For years, this has been a talented team that, for whatever reason, stopped winning. A goodly chunk of that talent is headed toward Music City, USA. This doesn’t mean the Falcons of Fontenot and Smith are conceding. Think of Pitts as the best possible replacement, though he’s technically a tight end. Also note this: These men wouldn’t be here if the team hadn’t gone in the tank.
The Falcons’ past three seasons saw them go 7-9, 7-9 and 4-12. Over that time, they fired every coordinator. They finally got around to firing Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff. There’s no irreplaceable man when you’re losing, although Ryan comes close. This is the NFL, which is all about quarterbacks. This is also the league where every dollar paid one player is a dollar that can’t be spent on someone else. Keeping Jones for three more years left the Falcons with little roster wiggle room, and did we mention that he’s 32?
Go back to the spring of 2018. Ryan signed a $150 million extension that made him, albeit briefly, the NFL’s highest-paid player. The Falcons didn’t plan on redoing Jones’ contract, which had been redone in 2015 and made him, also briefly, the NFL’s highest-paid receiver. By 2018, seven wideouts had surpassed him in salary. He was less than pleased.
Jones skipped minicamp and was on the verge of missing the start of training camp, but he showed after the Falcons promised they’d take care of him. More than a year’s worth of haggling ensued, but on Sept. 7, 2019, the parties signed a $66-million extension. The next day, the Falcons lost their opener 28-12 in Minneapolis. They would lose seven of their first eight games.
In placating Jones, they’d pushed their payroll to the brink. Fontenot and Smith inherited a capped-out team that had also become a serial loser, which is the worst of both worlds. That said, this trade helps bring the Falcons back into plumb, at least financially, and that matters.
It’s a trade the Falcons didn’t want to make, but sometimes you’re forced to do something you’d rather not. If the Falcons of Fontenot/Smith plan to win over the long haul, they had to mitigate the monetary mistakes made by the previous regime. This lousy deal, as strange as it sounds, is a good start.