A new regime readies to place its stamp on the Falcons

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Atlanta Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot says the team has narrowed its choices for the No. 4 pick, but is prepared if they trade back.

Credit: Atlanta Falcons

Yesterday’s missive ended with a nod to pop culture. (A quote from “Breaking Bad,” ICYMI.) Today we begin with a line from the intro of “The Larry Sanders Show,” which might well represent the apex of Western civilization. The blowhard sidekick Hank Kingsley is counting down for the benefit of the studio audience when he says, “This is exciting, isn’t it?”

ExploreVote: Who will the Falcons select with the No. 4 pick?

To all Falcons fans: This is exciting, isn’t it?

The highest draft pick this club has held in 13 years will be exercised Thursday night by a general manager who has never been a GM and a head coach who hasn’t been a head coach. We can’t rely on precedent. For the tandem of Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith, no precedent exists. Neither man has made a call like this, and this call figures to shape the future, both short- and long-term, for this franchise.

Fontenot and Smith met the virtually assembled Atlanta media Wednesday. These newbies held to long-established draft protocol and, over 45 minutes, worked hard to say nothing. This isn’t a criticism. As Fontenot said, “Some things will only be determined on the clock,” meaning those loaded moments when it’s the Falcons’ turn to tell the watching world what they’re doing, as opposed to what they might do.

The Falcons might do anything in this draft. They’d like a quarterback — Fontenot: “We have a plan to add quarterbacks” — but nobody knows if that quarterback will come via the No. 4 overall pick. (Fontenot again: “There are different ways to acquire quarterbacks.”)

ExploreHistory of Falcons drafting quarterbacks

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New Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot addresses the pressure of making his first NFL draft selection and how it's a team-wide process.

Credit: Atlanta Falcons

They could take a tackle in Oregon’s Penei Sewell. They could take a tight end of surpassing skill in Florida’s Kyle Pitts. They could trade down – perhaps using Julio Jones as the lure — and spend the accumulated capital in defenders. Or they could take Justin Fields and subject us all to another autumn of when’s-he-going-to-play debate. Ask Kirby Smart how enjoyable that can be.

Fontenot: “When you’re picking at 4, we’re trying to take an impact player. Whether it’s someone who’s going to sit or play right away, we want an impact player.”

Smith: “It’s part of the job. You better have a vision for now, and you have to have a plan for later. There might be a lot of unintended consequences if you only have that short sight.”

For this administration, the next three days are the three biggest of their nascent tenure. The Falcons didn’t do much in free agency because they’re cap-trapped. The draft is where this team, one way or another, will make its first big noise. Raging consensus holds that the 2021 draft will only begin — the first three players taken will almost certainly be quarterbacks — when the Falcons declare their intentions at No. 4. Trade or keep? QB or not QB? These are the questions.

ExploreDLed's final mock draft: Falcons select QB Justin Fields with the No. 4 pick

That’s a considerable weight to put on any shoulders, let alone those of a rookie GM and a rookie HC. Asked about this, Fontenot said: “There’s definitely no pressure. I believe the pressure is in the process and the preparation. Someone told me that pressure is a privilege.”

Then: “You think about players in two-minute situations and in the fourth quarter at the end of games, in the red zone – you want those players to want the ball. You want the coaches who want to make those calls. You want people who embrace the pressure moments. But I would say there’s not any pressure on any one person because it really is our process. Even the narrative that wins and losses go on coaches and players go on the GM, we really don’t see it like that. That’s not how we operate. It’s our process.”

Then: “It really is fun. This is what we love to do. We all have passion for what we do.”

Back to our starting point: This draft is indeed exciting. We don’t know much about how Fontenot/Smith think. We don’t know if it has been suggested by their high-profile boss that it’s time to look beyond Matt Ryan, though Arthur Blank has been steadfast in his affection for his quarterback of 13 seasons. What happens – and doesn’t happen – at No. 4 will be our first indication as to how the new men see the Falcons, not just for next season but for the next several.

Of the rampant speculation, a goodly bit of which has emanated from this space, Smith said: “It’s all rumor. That’s what drives this time of year.”

By 9 p.m. Thursday, we’ll know much more than we know now. But here’s one fun factoid: When last these Falcons had a pick this high, they were working under a new GM and a new coach named Smith. Those men picked Ryan No. 3 overall, even though local sentiment held that a club without a quarterback somehow needed a defensive tackle from LSU more.

Glenn Dorsey played eight NFL seasons and registered a total of six sacks. Ryan stands as the most valuable Falcon ever. Sometimes the rookies get it right.

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