Falcons’ Terry Fontenot: ‘Working to build a championship roster one player at a time’

INDIANAPOLIS — Here’s a transcript of what Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot had to say at the NFL scouting combine Tuesday:

ON BEING AT THE COMBINE: “We’re excited to be here at the combine. This is an important exposure. We went through a very productive round of February meetings. So, we’re able to set the board based off the film. Now we get into this part of the process. I know different people see the combine in different ways, but this is a very important exposure for us. Any touchpoint with the players that we can have is critical. The interviews, the formals, the informals, seeing them work out and compete ... just being here with all our peers, agents ... if you handle this week the right way, it can be very productive. So, we’re excited about being here.”

ON THE VALUE OF THE COMBINE: “The most important thing is the makeup. We’re here working to build a championship roster one player at a time. And to build a championship roster, you have to have championship makeup. You have to have the right kind of culture. Assessing the makeup, assessing the character, making sure the players fit our ethos ... smart, tough and highly competitive players. That’s always going to be No. 1, in what we do. Everything else matters. The tape obviously matters and what kind of football players they are and their talent level. And, yes, the measurables and the statistics, and all those things matter. It’s all a part of the equation, but number one is always going to be the makeup.”

ON WHAT HE LEARNED FROM HIS TIME WITH THE SAINTS MANAGING THE CAP: “(That’s) the elephant in the room, right? We have some big numbers associated with four players, particularly our quarterback. We have a big cap number, and all those players with the big cap numbers, it’s not their fault. They’re just good professionals that come in and do their jobs. I want to be clear with that. But it is a challenge. It’s not a ... I wouldn’t say it’s a problem. I would say it’s a challenge. It’s something we have to work around. So it’s important to make sure we go through the process of finding the right ways to open up some cap space. And we have to add players, and we have to improve this roster, and that’s important. And when you’re at different points there are times where you will handle the salary cap and handle contracts in different ways. Sometimes teams feel like they’re one player away and they’re going to make a big splash in free agency and spend a lot of money. We’re not at that point. We have to be patient. We have to be patient. We have to be selective. We have to be cost effective. So where we are with our team, we have to figure out ways, the right ways to create cap space and then make sure we’re patient and ... we find value.”

ON WAYS TO APPROACH THE SALARY ISSUES: “Well, there are a lot of different ways whether you’re talking about contract extensions, whether you’re talking about they’re going to be cuts, they’re going to be trades. They’re going to be contracts that we do convert. ... Another elephant in the room is are we rebuilding? Are we trying to win now? And I would say we’re trying to have our cake and eat it, too. We want to be smart. We don’t want to make decisions that are going to hurt us in future years. But we also want to build the best team that we can. So we’re going to work hard to be smart and calculating in our decision-making, but we also have to improve this roster this offseason and add competition.”

ON NFL’S HIRING PRACTICES: “Well, I think, the seat I sit in, I’m the general manager, I’m one of the 32. So what I have to do is look in the mirror and look at what we’re doing in Atlanta. I can focus on that area. What we’re doing in Atlanta to help this part of the process. And so I have to make sure that No. 1, everyone in the building, everyone in the building has opportunities to continue to grow. And whether we’re talking about coaches, whether we’re talking about people in the personnel department, the training staff, make sure people in your building are able to grow and are able to develop and you’re very intentional in doing that. And then also the pipeline every time you’re bringing in people whether you’re bringing in coaches, scouts or any area of the organization, make sure you’re bringing in minorities and everyone has opportunities to get in your organization and then grow. So for me, personally, I just look in the mirror and make sure that we’re doing the right things here in Atlanta.”

IF THAT’S A LOGICAL WAY TO APPROACH THE ISSUES FOR EVERY TEAM: “Absolutely. I think it is and, look, the league is going to look at the situation every year, and I know the league is, is trying their best to improve in the areas that they can, but I do, I think for me, I can’t solve the ... we can’t solve the problem for every single team, but we can look in the mirror and do the best we can for the Atlanta Falcons.”

ON THE SUCCESSION PLAN AT QUARTERBACK: “We look for succession plans at every position. We have to add to the roster at every single position. And where you can get in trouble is if you reach and you feel desperate in certain areas ... but we’re not going to do that, and yet, we’re going to evaluate. We’ve got to ... we actually had formal interviews with several quarterbacks yesterday, and there’s a good group in this draft. There’s different flavors. We’re going to evaluate those players, and at the appropriate time we’ll add to that position. But I think you can get yourself in trouble if you reach and you don’t feel good about what you are doing.”

IF MATT RYAN IS THE QUARTRBACK FOR NEXT SEASON: “I’m not going to say anything about any particular players or any ... because if I answer that question, we can go through the entire roster and talk about who they are. But I would say we’re going to look to add to every position and try to improve this roster.”

ON THE STRENGTHS OF THE DRAFT: “Well, I would say if you go through each position in the draft, there are some positions where they can be a little more top heavy, and it’s not as strong midway through the draft and there’s some positions that there might not be a player at eight that we love, but yet we know there’s depth in the draft. So we’re still going through that process. I wouldn’t say where we see the strengths and weaknesses, but I would say there are good players at every position.”

ON THE WIDE-RECEIVER GROUP: “We met with a lot of those guys last night, too. And there’s some real good receivers in the draft. Again, some different flavors depending on what you’re looking for, but, and there’s value at the top and throughout the draft at receiver.”

ON VICE PRESIDENT OF PLAYER PERSONNEL KYLE SMITH’S ROLE: “So Kyle Smith is a stud. It’s funny because when people ask about Kyle Smith I always show them my phone, because I get texts from him or calls every night about 10, 10:30 or 11 o’clock. He’s watching film, and he wants to talk or something, and he just doesn’t stop. This is all he does. All he cares about is football and building a good team. His mind is always going. That’s the way he’s wired. So he’s a stud. He’s a really hard worker. And he’s just obsessed with what he does.”

CHARACTERISTICS OF EDGE RUSHERS: “I think in that position when you go historically, and look at edge rushers that have been successful, they’ve come in all shapes and sizes. You’ve had the tall (and) long. You’ve had the undersized. You’ve had guys with great 40 times. Guys that don’t have great measurables. They come in all shapes and sizes. And so it’s just about assessing, can that player get to the quarterback? Is he a true pressure player? Does he win? Because when you start focusing on just the measurables and you try to create something, sometimes you can get yourself in trouble. So, I would say the most important part, is he winning those one-on-one matchups?”

ON CALVIN RIDLEY’S SITUATION: “It’s not something we can talk about right now. There’s no update on it, and when there is we’ll let you know.”

MORE ON RIDLEY: “Again, that’s a question for Calvin. I can’t address that, how he is particularly doing, but I will say, yes, the receiver position is important. And, but it’s a complementary game. So our goal is to improve our team overall. Because when you protect, you have a good run game, then the receivers are going to be more open, when you’re playing good defense and you’re playing with leads, it changes things. So I would say it’s a complementary game. So, our goal this season is to improve the entire roster. And, obviously, the receiver position, that’s an area we have to improve as well.”

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan's future is at the forefront of the team's plans. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

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Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

ON OTHER QBS GETTING IMPATIENT AND THE RELATIONSHIP WITH MATT RYAN: “It’s great. Matt, he’s a great professional. He comes in and works every day and does everything he can do to help the team win. So, I would say that’s probably a question for Matt, specifically, but from from my vantage point ... I really appreciate Matt and what he’s been in terms of a leader, in terms of worker, in terms of professional, everything he’s done here in Atlanta. And so I would say from my standpoint, from my vantage point, it has been excellent. I appreciate it.”

GEORGIA BULLDOGS AT THE COMBINE: “That’s exciting. And I’ve said it before, obviously Kirby (Smart) and that whole staff, that whole building, they did a great job. Building what they built there. It is kind of overwhelming when you look at all the players on that roster, particularly on defense but also on offense. They have some really good players. And so they’re like you said, they’re right around the corner. So we have to really evaluate those players and look at them. The interesting thing, too, is when you look around the league and there are so many local players from Georgia that are really good. I’m hoping we actually can have the locals day. We weren’t allowed to have it last year with COVID. But if we can have that, that’s exciting because there’s a lot of kids that grew up in the Georgia area that ended up in some different areas that are really good football players. So, we’re excited about spending a lot of time with those Georgia players.”

THE VALUE OF BEING AT THE COMBINE: “Yeah, it really starts with assessing the makeup. We have to take advantage of every touchpoint we have with the players in this draft process because the most important thing is the makeup. And so whether it’s the combine, whether if it’s pro days, personal visits, we have to take advantage of getting around those players. ... our coaches, our scouts, and make sure the players that we pull the cards off the board and the players we sign and bring into the building, we’re bringing in the right culture. We’re bringing the right types of players. So, it’s extremely valuable.”

WHAT THEY LEARNED FROM LAST YEAR’S MOSTLY VIRTUAL PROCESS: “I guess I can say we were still going to utilize, as long as the league allows us to do, in terms of virtual meetings, we’re going to utilize that and we’ll still utilize that part of it. You can be really efficient and still having virtual meetings and virtual interviews as long as we’re allowed to do that. So we’ll utilize that. We did learn some things last year, but being in person is important to us.”

IF RE-SIGNING CORDARELLE PATTERSON IS A TOP PRIORITY: “The first thing we have to do is create low cap space. Then, No. 1 is our players, and we have a lot of players. I won’t talk specifically about CP, but we have a lot of players that we want to re-sign and that’s important. Now it’s important for us to ... you’re never a player away. So, we have to look at each specific player, evaluate the player and look at the parameters of the type of contract that we can sign. What makes sense for us. We have to stay disciplined with that because we’re not trying to sign one player. We’re trying to build a team. So we have to make sure we assess the value and stay within our parameters with every player. And, on the other side of it, it’s important for players to assess their market value along with their agents and their families and find the best situation for them because they have a small amount of time to make as much money as they can. And so we respect going through that process of the business.

“So with that, there are going to be some players that we’re going to be able to re-sign. Some players are going to move on, and we understand that, but talking specifically about CP (Patterson) that’s an example of what we have to do this year and free agency. That was a situation where it was a month in free agency when we signed CP. He wasn’t getting the offers he wanted and again a month into it. We signed him. We had a clear vision for him. It says a lot about him and the success that he had because he’s a great man that we added on and off the field. And it says a lot about our coaching staff and that they’re able to find what he does well, and he had the most productive season of his career as an offensive player. So that shows the way we were able to find value in that, and I believe it really shows the league that this is an attractive place to be. You look at our coaching staff, and you look at what they’re able to do with players, and you look at Atlanta and living in Atlanta, whether you’re young and single or whether you’re married, whether you have a big family, it’s a great place to live. So, living in Atlanta, the opportunities that we have in all three phases because we have opportunities here and we have a coaching staff that’s going to get the most out of players. So, I think CP is an example of what we have to do especially with constraints we have here this year.”

Falcons running back Cordarrelle Patterson is a free agent, but the team still has interest in re-signing him. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

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Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

HOW TO PLACE A VALUE ON PATTERSON’S HYBRID POSITION: “Because a lot of things we do when we evaluate value is we look at comps, position comps. So, when it is kind of that hybrid unique position, it’s tough to have a Rolodex a lot of times with players like that. So, it was tough to value, but at the end of the day for us, it boils down to assessing the makeup, assessing the fit and looking at what we can do currently with our specific team. So, it’s not always easy to value that specific position. But it’s something that we have to do.”

ON THE DEVELOPMENT OF PLAYERS: “Just like our whole rookie class and a lot of young players, it’s important this offseason for them to work and come back in a better situation.”

ON QB HAND SIZE: “Well, like I say, with any measurable, it’s all a piece of the puzzle, right? It’s all a part of any measurable, any statistic, it’s all a part of the evaluation. But there’s never going to be one thing that that makes the decision.”

ON A QUARTERBACK WITH SMALLER HANDS: “It’s all a part of it. It all factors in, but there’s never going to be one thing that completely eliminates or makes a decision. ... but we’re going to look at everything.”

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