Posted on: January 3, 2011 9:23 am
The regular season has just ended, with the Falcons finishing 13-3 to achieve the NFC's top seed for the postseason. We're heading into a bye week, so I decided to sneak something onto the old blog (which I didn't really maintain this season, putting everything directly on the message board instead).
Is there anybody out there?
A few weeks ago (with several weeks remaining in the regular season), the AJC's Mark Bradley did a piece on his blog musing how this year's Falcons team might rank among the best ever. Naturally, the article touched on the 1998 NFC Championship team and the 1980 team, and obviously the 2010 team could surpass them with a successful postseason. Overall, it was a fairly lame article that lacked any detail whatsoever. But as you might expect, such an entry touched off a long chain of comments.
I threw in my two cents. Even without the postseason and with a few games remaining in the regular season, I feel this year's team has already earned the #3 spot on the all-time list behind those two years.
Here's my (pending) top ten list of best years in franchise history:
# 1 = 1980. They choked in the final five minutes and broke our hearts. Whenever you hear a commentator saying the prevent defense only prevents a win, this team's playoff collapse is Exhibit A. But they had a whole lot of talent, plus depth as good as any future Falcons team in spite of NFL rosters having only 45 players in those days. I think that most of us who watched both teams would give the 1980 bunch the edge over the Superbowl-bound 1998 crew. But it's admittedly very, very close.
# 2 = 1998. Second best regular season record in the league that year. It's really tough to put them # 2 instead of # 1, as they won Atlanta's only conference title.
# 3 = 2010. Of course, this team gets the "pending" caveat as a work still in progress. Their postseason performance could put this year's group over the top.
# 4 = 2004. Surprised? Take another look at this bunch, as they certainly deserve the kudos. They won the division title and were the # 2 seed in the conference. And they lived up to it in the postseason, making it to the NFC Championship game.
New coach Jim Mora and new GM Rich McKay completely rebuilt the secondary and overhauled the o-line on a shoestring budget. The result was a much improved pass defense and a lethal "D-V-D" rushing attack of Warrick Dunn, Michael Vick, and T.J. Duckett.
2004 also deserves a little extra attention for its draft. While many (for example, the AJC's Jeff Schultz - who thought McKay was responsible for the 2003 draft and refused to include Jason Snelling as part of the 2007 draft class even after the omission was pointed out to him) will disagree, I'll contend that the 2004 draft was *THE* key first step in the foundation of the current Falcons roster.
It wasn't just Michael Jenkins. DeAngelo Hall and Matt Schaub were traded for the draft picks that ultimately brought us Justin Blalock, Sam Baker, Garrett Reynolds, Vance Walker, and Harry Douglas. In other words, 2004 wasn't just a good team. It was one whose legacy remains strong even six years down the road.
# 5 = 2008. 11-5 and a missed Saints field goal (in their season finale against the Panthers) from taking the division title and the NFC's # 2 seed. This team obviously also had a serious impact going forward, so it deserves a top five berth. But it still had holes (particularly at DT) and made a quick exit from the postseason against an arguably lesser Arizona team, so # 5 is as high as this season gets.
# 6 = 1973. This forgotten team had the franchise on the verge of joining the league's elite. They were the NFC's # 5 seed, falling one win short of making the postseason. Alas, a disastrous trade and perhaps the worst draft of all time the following spring set the franchise back several years. (The silver lining of that 1974 collapse: Atlanta was able to draft Steve Bartkowski in the next draft.)
# 7 = 1991. Jerry Glanville's bunch was fun, took the Falcons to the playoffs for the first time in over a decade with a 10-6 regular season record, and topped it off by beating the Saints in an outstanding wild card game.
Alas, they were in the midst of the Ken Herock draft years, so sustaining any momentum was well nigh impossible. Even if they hadn't traded that QB they drafted in the second round that year, they were probably doomed thanks to other picks that became spectacular flops - like Bruce Pickens, taken with the #3 overall pick that same year.
# 8 = 1978. The original Gritz Blitz defense was MUCH more fun to watch in the late '70s than the Falcons offense, and this group gave Atlanta its first ever postseason appearance plus a playoff win against Philadelphia in the wild card game.
They'd be higher up the list, but they had an utterly inept running game - featuring that almighty duo of Haskel Stanback and Bubba Bean. (How's that for a frightening flashback!) Eddie LeBaron quickly addressed this deficiency. The Falcons drafted all three of William Andrews, Lynn Cain and James Mayberry the following spring, setting the stage for 1980.
# 9 = 2002. The youngsters might feel this bunch should be higher, thanks to the playoff win over the Packers in Green Bay. But otherwise, this 9-6-1 team really wasn't all that special. They didn't win the division, and they squeaked into the playoffs as the # 6 seed. They ranked 14th in total offense and 19th in total defense.
# 10 = 1995. June Jones has his moment in the sun as an NFL coach. The high-octane Red Gun offense had a 1000-yard rusher (Ironhead Heyward) and THREE different 1000-yard receivers (Eric Metcalf, Terrance Mathis and Bert Emanuel). But they barely squeaked into the playoffs with a 9-7 record, edging out the Chicago Bears for the third and final wild card spot - where the Packers promptly stomped them by a 37-20 score.
It was, of course, too good to be true. Ken Herock delivered a typical subpar Falcons draft that year and gave up the team's first two picks of 1996 in trades - the first rounder as the last component of the Jeff George trade, and the second rounder to acquire safety Patrick Bates.
The team went 3-13 in 1996, and Jeff George and June Jones had their famous spat on national television. George was waived, Jones was fired, Herock was ousted, and Bates was arrested - all before the 1997 draft.
Honorable mention = 2009. It's our only other winning season in franchise history. Sad but true.
Tags: Atlanta, Bert Emanuel, Bruce Pickens, Craig Heyward, Dan Reeves, DeAngelo Hall, Eric Metcalf, Falcons, James Mayberry, Jeff George, Jerry Glanville, Jim Mora, June Jones, Ken Herock, Lynn Cain, Matt Schaub, Michael Jenkins, Michael Vick, Patrick Bates, Rich McKay, Steve Bartkowski, Superbowl, T.J. Duckett, Terrance Mathis, Warrick Dunn, William Andrews
Posted on: January 23, 2010 9:05 pm
Edited on: March 22, 2010 9:13 pm
Recap: a draft pick is an asset in itself. Each team gets seven of them per year (leaving out the compensatory picks, at least for now).
If you draft players that don't stick with the team, you have more holes to fill. You end up using picks year after year just to replace the same spots on the roster instead of improving the team.
But if you end up trading the players or receiving compensatory draft picks when they leave via free agency, you have extended the "life" of those picks. They might not be in the form of the same players, but you still have assets to show for them. That can be as good (and sometimes better) than re-signing the same players you initially drafted.
A prime Falcons example is the 2004 draft. I claim that three of the top five drafts in franchise history came in the last decade - and oddly enough, each of our three GMs of the decade had one.
Dan Reeves (counting him as a GM since he had full control over personnel as well as head coaching duties) had the 2001 draft. Thomas Dimitroff had the 2008 class, which may be remembered as the best draft in Falcons history.
And in between, Rich McKay had the forgotten gem of 2004.
Surprised to hear that draft called a "gem"? Well, first look at the players selected: DeAngelo Hall, Michael Jenkins, Matt Schaub, and Demorrio Williams. That's a two-time Pro Bowl defensive back, a starting wide receiver, a franchise quarterback, and a starting linebacker. Four starters out of seven picks is an *outstanding* draft class.
Go back through the annals of Falcons history and count how many of our draft classes produced even three guys who were still starting in the NFL after six seasons. It's an extreme rarity, at least for Atlanta. For that matter, it doesn't happen all that often for any team. Kudos to the scouting department for that one - it really was one of the best drafts the Falcons had ever had.
But the press is quick to dismiss that draft, sometimes even calling it a failure since Jenkins was the only player from that group still with the team heading into the 2008 season.
Not so fast, kemo sabe... The Falcons have a whole lot more to show for that draft class than just our #2 receiver.
DeAngelo had his famous argument with Petrino in the Panthers game in 2007 and demanded a trade rather than play for yet another rookie coach in 2008. Ultimately, new GM Dimitroff granted him his wish and dealt him to the Raiders for a pair of draft picks. (Be careful what you wish for, DeAngelo - you might just get it...)
The picks received were a second rounder in 2008 and a fifth rounder in 2009. Thank you ever so kindly, Mr. Davis. It was a pleasure doing business with you.
And many fans believe the Falcons made a big mistake trading Matt Schaub. It's hard to blame them, especially considering how things went in the summer of 2007. But the part of that story that gets left out is that Schaub was already a restricted free agent, and Arthur Blank's nine figure contract extension to Michael Vick made it clear that Schaub's intended role was purely as a backup. In other words, Schaub was already as good as gone the moment the 2006 season ended.
The Falcons offered him a high tender in order to talk trade and control the picks they received. While they didn't get the highest possible RFA bounty (a first and a third rounder), the Falcons did get two first day draft picks from the Texans - a second rounder in 2007 and another second rounder in 2008.
That 2007 second rounder from Schaub became starting left guard Justin Blalock.
The 2008 second rounders for Hall and Schaub were the second rounders that Atlanta sent in a draft day deal to the Redskins.
ESPN reported that the Falcons gave Washington three picks to move up to #21 to take Sam Baker. Atlanta fans were horrified by the one-sided nature of the trade, leading Dimitroff to go out of his way that night to clear the air and make sure the local media understood that those initial reports were incorrect. It was NOT a three for one deal. It was three picks for three picks, allowing the Redskins to move up with two picks while Atlanta moved up with one.
The actual trade bumped the #34 (from the Raiders for Hall) up to #21, landing Baker. The #48 (from the Texans for Schaub) dropped to #84, with Atlanta taking Harry Douglas. The other part was that the fourth round pick moved down to the fifth. I doubt many fans would object - that pick became Kroy Biermann.
And the following year, the Cowboys traded up in the fifth round. (Jerry Jones making trades on draft day? Big shock, I know.) Dallas gave us an extra seventh rounder to move down 13 spots. They acquired our DeAngelo Hall pick and used it to draft DeAngelo Smith. Atlanta used the picks from Dallas to take Garrett Reynolds in the fifth and Vance Walker in the seventh.
The bottom line... sure, DeAngelo Hall and Matt Schaub are now elsewhere.
But their draft picks ultimately became left tackle Sam Baker, left guard Justin Blalock, slot receiver/return man Harry Douglas, offensive tackle Garrett Reynolds and defensive tackle Vance Walker. Add in starting wide receiver Michael Jenkins, and the Falcons head into 2010 with six players on the roster that resulted from the picks of the 2004 draft.
Posted on: November 10, 2008 6:01 pm
Edited on: November 10, 2008 9:32 pm
Shortly after the combine, DeAngelo Hall demanded a trade. The Falcons consented. And right after his new team played against these very Falcons, Hall found himself unemployed. He didn't want to be a Falcon to start the season, and it turned out that the Falcons didn't want him back to finish the season.
We rip MeAngelo to shreds on a regular basis on the Falcon message board, but I do have to give him due credit. Going into that Oakland-Atlanta game, he had 3 interceptions (all of the Atlanta cornerbacks combined had only two) and was second in the league in passes defended.
In the meantime, Brent Grimes moved up from the practice squad and has played pretty well. Chris Houston is developing nicely. Chevis Jackson is still making rookie mistakes, but he's progressing well too. But the real treasure came out of a week 1 trade with Denver. It's our new top cornerback, Domonique Foxworth.
With 18 starts and 46 games played in the prior three seasons, Foxworth is by far the most experienced cornerback on Atlanta's active roster. Chris Houston started 11 games as a rookie last season, while Grimes appeared in (but did not start) the last two games of 2007 after interim coach Emmitt Thomas called him up from the practice squad. David Irons played special teams last season, and Chevis Jackson is a rookie this season.
Foxworth was strictly a backup and saw very little action until the bye week, as the coaches waited until he could learn the defense before they threw him in. But he's now listed on the team's depth chart as the starting left cornerback, ahead of Brent Grimes. Grimes hurt his knee late in the game against Chicago. Foxworth has started the three games since then.
In his first three starts as a Falcon, Foxworth has notched 5 passes defensed and has allowed very few completions, becoming Atlanta's most dependable defensive back.
He is a free agent after this season. Under the terms of the trade, the Falcons would have to send their sixth round draft pick to Denver if they re-sign him. There are also reports that the seventh round pick Atlanta traded to acquire him is a conditional pick that could escalate based on playing time.
It should also be noted that Foxworth can play safety. The team should get Von Hutchins back from IR next season. If they can retain Foxworth, the what-ifs for next season's secondary will be really interesting...