Say this for the Falcons, about whom we’ve said a lot lately: They aren’t living in denial. They just traded Mohamed Sanu, their No. 2 receiver since 2016, to New England. Oct. 29 is the NFL trade deadline, and most years it amounts to little. That the Falcons made such move tells us they’re looking beyond 2019. Them being 1-6, it’s only prudent.
The Falcons received a Round 2 pick for Sanu — great value for a No. 2 receiver on the high side of 30. And here you’re doubtless asking: Who’ll be left among this Falcons administration to exercise the pick? Nobody knows. But it says something about Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff that they’re less interested in bleeding wins out of a lost season than in down-the-road benefits, even if there’s a strong chance neither will be here beyond December.
The Falcons steeled themselves against Sanu’s eventual exit — his contract lapses after next season — by taking Calvin Ridley in Round 1 last year. The sagacity of the Falcons’ Round 1 picks has come under heightened scrutiny with the latest collapse of their defense. Not since Takkarist McKinley in 2017 has the club spent a first-round choice on a defender, and offense has been the better half of the Falcons … well, since Dimitroff took Matt Ryan No. 3 overall in 2008.
Dimitroff remained the general manager after Mike Smith was fired in December 2014, but Quinn was hired with privileges not afforded his predecessor. This coach was given control over the 53-man roster, which meant that TD the GM essentially served at DQ’s pleasure. The first pick under Quinn was Vic Beasley, who led the NFL in sacks in 2016 and has done nothing since. (The Falcons are said to be trying to move him, too. Good luck there.)
It didn’t escape notice that the first touchdown of the Rams’ 37-10 dissection of the Falcons was a touchdown catch by Todd Gurley, who went two picks after Beasley. Nor has it escaped notice that the Falcons, who have an NFL-worst five sacks, have spent two Round 1 picks under DQ/TD on pass rushers, McKinley being the second.
The Round 1 pick from 2016 was an admitted reach — Keanu Neal — that Quinn justified by saying he needed a strong safety to fortify his defense in the way Kam Chancellor had done in Seattle. Neal has been good when healthy, which he hasn’t been since 2017. He tore an ACL in the 2018 opener. He tore an Achilles in Week 3 this season. This is football. Guys get hurt.
Which brings us to 2019. The team that ranks 27th in total defense and 31st — meaning next-to-last — in points yielded opted not to use its Round 1 choice on a defender. It took offensive linemen Chris Lindstrom instead. Then Dimitroff traded into the first round to snag Kaleb McGary, another blocker. This after the Falcons had signed O-linemen James Carpenter and Jamon Brown as free agents.
This made, it must be said, some sense. Ryan was sacked 42 times last season, the second-highest total of his career. The line had been a massive part of the Super Bowl run but had begun to splinter. Chris Chester retired. Andy Levitre lasted only 15 more games. Ryan Schroeder went from very good to very bad in a New York minute.
The Round 1 rookies, alas, haven’t hit the ground running. Lindstrom was hurt in Week 2 and mightn’t return this season. McGary was slowed by a heart issue in training camp. Through seven games, Ryan has been sacked 19 times, which over a full season would make … 43 sacks! One worse than last year!
(Oh, and the 19th sack Ryan suffered this season has rendered him iffy for Sunday’s game against Seattle. He has a sprained ankle. He left Mercedes-Benz Stadium in a walking boot.)
It was only 2-1/3 years ago that Pro Football Focus named the Falcons’ roster the NFL’s best. That was coming off the Super Bowl, which — understatement alert — didn’t end well. Still, the consensus then was that this was a good young team that would only get better. Counting playoffs, the Falcons are 19-22 since. Their O-line is no better than it was last year. Their defense is the worst it has been under this regime. All that talent hasn’t been brought to bear.
(Here’s where I go into my rant about coaching. But you’ve heard that a zillion times, so let’s move on.)
That the Falcons shed a talented player for a No. 2 pick is admirable. They’re seeing what we’ve seen: These Falcons haven’t been the victims of a slew of close early losses, as happened last fall. Four of its six losses have been by at least 14 points. These guys are getting blown out, often by halftime. Everything is broken, and it’ll take every draft pick the Falcons can rustle up to fix this.
It’s hard to imagine that Quinn will be coaching here next year. It’s also tough to envision a scenario wherein Dimitroff, having survived one coaching change, would be left standing after a second. (Then again, Arthur M. Blank moves in mysterious ways.) All we know today is that the Falcons are 1-6, which is terrible, but they hold a Round 2 pick they didn’t have yesterday, which is something.
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