As the football world prepares to obsess over 40 times, three-cone drills and shuttle runs, none of which guarantee whether somebody can play in the NFL, the Falcons continue to ponder the future of Roddy White.
“No, I haven’t spoken to anybody,” the veteran wide receiver said when asked if he had been given any indication from the Falcons as to whether he’s a part of their future. “I haven’t been given clarity about anything.”
The NFL is a business and the Falcons, like any team, have major decisions to make. So I’m not going to suggest they’re being unusually cold or secretive or certainly unprofessional in this area. Coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff have said positive things about White, while stopping short of declaring what their plans are.
One could discern from Dimitroff recently bringing up the admitted screw-up of pushing former center Todd McClure into retirement that it was his way of saying, “We won’t make the same mistake with Roddy White.” But there’s no way of knowing because he and Quinn merely may recognize that White has been a popular player and this is a sensitive situation. So publicly they’re going to be as positive about White as possible, no matter the ending.
I know this much: Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan blew it last season. He forced elements of his scheme on the team before fully realizing what he had on the roster. The Falcons signed wide receiver Leonard Hankerson largely because of his history with Shanahan in Washington. That decision was a miserable failure as Hankerson dropped passes and couldn’t stay healthy, consistent with his career.
White obviously has slowed with age and wear, but there was no reason for him to be reduced to decoy, blocker and third-down specialist. He went from 125 targets and 80 catches with seven touchdowns in 2014 to 70 targets and 43 catches with one touchdown in 2015.
He reiterated in our conversation that he wants to remain a Falcon and considers Atlanta home, adding, “It would be a tragedy if I had to leave.”
Regardless of how this ends, employment won’t be a problem. Dirk Koetter, the Falcons’ former offensive coordinator and now Tampa Bay’s head coach, would take him in a heartbeat as a target (and mentor) for Jameis Winston. So would a number of contenders looking for a physical and dependable receiver. (Think Tom Brady wouldn’t want White in New England?) So White isn’t going to retire, as McClure did after the 2012 season when the Falcons believed second-round pick Peter Konz was ready to take over as starting center. (Oops.)
Interesting perspective from White on McClure, as it relates to perceptions of Ryan’s regression: “We should’ve had Todd McClure for two more years. I believe if we had him, we could’ve gone to a Super Bowl. He literally fixed everything. Todd always made sure somebody was on a body, which alleviated pressure on Matt. He was the ultimate at that, making calls, reading blitzes and letting Matt do his thing. When Todd left, Matt couldn’t be as good at the other stuff.”
White said he and Shanahan “didn’t have any problems” on a personal level. But, “Maybe what he expected from me and I expected for myself — the bridge just broke down. What I expected for me was what I always did. He had another plan for me, but you expect that when there’s a new regime.”
The Falcons’ defense finished 16th in yards allowed and 14th in scoring, remarkable given the lack of a pass rush and a general lack of playmakers. The ultimate reason for the team’s undoing after a 6-1 start was the offense.
Ryan and the receivers made progress in the season’s final few weeks: six touchdowns, 60 points and an average of 372 yards in the last three games (2-1); two touchdowns, 29 points and an average of 292 yards in the previous three (0-3). But the production still fell short of what White and most believe the Falcons’ offense is capable of.
“Do I wish I could be a more significant part of the offense? Absolutely,” White said. “But that’s not what they wanted me to do and you have to enjoy and embrace the role you have.”
White said he recently ran a 5K race “to get ready for anything that happens.” His immediate plans are to vacation in Belize next week and he expects to hear from the Falcons soon, perhaps around the time of NFL free agency (which begins March 9). He also will have his annual youth football camp in Charleston, S.C., in June before heading to training camp … somewhere.
“I’d bet every dollar I had that I’m going to be a Falcon,” White said.
Sometimes he says things for effect.
“Yeah,” he acknowledged, laughing. “But that’s how much I want to stay here.”
Still waiting for the other side to weigh in.
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