General manager Thomas Dimitroff and coach Dan Quinn are working feverishly to develop a bond that will help turn around the fortunes of the franchise.
Quinn watched intently as general manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll developed a Super Bowl-winning team while he was an assistant coach in Seattle.
He wants to form a similar bond with Dimitroff.
So, he was hired as the Falcons’ 16th head coach, Quinn has spent a lot of time with Dimitroff evaluating the roster, rating prospective free agents and getting ready for the draft.
“Now, that we’ve started (working together) over the last few weeks, we’ve been in lock-step,” Quinn said. “The line between his office and mine, the carpet has been worn out for sure.”
In the Falcons’ restructured front office, Quinn was delegated control over the final roster, while Dimitroff lost some power.
But for the Falcons, who have gone 10-22 over the past two seasons, to improve, a new path must be carved. Quinn and Dimitroff have never worked together.
“I’m really, really excited about the budding relationship there,” Dimitroff said. “We spent a lot of time over the last couple of weeks really honing in on our team as well as some of the prospects or potential prospects in free agency and the draft.”
Dimitroff was not ready to reveal some of the decisions that they have made about veterans on the roster.
“We are focused on going through our entire roster and then juxtaposing it with the draft class and free-agency class,” Dimitroff said.
“We have not made any concrete decisions as of yet, as far as our releases. After we get through this process here at the combine and back into Atlanta, we’ll have a much clearer idea about what we are going to do with our current free-agency class and the roster that is currently in place.”
The Falcons are close to re-signing kicker Matt Bryant and opened discussions to retain linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, defensive tackle Corey Peters and wide receiver Eric Weems.
However, veteran running back Steven Jackson could be one of the players released. He’s played two seasons with the Falcons, but has been ineffective.
Both Dimitroff and Quinn sang the praises of another running back, Devonta Freeman.
“Yes, no question,” was Dimitroff’s response when asked if Freeman could be a full-time running back in the team’s new outside-zone blocking system.
Quinn said: “My first impression of him is that you can feel the quickness. In our outside-zone-system, I feel like this is tailor-made for a guy who can really explode off the edge.”
Also, Quinn believes that cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford are keepers. Trufant was named to the PFWA’s all-NFC team after a strong second season. Alford, who suffered a broken wrist, showed promise, but must reduce his penalties.
“We love guys that have length and … we have to feature them in that way when they play on the line of scrimmage,” Quinn said. “Both of those two guys certainly fit into the profile. We can’t want to get started with them.”
Before helping Seattle reach the past two Super Bowls, Quinn was the defensive coordinator at Florida. He helped to recruit Dante Fowler, who’s one of the top-rated defensive ends in the draft and could be available when the Falcons pick at No. 8.
“He’s a terrific player,” Quinn said. “I’ve known him all the way through, growing up. He has that kind of versatility. He can play down. He can play inside or outside. That’s the way they tried to feature him there.”
Quinn believes that developing some of the players on the current roster will be the new staff’s major challenge. He believes that sometimes players don’t even know how good they can become or they just don’t have that vision.
“It’s our job to pull it out of them or draw it out of them,” Quinn said.
The Falcons will have at least $21.9 million in salary-cap room. The can create more space by restructing some contracts and release other unproductive players.
“Suffice it say, we have some money,” Dimitroff said.
Since hitting big on running back Michael Turner in free agency in 2008, the Falcons have had some misses. Cornerback Dunta Robinson and defensive end Ray Edwards didn’t work out. The jury is still out on last season’s signings of defensive linemen Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson.
“We can approach it where we’ll be willing to make moves if we deem them necessary,” Dimitroff said.
There are several potential free agents who could bolster the Falcons’ pass rush. Tampa Bay’s Adrian Clayborn, New York’s Jason Pierre-Paul, Washington’s Brian Orakpo and Buffalo’s Jerry Hughes.
The Falcons likely will steer clear of Greg Hardy, who recently had a domestic-violence case dismissed.
“As it applies to Dan’s scheme and his approach, I think there are a number of really good football players in free agency at the pass-rush position,” Dimitroff said. “I do believe there is depth there.”
The Falcons have their pro free-agency board next to the rookie draft board.
“We are going to find some very good football players on both sides of the board,” Dimitroff said. “(Quinn is) going to get the most out of what we do bring in as pass rushers.”
Dimitroff will try to stay away from a so-called “splash” signing.
“You don’t necessarily always have to jump out on the high-tier guys and pay out the roof,” Dimitroff said. “There may be a situation where you can get some mid-line guys who fit his system.”
So far, the Quinn-Dimitroff partnership appears off to a strong start.
“It’s going to be a total partnership as we go through the whole thing,” Quinn said. “I couldn’t be more fired up to connect with him.”
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