Falcons owner Arthur Blank has studied the transition period at the quarterback position of several teams around the NFL.
While he noted that new general manager Terry Fontenot and coach Arthur Smith think highly of current quarterback Matt Ryan, he pointed out that it would be prudent to get prepared for the future at the league’s key position.
“Transition doesn’t have to be overnight,” Blank said Thursday on a virtual call with Atlanta reporters.
He noted that Kansas City Chiefs, who are set to play in Super Bowl LV on Sunday, drafted Patrick Mahomes and sat him for a year.
“Came out of kind of a street-football system,” Blank said. “I say that respectfully. He probably would disagree and his coach then would. He needed to get some more training, more transition. He worked under certainly a great quarterback in Alex Smith for a year.”
Blank noted that the great Tom Brady, who set to play in his 10th Super Bowl on Sunday, didn’t start immediately. However, Brady was a sixth-round pick.
“Tom didn’t start for the Patriots until (there) was an injury,” Blank said.
Then he threw in Aaron Rodgers, who was drafted when the Green Bay Packers already had Brett Favre as their starting quarterback.
“Aaron sat on the bench behind Brett Favre for a period of time,” Blank said.
It was pointed out to Blank that it sounded like the Falcons are drafting a quarterback with the fourth overall pick. Most mock drafts have them selecting either Ohio State’s Justin Fields or BYU’s Zach Wilson.
“I don’t know, that’s your view,” Blank said about the Falcons drafting a quarterback. “I’m not the person who’s going to take the card off the board. That’s not my job. It’s my job to have people that think about all of those things. That is my job.”
Blank believes that Falcons are set for an eventual transition at wide receiver from Julio Jones to Calvin Ridley, much like Roddy White passed the torch to Julio Jones as the WR1.
“We’ll be able to do that at some point, but not immediately, but at some point with Julio,” Blank said. “That’s what fans should really expect of us. That’s our job. It’s not just to win today, but to prepare for tomorrow, so we can win tomorrow as well.”
Blank supports Fontenot’s plan to select the best player available in the draft.
“He told me in the interviewing process of his experience with Ozzie Newsome, who we all know as one of the more highly regarded general managers in the history of the league,” Blank said.
“Ozzie has always taken the position philosophically of drafting the best player regardless of need. I would say we have not always done that. Sometimes we’ve looked at need and moved toward need first. In any event, that’s a lot of his orientation.”
Blank said it hurt him some to point to the rival Saints as an example.
“They obviously have built a winning franchise, and he’s been there for 18 years,” Blank said of Fontenot. “He worked for one of the most respected general managers in the league (Mickey Loomis). He’s worked very closely with a highly regarded head coach, Sean Payton, who’s not always the easiest person to work with. But his standards for excellence are extraordinarily high. He’s got a really good background both on the pro side and since 2015 on the college side.”
So, for now, Ryan and Jones are in the immediate plans of the new regime.
“They acknowledged that those are two very special athletes,” Blank said. “Two very special players. They both acknowledged that they are both not at the end of their road. Matt has performed at high level since 2008. He’s one of only two quarterbacks in the history of the league that has thrown for more 4,000 yards over a 10-year period.
“He and Drew Brees are the only two. Drew has and is obviously a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Matt clearly can continue to play at a high level.”
Jones was slowed by a hamstring injury last season and played in only nine games. His streak of six seasons with at least 1,390 yards receiving was snapped.
“With Julio, it’s subject to him staying healthy, which is not really ‘quote’ his fault,” Blank said. “He does whatever he can to keep in shape and stay in shape. If he gets injured, it’s usually a soft-tissue injury.”
At some point the Falcons will have to make a transition.
“In this business of football, athletes are going to age,” Blank said. “Their skills are probably going to decline a little bit. Are you prepared for the future?
“That’s what good head coaches and general managers do. That’s what good owners do. They make sure they are hiring people who understand it’s not just about winning next Sunday, but it’s about winning on a longer continuum than that.”
Blank believes the Falcons clearly have more pressing concerns on the roster.
“I don’t think our biggest challenge will be in our receiver room,” Blank said. “We have to establish a running game again. We’ve had one in the past. Not the last couple of years.
“If we establish the running game, it makes the passing game much easier. It makes your ability to control the game. Control the clock. Control the tempo of the game. It creates your ability to quote, unquote, impose your will on the other team. Without it, it’s very hard to do those things.”
Blank finally admitted that being $33 million to $36 million over the salary cap will be an issue.
“I think we’ll probably have some difficult decisions to make this year,” Blank said.
He’s hoping the projected $175 million salary cap is raised higher.
“On the other hand, this is just may personal opinion, I have no evidence of this, but my personal opinion is that the cap will not be at 175 this year,” Blank said. “It will be some number higher than that.”
Blank believes the league and the NFLPA will spend the losses for the 2020 season over a period of years to elevate the 2021 cap.
“I don’t think they’ll make it a one-year hit,” Blank said. “I think that would be too difficult. It’s really not in the best interest of not only the league and the clubs, but our fans. Because you’d have clubs that would have to make some very difficult decisions on some very good players that ordinarily wouldn’t be doing.
“There will be something worked out. Not to say it’s going to be easy, but I think it will be workable.”
Blank noted that one way to increase revenue would be to add the 17th game that the players have already agree to.
“In my opinion, I think it will be a 17-game season next year,” Blank said. “I think that will help.”