It wasn’t long ago that the Atlanta Falcons were among some of the elite teams in the league. Now they are near the bottom of the barrel of all 32 NFL teams. After two double-digit win seasons in 2016 & 2017 and then two separate 7-9 records the following two seasons, the Falcons are currently suffering an embarrassing 4-11 record this season. After a 0-5 start to the season, the Falcons fired head coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff. The Falcons started to come back after a 3-1 run under interim coach Raheem Morris but they have then lost five of their last six games. The Falcons will need to make big decisions if they want to recover for next season. While the New Orleans Saints and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have talent, time is not on their side. Here are some early outlooks for the 2021 Atlanta Falcons heading into the off-season
2021 Atlanta Falcons: Early Off-Season Outlook
Hire the Right General Manager/Head Coach
The first move that the Atlanta Falcons must take in the off-season is to hire the right general manager and head coach. They fired Quinn and Dimitroff five games into the season but cracks were showing before the season even began. There are plenty of big names that the Falcons can look into for general managers such as Louis Riddick from ESPN, Indianapolis Colts assistant general manager Ed Dobbs, former general manager of the Cleveland Browns in John Dorsey, New England Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio, and Kansas City Chiefs director of football operations Mike Borgonzi. These are just a few names mentioned that have brought talent through trades and draft picks to their teams. The Falcons need a general manager who scouts and acquires talent through the draft after the first round.
The Falcons will need a new head coach that can lead a roster of high-talent to produce big wins on the field. Former Florida Gators and Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer is looking to make his way into the NFL. Kansas City offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy is one of the biggest names for a potential head coaching role. After the horrible three seasons with the Detroit Lions with Matt Patricia, it was clear that Jim Caldwell (36-28 record with Detroit) shouldn’t have been fired. Caldwell could have another chance or Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. After four years as the head coach of the New York Jets (2015-2018), the Jets discovered that it could get worse with Adam Gase. San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh is another red-hot NFL assistant who has never been a head coach but looks to be ready.
Trade Matt Ryan to San Francisco or Indianapolis
It was no secret that the Falcons were considering trading their 35-year old franchise quarterback Matt Ryan to another team. This was to potentially get a head start on their rebuilding process. They didn’t trade likely because they didn’t feel comfortable with the value or 39-year old quarterback Matt Schaub starting. The Falcons will have to make an important decision on Ryan, who still has plenty left in the tank but Falcon Nation might want to move on. A team like the 49ers, who have former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan as their head coach, would make the trade. A deal for Ryan for defensive end Arik Armstead and a third-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft could be available. Another deal could be just for a first-round pick for Ryan might suffice as well. The Colts might make a trade offer for Ryan with Philip Rivers set to retire after this year.
Important Free Agent Decisions
Whoever will be the new general manager for Atlanta will have some important questions this off-season. One of the biggest is what to do with running back Todd Gurley, who was signed on a one-year deal. Gurley underperformed this season largely due to the problems on the field and inconsistencies with the offensive line. Gurley has rushed for 660 yards and nine touchdowns on 186 carries. The Falcons can re-sign him but not for an expensive contract. The same goes for safety Keanu Neal, who had a great season this year but only played in four games the previous two seasons due to injuries. Neal accounted for 93 total tackles, 72 solo tackles, nine tackles for loss (team-high), two pass breakups, and an interception.
During the previous off-season, the Falcons traded a seventh-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft to the Miami Dolphins for a former first-round selection in defensive end Charles Harris. Much like the previous season for Miami, Harris underperformed significantly. This season, Harris accounted for 18 total tackles, eight solo tackles, three tackles for loss, and three sacks. In the 53 games he has played, Harris has only started nine games. The Falcons have a difficult decision on 35-year-old six-time Pro-Bowl center, Alex Mack. He is set to become a free agent after coming off of his most underwhelming season in his career. According to Pro Football Focus, Mack currently has an overall grade of 65.7, the lowest in his 12-year career. If the Falcons bring back Mack, it cannot be $8 million a year like in the past three seasons.
Evaluate All Positions for the Fourth Overall Pick
The Atlanta Falcons are currently sitting with the fourth overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft in the off-season. They will have plenty of options as well as choices to make at different positions. Considering what they do with Ryan as their quarterback and who they hire as head coach, they might look into a quarterback. Ohio State’s Justin Fields or BYU’s Zach Wilson might be available at fourth overall. They might have to look into an edge rusher, which is a position they desperately need. Miami’s Gregory Rousseau, who accounted for 19.5 tackles for loss and 15.5 sacks in 2019, will be available. They might look into the best defensive player in Penn State outside linebacker Micah Parsons. If Oregon dominant tackle Penei Sewell is available, the Falcons might want to look into him. The Falcons gave up 40 sacks this season, which is eighth-highest among all teams.