A wise somebody once said, “you are what your record says you are”.
The 2018 Atlanta Falcons were 7-9. “You are what your record says you are”, In recent memory, there may not be a case as challenging to this usually spot on notion as the 2018 Atlanta Falcons.
What went wrong
Riding high and heavily favored by NFL media personalities. Even with the embarrassing and unforgiving nature of their Super Bowl LI collapse two years ago and a close encounter with the eventual Super Bowl winning Philadelphia Eagles one year later, the Falcons were expected to be one of the favorites in the NFC.
For good reason, much of the talent that got them to the Super Bowl was still on the roster. The Falcons added Calvin Ridley, the consensus top wide receiver in the 2018 NFL Draft to an already stacked offense. The defense employed the same young, fast core of Deion Jones, Keanu Neal, Grady Jarrett, De’Vondre Campbell and Ricardo Allen.
As if 2018 was destined to be a failure, Jones and Neal were both gone for massive chunks of the season by week three. The Falcons lost a few close games that should have been won, and that was that as far as being a contender.
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Down the stretch, the Falcons salvaged some pride by winning the final three games of the season if only to further anger fans who were hoping for a top-five draft pick out of an otherwise miserable season. As it was, the roller coaster stopped at 7-9. A little under mediocre and not good enough for the level of talent on the Falcons’ roster.
The bright side
The obvious weapon like Julio Jones and young defenders make that Falcons an attractive pick at the start of the season each year the last three years. That’s a surface level observation. The Falcons, however, may be a little top-heavy. No team goes 7-9 by accident.
Injuries did bite and it did weaken them but with the amount of money and high draft pick capital invested in the roster sometimes a humbling season does the body good. The Falcons had begun to show the cracks of wealth in the NFL. The depth had begun to thin.
Jalen Collins stepped up for injured Desmond Trufant in the Falcons’ playoff run in 2016. He’s no longer on the roster. Ra’Sheed Hageman who looked like a force at times in the playoffs in 2016 is gone. Adrian Clayborn walked out of the door after last season. Levine Toilolo is in Detroit. Patrick DiMarco is in Buffalo. Chris Chester retired from football following the 2016 season. Taylor Gabriel’s effectiveness faded in 2017 and he moved on to Chicago. Jonathan Babineaux retired. Dwight Freeney wasn’t retained.
The big names stayed while some key locker room character went out of the door and with it went depth. The Falcons enter 2019 in need of a kick start an infusion of new talent.
Maybe 7-9 wasn’t a true representation of the what the Falcons turned in on paper, but maybe it was good long term and short term. All the frustration and disappointment earned the team a mid-teen draft pick. The Falcons may not have a top five selection next month but selecting 14 puts them in range to land an impact starter.
With some big names heading to free agency or big deals in the next two years. Some of the smaller numbers on the books will become big numbers. Deion Jones will be paid handsomely and likely will be in Atlanta for a long time.
That means maybe Campbell and Vic Beasley are allowed to walk away next year. If those two are resigned the Falcons may be preparing to say goodbye to one of the league’s most dynamic defensive talents. A decision must be made on Neal as well. Jarrett has been franchise tagged and will likely get a big deal. More of the fabric will be torn away.
With nine selections in this draft, the Falcons could be in unique position. They have needs. They need a defensive tackle, a pass rusher, a right tackle, some help at nickel corner, help at safety and another running back would be nice. Typical needs of a typical franchise.
Truth be told it wouldn’t be outside the frame of reality for the Falcons to throw caution to the wind and select the best available players. If a big-time talent at a position that appears to be filled is available at pick 14, the trigger will be pulled. The Falcons don’t mind competition and figuring out the snaps later. They didn’t need a wide receiver last year, but adding Ridley improved a strength. Ridley will undoubtedly be a part of the future for the Falcons.
’19 and beyond
At the end of 2019, the Falcons could be holding the Lombardi Trophy. By the beginning of 2020, the house and cupboard could be empty or at least be renovated.
The 2019 season is the final run for this current configuration of the Falcons. If it isn’t done this year, it won’t be happening. The Falcons could begin flipping veterans and letting youth walk and beginning to reassemble around Matt Ryan.
The expectations should be high in Atlanta. There is plenty of talent and that’s good news. There is also plenty of talent and it’s bad news, because talent is expensive.
Time is one thing that waits for no team or its injuries and the Falcons appear to be running out of it, but they’re not done, not yet.