Falcons focus on moving forward


So now what?

Despite their historic collapse in Sunday’s Super Bowl, the Falcons believe they are positioned to compete for more NFL titles in the immediate future.

Falcons owner Arthur Blank maintains the team can fulfill his goal of sustained winning football at the league’s highest levels.

“It’s not ending of a journey for us,” Falcons owner Arthur Blank said. “You have to raise the bar. That’s what you’re always trying to do in the world of business and it’s the same in the world of sports as well.”

The team has the key ingredient in quarterback Matt Ryan, the league’s most valuable player, and several skilled players, including All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones, to go with a young defense that should improve with more seasoning.

After giving up 37 sacks over the season and five sacks and 12 quarterback hits in the Super Bowl, the offensive line may see some additional upgrades over the offseason. And foremost, the team must find a replacement for offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who is expected to be named the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers in the coming few days.

There may also be additional changes to the coaching staff. Quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur is set to interview for the offensive coordinator position with the Los Angeles Rams.

Next on the agenda is the NFL scouting combine, which is set for Feb. 28 through March 6 in Indianapolis. The pre-free agency period for teams to start negotiating with prospective free agents runs from March 7-9.

The official 2017 league year and free agency period start at 4 p.m. on March 9.

That was an important period last year for the Falcons, who made several key transactions, including the signings of center Alex Mack and wide receiver Mohamed Sanu. They must also make some key decisions on the players they will attempt to keep from free agency.

The Falcons potential list of free agents include: defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux, quarterback Matt Schaub, linebacker Paul Worrilow, right guard Chris Chester, tight end Jacob Tamme, linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, defensive tackle Courtney Upshaw, returner Eric Weems, defensive end Dwight Freeney, linebacker Philip Wheeler, safety Dashon Goldson, tackle Tom Compton, fullback Patrick DiMarco, linebacker LaRoy Reynolds, wide receiver Aldrick Robinson, cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson, tight end Levine Toilolo and safety Kemal Ishmael.

Babineaux, a 12-year veteran who made $3 million last season, said he wants to continue playing.

Schaub, 35, may be headed to San Francisco with Shanahan.

Worrilow, a former starter, may want to test the open market after losing his position to rookie Deion Jones. Freeney, also 35, may want to retire. Ishmael, a valuable reserve, may also get some interest on the open market.

The Falcons can start their offseason workout program on April 17.

The NFL draft will be held April 27-29 in Philadelphia.

History suggests that is going to be difficult for the Falcons to substantially rebuild next season. The losing team in the Super Bowl has not returned to the game the following season since Buffalo in 1994.

Falcons coach Dan Quinn started on repairing the psyche of his young team right after Sunday’s loss.

“Well, I told them it’s tough to find a spot for it, on a night like (Sunday), but the brotherhood that they have built for one another, it’s as strong as I’ve seen,” Quinn said. “To know that is inside of them, how tight they can get connected to a team, how hard they can play for one another, of course, there’s things to gain from that.

“There is never going to be a way to get over the loss, but what it does have is some of that toughness that you have to go through. It does make you stronger.”

General manager Thomas Dimitroff broke away with assistant general manager Scott Pioli to attend the Senior Bowl in Mobile. The team plans to used all methods to improve the roster and points to the pickup of wide receiver Taylor Gabriel off waivers as a prime example.

“It’s vital,” Dimitroff said. “… You continue to have an open mind and you’re willing to go out into the market and grab someone that is ideal for your team. Taylor Gabriel was a perfect compliment to what we were doing with our offense. We love having that there.”

Quinn will also continue to have a major role in shaping the roster.

“I think first of all, generally speaking, it was so important to come into the draft with our head coach together as a really true partnership with a common vision for both the coaching staff and the personnel department,” Dimitroff said. “We were going out and looking for the exact things we were looking for, the nuances of the defense and the offense that were very specific to our scheme. That was No. 1.”

In the meantime, Quinn believes some momentum exists for next season.

“The guys battled as hard as they can,” Quinn said. “Certainly not questioning the intensity on either side. Both teams left it out there.”



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