in attendance. He and new Detroit coach Matt Patricia ran the individual linebacker drills. It was as if all the other coaches, GMs and scouts said, “Whatever Belichick wants to run is fine with us.”

Smith easily stood out. In one drill, new Lions defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni was holding a tackling dummy when Smith launched himself into the pad and knocked down the coach.

“Unfortunately, coach Pasqualoni went down on the floor a little bit,” Dimitroff said.

He called Smith, “very athletic, very explosive. His urgency stood out.”

Falcons’ fans shouldn’t get their hopes up. Smith will be long gone before they pick. But other talent will be available, and other players are needed to fill some cracks this offseason.

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