New England Patriots: Thomas Dimitroff

Highlighting Pats-Falcons connections

September, 27, 2013
Each week, we’ll use this space to pass along players, coaches and executives from the Patriots’ upcoming opponent who have a tie to the team or other unique ties to the area and organization.

Below are current members of the Falcons organization with a New England tie:

Cornerback Asante Samuel. Now on his third team, the veteran cornerback was a pivotal member of the Patriots secondary during their run to consecutive Super Bowl wins from 2003-2004. Known as one of the most reactive cornerbacks in the NFL during his career, Samuel still has a nose for the football, as he managed five picks for the Falcons last season.

Personnel staff
General manager Thomas Dimitroff. The shot-caller in Atlanta has made a rather seamless transition from his role as the Patriots director of college scouting into his new title in Atlanta, taking over in 2008 and helping to quickly turn one of the league’s struggling franchises into a consistent playoff contender. Dimitroff has done so through quality drafting, sensible free-agent signings and bold trades, led by the decision to package multiple picks to move up in the draft and select star wide receiver Julio Jones.

Director of player personnel Lionel Vital. 2013 marks Vital’s first season as the director of player personnel for Atlanta after previously working as the assistant director to David Caldwell, now the Jaguars GM. Vital was the assistant director of college scouting for the Patriots from 2001-2004 after working as a national scout in 2000. He entered the NFL ranks in 1991 with the Browns where he was hired by Bill Belichick to the personnel staff.

Other connections
Offensive line coach Pat Hill. Now in his second season in charge of the Falcons offensive line, Hill is a respected assistant around the league who also has a close relationship with Belichick. He served as the offensive line and tight ends coach for Belichick from 1992-1995 with the Browns and has maintained a strong relationship since that time. Two of Hill’s players from Fresno State, where he was the head coach from 1997-2011, are stalwarts along the Patriots offensive line: Logan Mankins and Ryan Wendell.

On Belichick and trading up for Julio Jones

September, 24, 2013
In Michael Holley's book "War Room: The Legacy of Bill Belichick and the Art of Building the Perfect Team," Holley details the rise of the Patriots under Belichick, while weaving in how former assistants Scott Pioli and Thomas Dimitroff went on to run their own teams and took many (but not all) of the same team-building principles with them.

One part of the book is timely to revisit this week, as the Belichick-built Patriots prepare to face the Dimitroff-built Falcons on Sunday night.

In 2011, Dimitroff made a bold trade in the NFL Draft to select receiver Julio Jones with the No. 6 overall pick. The trade was costly, with the Falcons giving up a 2011 first-rounder (27th overall), 2011 second-rounder (59th), 2011 fourth-rounder (124th), 2012 first-rounder and 2012 fourth-rounder. And according to Holley's book, it was a move that Belichick advised Dimitroff against making because of its high cost.

This was a hot topic when "War Room" was released, with the Atlanta Journal Constitution and others (SI's Peter King's book review) writing on Dimitroff going against the advice of one of his mentors.

Spinning it forward, Belichick was asked the following question on his regular conference call today: Has your opinion changed at all on the currency that Thomas Dimitroff gave up to trade up for Jones in the draft ... now that there have been two-plus years to see how he's developed as a receiver?

"I think Julio has done a great job for them," Belichick answered. "He's an excellent football player, period. As a receiver, he's got good good strength, good speed, good ball skills. He makes some acrobatic catches, goes up and takes the ball away from defenders. He's strong after the catch. Tough guy to tackle. He's also very good in the running game, a good blocker. He's a guy that will go in and get linebackers and safeties in the running game; he's probably about as good as anyone in the league. So it's not just his receiving skills, although they're very good. I think he's a complete football player. I know he's a tough kid, and a hard worker, and is great for their program. I'm sure that they're very happy he's on their team, because he does a good job in every area."

Belichick obviously likes Jones (team-high 27 catches) as a player, but his response didn't answer the direct question of whether his opinion has changed from the 2011 draft as it relates to what the Falcons gave up to select him.

That's a good topic to debate, especially when considering Jones figures to be the Patriots' No. 1 defensive priority on Sunday night.