Terry Fontenot to use Senior Bowl in rebuild of the Falcons

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

Combined ShapeCaption
Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot is checking out prospects for the NFL draft.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

MOBILE, Ala. – With a keen eye toward upgrading the talent pool on the roster, Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot attended his first Senior Bowl for the franchise last week.

Last season, he skipped the event to fly to Atlanta and meet with newly minted coach Arthur Smith after both were named to their posts.

Fontenot and Smith have been charged with returning the franchise to respectability after a recent downturn, which has hit four consecutive losing seasons. The Falcons went 7-10 and finished in third place in the NFC South in 2021.

Fontenot and Smith, along with the scouting staff, were at the Senior Bowl looking to re-tool at several positions. While they have several needs and will interview all of the players, they were heavily scouting the running backs, wide receivers and edge rushers at the premier pre-draft All-Star game.

“This is very valuable exposure for us,” Fontenot said. “They’ve done a great job getting really good players. So, there are very talented rosters. I love the coaching staffs, Dan Campbell (of the Lions) and Robert Saleh (of the Jets), you’re really seeing some competitive practices out there.”

The Falcons’ scouts are cross-checking information that they gathered during the season.

“When we evaluate players on film, there’s some questions with the measurables,” Fontenot said. “You come here to get verified measurables. There are players, whether it’s a quarterback that’s in (shotgun) that you want to see under center, or a cornerback that you only see (play) press (coverage) and you want to see him play some off coverage. A linebacker that hadn’t played special teams particularly at a school and we get to see him be a personal protector or run down on kickoffs in the game.”

Fontenot, a former scout who worked his way up from an internship to heading up a team, knows the little intricacies that the Falcons are looking for in players. Over the course of last week, the scouts met with all of the players during nightly interviews after the practices at a downtown hotel.

The Falcons believe the players are more authentic at the Senior Bowl. By the combine, the players have received media training from the agents and have practiced how to give canned answers.

“Now, it’s kind of right after the season and the scouts are spending more time with them,” Fontenot said. “They get some valuable information. Our scouts do a really good job of getting good information. So, that’s very important.”

Improving the Falcons’ overall talent base is a key focus this offseason. Fontenot stated the team will take the best players available in the draft.

“We’re going to have needs if you think big picture over the next two to three years,” Fontenot said. “You’re going to need a really good pressure player, a really good corner or a really good offensive tackle, quarterback, all the positions.

“There’s not one position you can go through when you’re looking over a long span that you’re not going to need. So, I think you’re always going to be filling needs essentially, it might not be something that you need immediately for this year, you know, but when you think big picture, you take best player available and it’s going to pay dividends.”

Before last year’s Senior Bowl, Fontenot didn’t want to change too much right away with the scouting system and the reports.

“But now‚ this year we’ve adapted the process a lot and made a lot of changes,” Fontenot said. “We feel very comfortable where we are right now. It’s in a much better place right now because going through a whole year with this staff, these coaches and the scouting staff, the process is different.”

Fontenot does not meet with the players at this juncture.

“We let the scouts meet with the guys,” Fontenot said. “Sometimes, it’ll be a little different when the scouts meet with the players and they gather all the information that they can and then later on when I’m in those meetings or the head coach is in those meetings or the coordinators in those meetings, players can change a little bit.”

When the Falcons get to the combine, their 30 visits and at the Pro Days, Fontenot and Smith will get more involved.

“We’re going to have plenty of time for myself, the head coach and the coaching staff to meet with them,” Fontenot said.

After the Senior Bowl, the Falcons will move on to address their 26 pending unrestricted free agents. They’ve already released guard Matt Gono. They must figure out how to re-sign running back Cordarelle Patterson, linebacker Foye Oluokun, wide receiver Russell Gage and kicker Younghoe Koo.

If they can’t reach contract extensions, the players will become free agents March 16, at the start of the NFL’s new business year.

“It’s a fluid process,” Fontenot said. “We have been through several meetings with the coaches and have gone through our roster. It’s still a fluid process and is ongoing.”

What the Falcons do in free agency will help to dictate how they approach the draft, which is set for April 28-30.

“We are working hard to know exactly what we want to do in the building,” Fontenot said. “But there’s a lot of information and there’s a lot of variables so we’ll continue to gather information, but we like where we are in that process.”

In addition to the free agents, the Falcons are looking at players under contract, too. But Fontenot didn’t want to discuss those specifics, including when asked about defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, who has one season left on his contract. Fontenot also offered no update when asked about the status of wide receiver Calvin Ridley, who is on the non-football injury list after leaving the team during the season to attend to his “mental well-being.”

The Falcons can look to the AFC-champion Bengals as inspiration for a quick turnaround.

“They came in and they’ve drafted well, and they’ve added the right free agents,” Fontenot said. “They have a good coaching staff and the right kind of guys. They went out and won some football games this year.”

It all started in Mobile, for the Bengals, too.

“Every Senior Bowl is important,” Fontenot said. “I’m standing on the sidelines with Sylvester Croom (a former college and NFL coach), who is really close with Arthur Smith, and we’re watching running back drills.”

The Falcons will get right back to work after the Senior Bowl.

“We’re going to jump right into our February meetings when we get back and before you know it, we’re going to be at the combine and at the Pro Days,” Fontenot said. “We’re going to find good players and win a lot of games. That’s what the Bengals did. I’m happy for those guys, but that’s why we are working hard to have a great offseason right now.”

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