1. The no-spin zone. After being terminated by the Falcons, former general manager Thomas Dimitroff was a candidate for the Lions’ vacancy last offseason, but he didn’t aggressively pursue any openings this offseason.
During his time off, he drove around the country in a new sprinter van and interviewed 16 general managers. He’s in the process of turning the interviews into a podcast and a video project with Octagon Entertainment.
Dimitroff, in the podcast titled “The GM Journey,” wanted to lift the veil on some of the league’s top decision-makers who normally are not allowed to speak freely to the media – something that frustrated him during his time with the Falcons.
A lot of teams, the Falcons included, have adopted the notion that only the head coach should speak for the team during the season. We can attribute this to former NFL coach Bill Parcells and copycats around the league.
“(Baltimore general manager) Eric DeCosta was really good, and (New Orleans general manager) Mickey Loomis was really good,” Dimitroff said. “He starts off by saying, ‘I do hate the Falcons. Not the people, but I hate the Falcons.’ "
The podcast with Tampa Bay’s Jason Licht is available. The one with Detroit general manager Brad Holmes, who has the second overall pick in the coming draft, will be released next.
Licht pointed out that getting coach Bruce Arians out of retirement was a bigger move than landing Tom Brady.
After overseeing the most victorious era in Falcons franchise history from 2008 to 2019 that included a trip to the Super Bowl and two NFC title-game appearances, Dimitroff had a lot of free time on his hands.
“It started off as a thought of mine where I thought look, instead of me going to France and trying to drink some great red burgundy, I need to professionally develop,” Dimitroff said. “I thought what better way to develop than to visit everyone as much as I could.”
So, Dimitroff, who drafted quarterback Matt Ryan, signed Michael Turner and traded for Tony Gonzalez and Julio Jones, reached out to his friends around the league.
“On top of that, I just thought, you know, why don’t I buy a sprinter van and drive it and do an outdoor studio and film everyone outside,” Dimitroff said. “Try to get them in their natural environment.
“I really wanted to try to pull out as much sort of the authenticity of the GMs that we don’t often see because they’re just not able to sort of speak in those terms often, as you know, more than anyone.”
If Dimitroff had his way, he would have had a weekly call-in show to answer directly to Falcons fans. The teams don’t immediately explain personnel moves to their fan bases anymore. The Falcons issued statements when Ryan was traded.
“I mean, you get a chance to see him (a GM) around draft time a little bit,” Dimitroff said. “They’re not supposed to talk during the football season, generally speaking. This gave me an opportunity to go in as a former competitor and sort of a contemporary, but we were able to share a lot.
“I spent between four and seven hours with these guys. I mean, it was very rare. That was all out of respect. They allowed me to come into their world, and we did some great video. We have a lot of great B-roll that’s sitting in the can right now. We’re trying to decide on how we’re going to use that.”
In the DeCosta podcast, Dimitroff discusses his relationship with former Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome and why he waited 12 years to eventually take over. DeCosta also discussed his time in the organization, life-work-balance issues and how they are trying to embrace diversity, equity and inclusion.
“We have a lot of great footage that we decided we’re going to put in, pare it down a little bit, but put it into the podcast mode to help our marketing of this as well,” Dimitroff said.
2. Road trip. So with no draft to get ready for, Dimitroff hit the road.
“We basically started with Tampa. … I went from Tampa to New Orleans,” Dimitroff said. “New Orleans to Houston. Houston to Phoenix, Arizona, then over to LA Rams and then up to John Lynch (in Santa Clara). So, it was 16 visits.”
He visited Chicago, but Ryan Pace has since been fired as the GM of the Bears. He was hired by the Falcons in a senior executive role.
“I’m trying to get him to release it,” Dimitroff said. “But he’s like, ‘Dude, I don’t feel like I want to do that after getting terminated.’ I’m so glad that he’s with Atlanta. He’s really good.”
Most of the GMs, including Pace, came up through the scouting ranks.
“They got there because they’re really good at evaluating,” Dimitroff said. “Maybe their decisions aren’t always, you know, up and up, but he’s really good. He can be really good for (Falcons general manager) Terry (Fontenot) because he’s got a ton of college background. Where Terry’s background isn’t that, right?”
3. Personal evaluations are hard. What was striking to Dimitroff was the differences among the men serving in perhaps the highest position in the franchises.
“The overriding theme is they are all very different in decorum and different souls, but all really desirous of securing that championship team,” Dimitroff said. “They all do it in their own different ways.
“If it were to be the same thing, I’d be like ‘eh.’ But they were all so different in the delivery. They all have different approaches. ... These guys are all really good evaluators at the core, that’s why they got there. But to a T, everyone said any of the major misses that we’ve had, we didn’t miss on the player. We missed on the person, which is a really key point.”
4. Missing on Vic Beasley, Jalen Collins. Most teams have 15 to 20 scouts, and their information must be valued. Most teams also have 25-plus coaches who are involved.
“You’re not going to miss on that cornerback’s right foot that’s splayed out and doesn’t allow him to cut right,” Dimitroff said. “You’re not missing on the movement. You’re not missing on the athleticism. You’re missing on that Vic Beasley didn’t maybe have the, unfortunately, the passion that we wanted (him) to carry into it. You can look at that on a number of different levels.”
The Falcons selected Beasley with the eighth overall pick in 2015. He had 15.5 sacks with former defensive line coach Bryan Cox breathing down his neck in 2016. But he wouldn’t even work out with coach Dan Quinn after having his fifth-year option picked up.
Former LSU cornerback Jalen Collins was the second-round pick in 2015.
“Jalen Collins, I mean, he was a good athlete and helped us do things, but it wasn’t prolonged because he had his own stuff, right?” Dimitroff said. “We thought we could change (him). I just think that idea of missing on the person not the player. I think it’s probably that way amongst a lot of people in sport, other sports as well.”
Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter
Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter
5. Falcons are not fan friendly. While the Falcons preach about transparency, Dimitroff knew that he had critics at the end of his tenure and didn’t have the opportunity to address things. He hated the insinuation that he was hiding from the critics or was otherwise unavailable.
“If it was on me, I would have taken a weekly show,” Dimitroff said. “That just wasn’t our way. It was a (hands) tied situation, and it was unfortunate. I’d like to say to Terry now or even (communications chief) Brett (Jewkes) or (owner) Arthur (Blank), like I don’t think that’s the best thing.
“If you have someone that you trust, you know, it doesn’t mean that person has to have a call-in show. It’s not about (how many people) call in, but at least people are getting information from the source. Right? ... I see where, you know, the fans get left out.”
6. Welcome home. New Falcons outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter, who played at Norcross High and Georgia, briefly chatted with local media recently.
Here are some questions with Carter:
Q: What was it like signing with the Falcons?
A: “It’s big-time. It was a kind of crazy process of free agency, but to have a chance to come home and play for the home team, it is a honor. It’s a blessing. I’m excited to get out there and get to work.”
Q: With the Falcons’ defense being similar to the Giants’, was that a factor in the decision?
A: “Of course. I think it’s a good fit. (Defensive coordinator) coach (Dean) Pees does a good job of sending pressure. Having guys be versatile coming off the edges. So, I think it was just a good fit and a great situation. I’m just excited.”
Q: How do you feel about being the No. 1 edge rusher?
A: “I think it’d be fun. It’s just all about coming in to work every day and preparing to get better, pushing your guys and pushing my teammates to get better with me. I think coming in this offseason is going to be a big thing and making sure guys understand what it’s about to be. There’s going to be some work, but I’m excited. I’m looking forward to it, and I’m sure my teammates are, too.”
Q: What was your free-agency process like?
A: “It was just free agency. Spending my last four years in New York not really ... I didn’t really think about how much went into free agency, the decisions that you make. Like just having to think about everything as a whole when it came down to it. I think it’s just everything just happened. The stars aligned, and then I ended up having a chance to come home and put on the red and black again. I really couldn’t turn that one down.”
Q: What are your expectations for the team?
A: “My expectations are to come in and establish a culture. Set the tone. I plan on us being a physical team. I haven’t really (received) the chance to talk to Coach too much, but I know physicality is going to be an important thing. We’re going to be accountable to each other. ... There is always going to be work. ... Everybody is really even. ... Play football. Trust the process and get to work this offseason and be ready to go out there first game.”
Q: Can you carry over your strong finish in 2021 to the 2022 season?
A: “It was big for me to finish strong. I was as healthy as I’ve been over the last couple of years dealing with an Achilles tear. I was just comfortable, excited to be out there and just take advantage of those last opportunities. I had to play ball and be healthy with it. So, I just plan on carrying that over. Keep working on my strength and wellness. ... This is my fifth year in the league. So I kind of understood and understand what it takes. I think that started to show those last couple games.”
Q: What do you think of Chuck Smith approving of your signing?
A: “Oh, yeah. Chuck is the pass-rush expert. He’s a guru. Expert. He knows what he’s talking about. I love to listen to Chuck. He knows this thing. He’s the top leading pass rusher in sacks for the Falcons. He knows what it takes. Learning from him. ... I’ll get a chance to pick his brain more now that I’m home. I’m sure he’s going to help out a lot.”
Q: Is your family happy that you’re coming home to play?
A: “Yeah, I haven’t (received) too many ticket requests yet. I know that’s going to come when the games start rolling in, but I’m just excited. My family is really excited. My mom and dad are going to get a chance to see pretty much every game. I’m just excited. I’m really happy. It’s a blessing, and I’m ready to put on for the city.”
Q: What’s the most interesting thing you’ve done this offseason?
A: “Sit on the beach in Aruba, looking at flamingos, and talking to coach Arthur Smith about being a Falcon.”
Q: Was that where all this went down, in Aruba looking at flamingos?
A: “Literally, that’s where all of it went down on the beach with flamingos and my family. It was a great place to be going through that whole process.”
6. Meet another new Falcon. Offensive lineman Elijah Wilkinson chatted with local media recently.
Here are some questions with Wilkinson:
Q: What was attractive about the Falcons?
A: “For me, it was a new opportunity, just a fresh start and warmer weather. Playing in a dome. It gets cold at times where I was at in Chicago. So, that’s a plus. A lot of things. I’ve got family in Georgia. There were a couple of things that made it more attractive.”
Q: What was the coaching staff’s pitch? Did they mention the opportunity to start with the Falcons?
A: “Didn’t get into all of that just on our first visit to sign and all of that. But we did talk about expectations. Basically, about how we’re going to operate in the (exhibition) season and then throughout the season as well. There were no talks about starting and all of that jazz.”
Q: Why do you think so many (former) Chicago Bears have migrated south here?
A: “I don’t know, maybe it’s the wind blowing us down here. I don’t know. It’s really crazy once you look at the roster, really see how many Bears and previous Bears are now on Atlanta’s roster.”
Q: What do you think is your best position along the offensive line?
A: “I’d have to say right tackle. I mean, I really haven’t had an ample amount of time at one position, so I really can’t give you a really clear-cut answer. But I’d say (I’m) comfortable on the right side definitely, without a doubt.”
Q: What’s the most interesting thing you’ve done this offseason?
A: “That’s tough. I’ve done a lot this offseason. I would say going to the Bahamas, that was interesting.”
Q: What else?
A: “During the midst of working out, I had a wedding. I’ve been married for two years since COVID-19, so we really didn’t have a wedding at the time. It kept getting pushed back and pushed back. It finally happened this March. I mean, I’m still training throughout all of this. I’m selling my house. Moving to a new house. I’m golfing. I’m taking golf lessons. That’s also something that’s going on. And I do Pilates, too.”
7. Draft analysis. The AJC’s position-by-position series has started with a look at the wide receivers in the draft, which is set for April 28-30. Here’s how we have the top 10 receivers rated.
8. Falcons depth chart. Here’s a look at the current “unofficial” depth chart heading into the draft.
WR – Cordarrelle Patterson, Olamide Zaccheaus, Frank Darby, KhaDarel Hodge
TE - Kyle Pitts, Ryan Becker, Brayden Lenius
LT - Jake Matthews, Willie Beavers
LG - Jalen Mayfield, Colby Gossett, Rashaad Coward
C - Matt Hennessy or Drew Dalman
RG - Chris Lindstrom, Drew Dalman, Ryan Neuzil
RT – Kaleb McGary, Germain Ifedi, Elijah Wilkinson, Rick Leonard
TE – Anthony Firkser, Parker Hesse, Daniel Helm, John Raine
WR – Auden Tate, Damiere Byrd, Austin Trammell, Chad Hansen
RB – Damien Williams, Mike Davis, Qadree Ollison, Caleb Huntley
FB - Keith Smith
QB – Marcus Mariota, Feleipe Franks
DE - Grady Jarrett, Marlon Davidson
NT – Anthony Rush, Ta’Quon Graham
DE – Nick Thurman, John Cominsky
OLB – Lorenzo Carter, James Vaughters, Jordan Brailford
ILB - Deion Jones, Dorian Etheridge
ILB – Rashaan Evans, Mykal Walker
OLB – Adetokunbo Ogundeji, Quinton Bell, Rashad Smith
LCB - A.J. Terrell, Darren Hall, Mike Ford, Corey Ballentine, Cornell Armstrong, Lafayette Pitts
FS - Jaylinn Hawkins, Erik Harris
SS - Richie Grant, Teez Tabor, Luther Kirk
RCB – Casey Hayward, Isaiah Oliver, Kendall Sheffield, Avery Williams, Dee Alford
K – Younghoe Koo
P – Dom Maggio
LS – Beau Brinkley
H – Dom Maggio
PR - Avery Williams
KOR – Cordarrelle Patterson, Avery Williams
9. Free-agency tracker. With free agency winding down, here’s what the Falcons have done.
Jake Matthews, LT – Three years, $55.5 million.
Younghoe Koo, PK – Five years, $24.25 million ($11.5 guaranteed).
Olamide Zaccheaus, WR – $2.4 million tender.
Erik Harris, FS – One year, $1.2 million. ($1,047,500 guaranteed).
Cordarrelle Patterson, RB, WR – Two years, $10.2 million.
Isaiah Oliver, CB – One year, $2.3 million.
Colby Gossett, G – One year, $965,000.
Anthony Rush, DT – One year, $965,000.
Foye Oluokun, LB – Three years, $45 million ($28 million guaranteed) with Jaguars.
Russell Gage, WR – Three years, $30 million with Bucs.
Josh Harris, LS – Four years, $5.6 million ($1.92 million guaranteed) with Chargers.
Hayden Hurst, TE – One year, $3.5 million ($2 million guaranteed) with the Bengals.
Marcus Mariota, QB – Two years, $18.7 million ($6.7 guaranteed).
Casey Hayward, CB – Two years, $11 million.
Lorenzo Carter, OLB – One year, $3.5 million ($2 million guaranteed).
Damien Williams, RB – One year, $1.62 million. Included $500,000 signing bonus.
Elijah Wilkinson, OL – One year, $1.03 million.
Teez Tabor, DB – One year, $965,000.
KhaDarel Hodge, WR – One year, $1.03 million.
Rashaan Evans, LB – One year, $1.75 million, with $500,000 guaranteed.
Beau Brinkley, LS – One year, $1.2 million with salary-cap number of $910,000.
Damiere Byrd, WR – One year, $1.2 million with $400,000 guaranteed.
Germain Ifedi, OT/G – One year, $1.2 million with $1,047,500 guaranteed.
Dean Marlowe, S – One year, $1.2 million with a signing bonus of $152,500 and $300,000 guaranteed.
Anthony Firkser, TE – One year, undisclosed.
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