Come great coach/GM hunt, Falcons must be first among the worst

It hasn't all been grim for Falcons in 2020, here owner Arthur Blank and quarterback Matt Ryan share a laugh before the Raiders game. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)
It hasn't all been grim for Falcons in 2020, here owner Arthur Blank and quarterback Matt Ryan share a laugh before the Raiders game. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

There are but four games remaining on the Falcons’ docket, less than a month’s worth of opportunities either to bolster their draft position or to blow it with a few ill-considered wins. Starting Sunday with a crucial, must-lose matchup against the three-win Los Angeles Chargers. It’s the Falcons’ last head-to-head with someone in their own weight class.

But the real competition begins Jan. 4, the Monday following the final regular-season game, after the race to the best possible draft position has been decided. (A race run entirely in reverse).

On that Black Monday, it will start to become clearer which other teams will, like the Falcons, be in the market for a new coach and/or general manager. The competition for brainpower will come into focus. Candidates from other teams will be free to talk when their seasons end, so have Arthur Blank’s jet on standby. Rebuilding from the top down, the Falcons badly need to win the interview process.

One of those teams competing for the next new hot coach might be Sunday’s opponent. The Chargers’ existing coach, Anthony Lynn, is said to be quite popular within the organization. He got them a playoff win only three seasons ago. He’s also 8-20 these past two years, hence there are rumblings.

But let’s start with GM, although there’s no guarantee that will be the first hire for the Falcons. The order to these things is not as clear as it used to be, as football’s chain of command gets kinked. The GM doesn’t have to be in place first to hire the coach of his choice anymore. This year, Cleveland hired its new coach a couple of weeks in advance of the GM. Buffalo went coach-first in 2017, and it seems to be working out OK. When San Francisco hired John Lynch as GM that same year, the Falcons’ Kyle Shanahan already was positioned as the favorite for the coaching job.

As of now, the Falcons, Jacksonville, Detroit and Houston need a general manager. Washington has a de facto GM in coach Ron Rivera. If a couple of more teams tilt toward a change at the top – say Philadelphia or Denver or Carolina – the front-office scramble could be uncommonly hectic.

On the coach front, the competition for field leader always is keen each year in the NFL, given turnover that rivals the tides. As usual, the best and the brightest – and even some of the usual retreads – will have plenty of vacant chairs for which to apply. In addition to the Falcons, there are certain openings in Houston and Detroit. The New York Jets, the Chargers, Jacksonville, Denver are all designated hot seats. And there usually is an ambush firing or two. So many openings, and only one Eric Bieniemy to go around.

So, if you’re a canny wannabe head coach or sharp-eyed personnel guy looking to move up – and, really, I’m sure you would make a great NFL exec given your unerring observations every Sunday from the couch – where do the Falcons fit as a job destination?

They certainly don’t tick all the boxes for the factors that count most with these job applicants – like quarterback situation, salary-cap space, roster age and potential, ownership. But if everything lined up perfectly, they wouldn’t need a new coach and GM, would they?

Sure, Atlanta is a fine place to live. It has a lot of the quality-of-life issues covered. It’s the quality of football organization, though, that matters to the single-minded ball coach and personnel Yoda. They’ll be doing their research, too, because the job interview is a two-way sales job.

The Chargers, for instance, would seem to be a particularly nice landing spot, perhaps the best of them all should Lynn be fired. They have a promising young quarterback in Justin Herbert. They have the league’s ninth-ranked defense in yards allowed, they’re strong up front with the Pro Bowl likes of Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa. No cap issues. A new stadium, and the uniforms are cool.

Just let them draft after the Falcons. They don’t need any other advantages.

As an employment opportunity, the Falcons have their drawbacks. They are in salary-cap hell with no immediate relief apparent (now at $25 million over for next year as estimated by Matt Ryan is showing his age, and Julio Jones’ various tightly strung parts are increasingly vulnerable. Any newcomer is going to have to get a solid answer to the question: What the heck does Rich McKay do, and how does that affect me?

What the Falcons have going for them is that Blank could sell hair plugs to Bradley Cooper. His retailing skills have never been more needed.

And it’s not as if a lot of the other openings are Shangri-La.

Detroit – bad D and a franchise in need of major body work and new points and plugs.

The Jets – bound to suck Trevor Lawrence into a vortex of hopelessness, as well as whoever coaches him.

Jacksonville – The headline in the satirical “Onion” says it best: “Jacksonville Couple Successfully Mates to Help Save Endangered Jaguars Fan Base.”

And so it goes in the company of the underachieving.

But if it’s of any comfort, the Falcons are not the ugliest factory second in the discount bin. They shouldn’t have to go begging for good help.

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