Said Dimitroff, speaking on the same conference call from a different location: “We all knew from the very beginning of this transition that we were going to have to learn to work remotely more adeptly, and a lot of us were hesitant about it — not just what was on the other side of it, but how we were going to do it and how comfortable did we feel. We realized the benefit of us being able to have myriad conversations with player after player after player. For Dan and me to pull those off the way that we did — and our scouting staff and our coaching staff — I think we made major strides.”
Quinn: “Think of all the individual meetings a player is going to have with a coach. We’re never going to get this kind of customization again, so why not max that out like hell?”
A skeptic — which regarding the Falcons I usually am, though less so this time — would say that these guys have no choice. After consecutive losing seasons, they’re lucky to be employed. They don’t have the luxury of sitting around raging about grim reality while waiting for normalcy to return in 2021. If they don’t get this draft and this season (assuming there is one) right, they won’t be making decisions for the Flowery Branch franchise next year. They have to take whatever’s thrown their way and run with it.
As fate would have it, a virtual draft could be in the Falcons’ wheelhouse. Dimitroff and Quinn aren’t hidebound. The former had to adjust to Quinn, who arrived seven years after the GM got here, having final say over the roster. Quinn has been nimble enough to find multiple uses for assistant coach Raheem Morris.
A normal Falcons draft room includes 45-50 people. In our time of self-distancing, there will be no shared workspace. Dimitroff will have his own room with three TVs and three computer screens and three phones; Quinn will have his. (There’s also a backup generator at the ready in case of inclement weather.) Some folks would find this unwieldy. Dimitroff said Monday he believes it will be liberating.
“Coming from New England, our draft room was 10 people. Here it’s a lot more than that. Coming back to some of the basics of it, working with Dan daily and our directors — it’s been good. We’ve been able to home in and focus on what is necessary for us, we think, to take it to another level.”
The complexities of a virtual draft have led some NFL types to speculate that teams will be reluctant do the usual trading-up/down. That could offer a free run for Dimitroff, the world’s most ardent trader-upper. (Or it could mean nothing it all. This is all new.) Whatever the case, the Falcons must be aggressive. They suffered a significant talent drain because of salary-cap considerations — Austin Hooper, Devonta Freeman, Desmond Trufant and De’Vondre Campbell and gone. Nobody’s sure about Todd Gurley’s knees; he’s still in L.A., having signed for $6 million without undergoing a physical. Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Alex Mack are on the high side of 30.
This is not a rebuilding team. Indeed, the Falcons could start 10 first-round picks on offense, which would be an NFL-first. (For the record, four were drafted by other clubs.) Dimitroff and Quinn are on the clock as never before. One more non-playoff season, and it’s hello, Lincoln Riley. Any holes, and there are a few, need to be filled over three days in April.
Asked if, with all the comings and goings, the Falcons’ 2020 roster will be as talented as its immediate predecessor, Dimitroff said: “I do believe it will. I know I say that from year to year, but I really do believe that.”
He does say that on an annual basis. This time he needs to be correct. This time, Dimitroff’s dexterity and Quinn’s curiosity could be the biggest assets the Falcons have. They need to think hard and strike fast, and they need to do it in a draft like no other. And they, it says here, just might.