You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.


  • ePAPER

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks


Welcome to

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on

Falcons look set up for future but salaries could become an issue

Let’s start with the Super Bowl, because it seems nobody can think about the Falcons’ upcoming draft or their roster makeup or whether somehow Kyle Shanahan is to blame for the fact every major thoroughfare in Atlanta is collapsing or opening up a new sinkhole to hell without thinking of their last game.

The franchise took the city for an incredible ride last season, until suddenly in the fourth quarter of the final game, it was like watching an unfinished roller coaster run out of track at the top of a hill.

So now we wonder: Is this team built to last for a while and can get it get back to the Super Bowl again?

In short, yes and yes. Pro athletes can compartmentalize things pretty well, far better than couch slouches in front of their televisions. If the Falcons don’t make it back to the Super Bowl next season, it won’t be because they’re still moping around in some post-Houston funk. It will be because all of those things that need to happen for a deep postseason run won’t fall into place game: good health, timely match-ups, home playoff games, a dash of luck.

They remain built to win. A significant core of their roster last season was comprised of first- and second-year players. Not included in that group are their three best players — Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Desmond Trufant, who have a lot of wear left.

This suggests the franchise’s “window” for a championship will remain wide open for a good while. But predicting these things can be problematic. Two seasons ago, the Carolina Panthers rode an MVP quarterback (Cam Newton) and an aggressive defense to a 15-1 regular season and the Super Bowl. But instead of contending again in 2016, they spiraled to a 1-5 start and a 6-10, last-place finish.

Winning is fragile in pro sports, maybe more so in the NFL than any other league because of the salary cap and depth issues. So is the Falcons’ window really as big as it seems?

“Let me put it this way,” general manager Thomas Dimitroff said Thursday, a week before the draft. “Dan (Quinn) and I, as co-builders, have a strong understanding of what we have now. We’re both driven toward the here-and-now. It doesn’t mean we don’t have a vision for the future.

“But there’s a confidence about our approach that we can continue to make the right decisions. We think the window can be stretched out for years. We don’t sit here thinking, ‘We have to do this within three years. Or five years.’ We talk about trying to capitalize on guys being in the prime of their career.”

I brought up the subject of Carolina’s decline, but Dimitroff wouldn’t comment on whether everybody overvalued the Panthers, saying only: “I’m extremely confidence in the leadership of Dan Quinn as the head coach and Matt Ryan as the leader of the players. That eases my mind, knowing both are incredibly competitive, confident and adept at their respective positions.”

History is not on the Falcons’ side. The last Super Bowl losing team to go back to the title game was 24 years ago: Buffalo went to four straight years from 1990 to 1993. Eventually, the Bills just got too old.

The Falcons have youth, talent and depth. They’re not hamstrung by a lot of “dead money” on their cap. They lost only one free agent of significance this offseason, fullback Patrick DiMarco, who jumped from $860,000 last season to a four-year deal with Buffalo that averages more than $2 million per season.

Other than injuries, there’s one thing that hurts every team in the long run: Players are developed and then leave for more money. Carolina lost cornerback Josh Norman (Washington). The Falcons have a number of significant players with expiring contracts in the next two years, including: running back Devonta Freeman, tackle Jake Matthews and safety Ricardo Allen after the 2017 season, and Ryan, edge rusher Vic Beasley Jr. and running back Tevin Coleman after the 2018 season. (Dimitroff has done some good work, recently signing Jones, Trufant, Robert Alford and Ryan Schraeder to extensions.)

The first potential player to go boom in negotiations? That’s easy: Freeman.

He is a former fourth-round draft pick who in the last two seasons has 2,135 rushing yards, 127 receptions, 27 touchdowns and two Pro Bowls. He has outplayed his contract, which will pay him about $1.918 million in 2017. Freeman is quiet, popular with his teammates and likes Atlanta. But his agent, Kristin Campbell, popped off during Super Bowl week about the need for Freeman to be paid like an “elite” back. Her more famous husband, Luther “Uncle Luke” Campbell, continued with some ominous comments on Twitter.

Negotiations will open some time before training camp and Freeman is going to want a lot of money. This will be delicate, especially given that as good as Freeman is and as much as the Falcons value him, they also like Coleman. And can they pay both? And what of the other deals, particularly Ryan’s and Beasley’s?

Dimitroff is constantly running through the hypotheticals in his head. But he says he’s not concerned.

“We’re going to be calculated about it and, of course, we know there’s only so many of these big contracts you can sign,” he said. “But I’m not worried about any ripple effect.”

The draft comes first. The money talks come later. The Falcons’ window to contend should remain open for a while, but “should” is no guarantee.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Atlanta Falcons

12 things we learned about the Falcons this offseason
12 things we learned about the Falcons this offseason

Shortly after releasing the team for the summer, Falcons coach Dan Quinn and team officials went to Washington, D.C. to visit to various military related places. It was a busy and compacted offseason for the Falcons, who reached the Super Bowl for just the second time in franchise history. After suffering the most devastating loss in the history of...
Julio Jones is focus of Pat Dye Jr.-Jimmy Sexton lawsuit
Julio Jones is focus of Pat Dye Jr.-Jimmy Sexton lawsuit

Falcons All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones is the center of a lawsuit between Pat Dye Jr. and Jimmy Sexton, according to It’s possible, if the civil suit continues into the fall, that Jones may be called to a disposition to give his testimony during the season. Dye, of Atlanta, and Sexton, of Memphis, merged firms in 2010...
Falcons not hosting ‘Friday Night Lights’ scrimmage
Falcons not hosting ‘Friday Night Lights’ scrimmage

For the first time in 11 seasons, the Falcons will not hold the wildly successful ‘Friday Night Lights’ scrimmage during training camp, the team announced on Wednesday. The Falcons, the defending NFC champions, will report for training camp on Wednesday, July 26. The team has gone into the community for a scrimmage at local high schools...
Allen: Defense ‘is going to be amazing’
Allen: Defense ‘is going to be amazing’

Kicked to the curb just three years ago, Falcons free safety Ricardo Allen has successfully made the transition from cornerback to free safety and is now an entrenched NFL starter. He played 1,101 defensive snaps (99.1 percent), most on the team last season, in just his second year at free safety. Drafted as a cornerback in the fifth-round of the 2014...
Falcons report for training camp on July 26
Falcons report for training camp on July 26

The defending NFC champion Atlanta Falcons will report for training camp on July 26, the team announced on Wednesday. Training camp will be held at the team’s facilities in Flowery Branch for the 13th consecutive season. Selected practices will be open to the public, but there is not a “Friday Night Lights” event listed. The team...
More Stories