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Atlanta Falcons Mail: What Does Success Look Like After Offseason Overhaul?

Atlanta Falcons Mail: What Does Success Look Like After Offseason Overhaul?

Good news: This is the last Atlanta Falcons offseason dispatch of the year! The Falcons begin training camp on July 24, and we’ll finally get to see what all of their trades mean.

Review: Arthur Smith and Desmond Ridder are gone. Raheem Morris and Kirk Cousins ​​(along with Darnell Mooney and a bunch of starting defensemen) are back. There are a lot of questions about how this will all work.

So, let’s start answering it.

What do the Falcons need to accomplish to realistically consider themselves to have had a successful 2024 season? — Louis B.

Good idea, Louis, let’s get to the point. You can’t change head coaches and say it’s because you’re ready to compete at the “highest level” with the current roster, then add a (potentially) $180 million starting quarterback to that roster and not make the playoffs. If the Falcons miss the playoffs this year, they’re a flop. Period.

But is it enough? It depends on the context. After six years of playoff drought, if the Falcons make the playoffs and lose a competitive game in the first round, then yes, it can be considered a win, but only just. They have publicly placed their chips in the middle of the board. It is time to flip the deck now.

Troy Andersen has great athleticism and played multiple positions in college. Do you see him kicking to outside linebacker on passing downs or do you think they’ll continue to label him as an inside linebacker and use him creatively on the field alongside Kaden Ellis and Nate Landman? — Bob F.

Bob has my favorite question of the week, and it’s my favorite because I hadn’t thought of it before. I think the answer is no, but it’s an intriguing question. The Falcons have very few outside linebackers (Lorenzo Carter, Arnold Ebiketie, Bralen Trice, DeAngelo Malone, and Bradlee Anae are the only ones right now), and Andersen is one of the most athletic linebackers in NFL history. He’s one of 18 players at any position since 1987 with a relative athletic rating of 10. (Carter is one of the other 18. In fact, Andersen and Carter are the only two linebackers on the list.)

Andersen could definitely move to outside linebacker, but I think he stays put for two reasons. First, his biggest potential value is as a player with run-blocking ability in the A-gap combined with the athleticism to cover the middle of the field and be an elite interior blitzer. Second, he’s only just learning how to play inside linebacker. Andersen was lost most of last season to a torn pectoral, and as Bob mentioned, he played quarterback, running back, and linebacker in college. He has a position to master, and it seems like a waste of time to try to teach him another new position this year.

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Is there a logistical or salary cap-related reason why we haven’t signed a veteran cornerback yet, or is this move not as inevitable as some might assume? —Duncan S.

The Falcons have $3.5 million in cap space, according to Over the Cap. That’s the lowest amount in the league, but there’s almost always money that can be reorganized under the salary cap. Atlanta could restructure the contract of someone like point guard Chris Lindstrom to create some room.

As regular readers know, I think this trade should and probably will happen. There is plenty of time for this to happen, though. Remember, Jadeveon Clowney only signed with the Ravens in mid-August of last year and went on to have one of the best seasons of his career. If you are a veteran with options (like Stephon Gilmore, Xavien Howard, or Adoree Jackson, etc.), there are worse decisions than skipping a few weeks of training camp and moving closer to the start of the season.

How has the atmosphere and culture of the stadium changed from Arthur Smith’s regime to Raheem Morris’s? Is the change palpable? Have any players compared the new atmosphere to that of previous years? Do Terry Fontenot and Arthur Blank in particular seem to have a different relationship with Morris than with Arthur Smith? — Randall P.

The Falcons’ vibe and culture was good under Smith until the team lost four of five games to end the 2023 season and was clearly lacking confidence and energy, but there’s a definite change in vibe with the new staff. Morris is generally a more jovial guy than Smith and has clearly identified that this team needs a confidence boost. He’s made it clear that his main focus during OTAs and minicamp is to encourage and develop his players. Every player I’ve spoken to has said they love the vibe and think it’s great, but that’s par for the course with any coaching change on any team.

Things will inevitably get more serious once training camp begins, but it appears Morris will take a different approach than Smith throughout the year. That may be exactly what this team needs. Time will tell, but the Falcons haven’t had a culture problem under Smith. That’s not the reason they haven’t been successful.

As for the team’s mood, it’s hard to gauge during the offseason because the Falcons don’t have open locker room interviews during the offseason, so the only time the media sees players is in structured settings. We’ll know more about that once the season starts.

As for Blank’s relationship with team executives, that will always be difficult to determine because their interactions are almost all private and, unlike someone like Jerry Jones in Dallas, Blank tends to keep his business in-house.

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Thanks for trying to answer some of these questions. I know the big change in the passing game has been driven by the quarterback, but how are receivers and their impact on the game evaluated? For example, how has Darnell Mooney changed the wide receiver room and will Drake London have a chance to have a breakout year? — Benji H.

Thank you all for your interest and support. This coaching staff has emphasized pure speed at receiver with the addition of Mooney and Rondale Moore. As for how that will be evaluated, it’s pretty simple. The Falcons were 29th in the NFL last season in receptions (327) and 26th in receiving touchdowns (17). If they can’t get into the first quarter in both categories this year, it will be a disappointment.

London absolutely has a chance to have a breakout year. Now that he has an experienced quarterback, he’s probably in as good a situation as any receiver in the league. He’s playing with a proven quarterback, behind a good offensive line, with other weapons to take some pressure off him and in one of the best passing systems in the league. It’s his turn now. I think he’s up to the task, but we’ll see.


Is Falcons wide receiver Drake London primed for a big year playing with veteran quarterback Kirk Cousins? (Alex Slitz/Getty Images)

How confident are you that we’re going to replicate the success the Rams had last year with rookie defensive linemen? My confidence is two out of ten because we don’t have Aaron Donald playing next to our guys and we have a first-year defensive coordinator. Without a second cornerback on the roster, it’s shaping up to be a disaster on defense. — Michael M.

My confidence is higher than yours, but not by much. The Rams had 17 sacks last season on two rookie third-round picks. That’s rare. If Ruke Orhorhoro, Brandon Dorlus, Zion Logue and Bralen Trice combined for 12 sacks this season, that would be enough for Atlanta. As for the Aaron Donald issue, it’s true that the Falcons don’t have that caliber of player, but Grady Jarrett and David Onyemata are better than average in the middle.

Whether or not the Falcons add a cornerback (and we talked about that above), I don’t think it will be a defensive disaster. If it does, all the offensive additions will be for naught.

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How far have they gone with the improvements to the Flowery Branch facility and will they be completed by the start of the season? — John K.

The Falcons expected the new locker room and weight room to be installed by the start of the season, but they have yet to announce when the work will be completed. The media hasn’t toured the facility in about a month, so I don’t know how the work is progressing.

(Top photo of Raheem Morris: John Bazemore/Associated Press)