Cover 9@9: Terry Fontenot on judging QBs, plus much more from the Falcons’ GM

INDIANAPOLIS -- For the combine, we’ll skip our usual nine items and give you the full transcript of Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot’s address Tuesday.

Here’s what Fontenot had to say to the national media:

Q: How does former Falcons coach Arthur Smith put an offense together? He’s in Pittsburgh now.

A: “Love Arthur Smith. ... We spent three years together. We were like brothers. We had a really collaborative relationship. I love Arthur. I love his family. We’re rooting for him ... going to Pittsburgh. Arthur, you spend any time with him, you can tell he’s a smart guy. All he is worried about is making that football team better. I’ve gotten to talk to coach (Mike) Tomlin over the last few weeks now being with (coach) Raheem (Morris) and the relationship that he has with Mike Tomlin. I know they are going to have a really good relationship. They are going to do everything that they can to make that team as good as they can.”

Q: On his relationship with Morris and what he has he learned about the new Falcons coach over the past month?

A: “It’s really exciting, every single day. Every single moment. Whether if it’s a meeting in the morning, text at night, whatever it is. Everybody talks about collaboration. It’s really collaborative. He’s put together an excellent staff. I would say that we have some real smart coaches that are very collaborative. The communications has been outstanding. It’s been very exciting working with Raheem and that whole staff.”

Q: How did the February scouting meetings go?

A: “They were outstanding. The meetings went really well. Kyle Smith runs those meetings and the fun thing about those meetings is that they are just based off of film, right. So, we had the football games played. The season played and then the all-star games. So, it’s just based off film. Obviously, we go through the make-ups of the players as well. We haven’t gotten anyone else involved. We have to go through the combine and the pro days. We stack the whole board based off of football. The meetings were excellent. It showed that this is a really, really strong draft.”

Q: The QB situation, notwithstanding, what are some of the other personnel issues for the Falcons?

A: “I wouldn’t look at any position and say that we won’t add to that position. Again, we feel really good about our offensive line and where we are there. But you always want to build strengths. You want to add to strengths. The way that we go through this process, whether we are talking about free agency, whether we are talking about the draft, we want to add good football players that fit the makeup. When we were sitting here last year at this time, you may not have thought that we were going to go after a safety in free agency, but when you have a player who is unique, it was unique to have a player like Jessie Bates available that fits the makeup/profile. He’s a multiplier in terms of the makeup and the character, and he’s a good football player. Let’s add those players regardless of the position they are at. So, I would say, we need to improve this entire roster. We are not going to close any doors at any position.”

Q: How is (defensive lineman) Grady Jarrett feeling?

A: “Grady is excellent (as he returns from surgery in November). We all know that he’s going to be ahead of schedule. We don’t put any specific dates about this is when. ... But when you know Grady, what type of person that he is, the heart, the head and everything that he is about, he’ll figure out a way to be on schedule. It’s moreso holding him back and making sure even with Grady. We try to manage him, and if you hold him out of practice sometimes during the season, and he’s like a little kid, pouting when you don’t let him practice. That’s who he is. Grady is going to be ahead of schedule, whatever that schedule is. We feel good about that.”

Q: How much business do you try to get done at the combine?

A: “You have your plan. Then you know what you’re going to attack and you’re going to be aggressive, but that’s why we have all of these conversations. You have to be light on your feet. You get a lot of information when you are talking to GMs, when you’re talking to agents. You learn about a player, hey, this player might be available. This player might be cut. You learn a lot, too. We always have a plan, but it’s not fixed. You have to flexible. You have to be adaptive, so sometimes things can happen quicker. Sometimes, they take more time. You have to be light on your feet.”

O: What are the expectations for tight end Kyle Pitts?

A: “We have a lot of faith in Kyle. Obviously, he was dealing with an injury this season. Look, he fought through and finished the season. But now, he’s healthy. He can have a healthy offseason. We are very excited about our new tight ends coach, coach (Kevin) Koger and obviously Zac Robinson our offensive coordinator, we’re very excited about them. They are going to get the most out of the players in this building. We know that Kyle is going to put in the work and get the most of himself. We’re going to continue to add, but we are very excited about Kyle having a great offseason and having a great year.” (Pitts’ $10.88 million fifth-year option is expected to be granted.)

Q: How have quarterback evaluations changed over the past 10 years?

A: “It’s always here and here (points to heart and head). It’s from the neck up. It’s about who you are as a person. You talk about those two quarterbacks (Patrick Mahomes and Brock Purdy, first- and last-round picks facing off in the last Super Bowl). It’s the makeup that makes them special. That will never change. Whether you are talking about draft, talking about free agency, there are a lot of different flavors. A lot of different skill sets, physical attributes, but what never changes is that it’s about the makeup and the character ... there is no more pressure ... outside of the head coach. At that position you have more pressure than at that specific position. Right, I don’t care where it is. I don’t care if you’re talking about a high school quarterback. College. NFL. There’s a lot of pressure. You can’t predict how a person is going to handle that pressure. They have to have the right things in here (the heart) and in here (the head) to handle that. I would say, that’s what hasn’t changed.”

Q: How do you assess the heart and head?

A: “It’s everything. Everything you do. The scouts work really hard. They are in the schools. They are talking to everybody. We go through that process. It’s what you see on the film. It’s us spending time with them, as much time as we can with them here and in other places. You just gather as much information as you can and you put everything together. It’s not a perfect science. If someone had the perfect thing that you had to look at, obviously, they’d be a genius. So, it’s not a perfect science. But that’s why we are working hard to assess that.”

Q: Why is quarterback such a hard position to evaluate?

A: “It’s just what we said. There is not a position that has so much pressure on it than that position. There is so much pressure involved in it, and there is a lot of different factors to it. It’s obviously not easy. You take 32 teams and everybody is always trying to do the same things. It’s not easy.”

Q: On how much of the Falcon success in 2024 hinges of getting that quarterback position right this year?

A: “We’ve got to get it right. That’s real clear. We haven’t shied away from that. We know that’s critical to get that position right. But it doesn’t stop there, we’ve got to get the right quarterback in. We have to improve this entire roster and get ready to roll this season.”

Q: Specific to the quarterback position, how do you weigh short and long-term goals there? Veteran versus a rookie?

A: “We won’t close any doors. It can be a veteran. It can be a young player. We won’t close any doors. It’s about getting it right. Whatever that is. The cool thing about this year is that there are a lot of really good options in all areas. There are good options regarding veterans. UFAs (unrestricted free agents). Possible trades. There are a lot of good options. The critical part is to make sure that we get it right.”

Q: What’s the biggest red flag with the quarterback in terms of something that would really scare you off of a prospect?

A: “It’s all about the makeup. It’s got to be the right person. Because we’ve seen different players do it different ways in terms of skill set. In terms of background, where they came from. We’ve seen a lot of different guys do it different ways. You have to know the makeup.”

Q: Have you had any conversations with (quarterback) Desmond (Ridder) since the end of the season?

A: “Just like any of our players, we’re in constant communications with players on our roster. No different than with Desmond or any other player. We’ve had constant communication with him.”

Q: Why did the Falcons add to the running back position last year?

A: “That’s kind of what I was talking about with Jessie Bates. You add a guy like Jessie Bates because of his makeup and skill set. You get excited about him. That’s our mindset with any position. It’s not about drafting a running back, it’s about drafting the right guy and adding the right guy. A guy like Bijan (Robinson), we believe he’s the right player. The skill set. The makeup. Everything aligns. When you get players like that they are multipliers. They make people around them better. So, it’s not ... we don’t get caught up in what the specific position is, we are just adding good football players.”

Q: How did you evaluate Bijan Robinson’s rookie year?

A: “He did some really good things. We saw it. He did some special things and yet there are areas that we are going to continue to improve with him. Just like everybody else. Did some good things. Showed some really good things. It comes down to winning and we didn’t win enough. So, everybody is looking in the mirror and saying what can I do better? I know he’s doing that. What can I do to help the team win more? I would say he had a great rookie year and I would say that he’s going have a better year in ‘24.”

Q: How do you assess the 11-player contingent from the University of Georgia?

A: “I won’t go through each one of them, but obviously it’s a good group. That’s one of the better teams in the country. So they put some good football players (out each season). (Georgia coach) Kirby (Smart) knows how to pick them coming out of high school, and he knows how to coach them up and get them ready to go. We are always looking hard not just at the players on Georgia’s roster, but there are a lot of players from Georgia. ... We love our hometown guys.”

Q: Where did Bill Belichick’s vision align with (Fontenot’s) vision and where did it differ?

A: “Just like (owner) Arthur Blank said. We went through the process with coach Belicheck. He was willing to work with the staff and be collaborative. He was ready to coach. Those were great interviews with coach Belichick and with a lot of other people. It came down to Raheem, and we’re very excited about Raheem moving forward.”

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

Q: What was it about Zac Robinson and his ability to develop quarterbacks that made him an attractive commodity at offensive coordinator?

A: “Great question. ... Developing quarterbacks. He played quarterback. Not just Zac, but T.J. Yates, our quarterbacks coach, played quarterback. We’ve got other guys in our group. Ken Zampese and D.J. Williams. We have a lot of really good guys in regards to the quarterback part. But it’s not just about that, it’s about the offense as a whole. When you hear Zac talk, you can hear how intelligent he is, but not just intelligent, but how forward-thinking that he is. So, he’s not going to be fixed on a specific thing that he’s always done. We’re just going to do it this way. He’s going to look at every player on our roster and how can we maximize each one of those players. How can we bring players in and continue to grow. That part of it, the quarterback process, evaluating all of the free agents, evaluating all of the college prospects, that’s a very important part of it. Not just Zac, but there is a really good group that we are going through that with right now.”

Q: How important is it to know what other teams are thinking? How to kind of sift through what’s real and what’s not?

A: “So, I don’t listen to that information. Because there a lot of things out there that just aren’t accurate. Personally, I don’t read or listen to those other things. I just stay focused on our process and with what we need to do. Now, we do have conversations with other teams. We gather as much information as we can. There is some real things that we get from direct communications, but I don’t read what the narratives are. You’ll go crazy if you do that. It’s just about focusing on our process and knowing what is real. ... Thank y’all.”

The Bow Tie Chronicles