Mini-mailbag: Atlanta Falcons edition
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
Just opened up the mailbag. As is usually the case after I run team-by-team mailbags like I did Monday, I've got a lot more great questions.
That made me decide to do a quick version of team-by-team mailbags today. We'll hit two questions per team and start with the Atlanta Falcons.
Robb in Suffolk, VA writes: Pat, I've seen you, and others, use the phrase "it does not fit the profile of what the Falcons are trying to do" with regards to free agency and trades not involving draft picks. It's a nice, neat way to explain away the Falcons lack of movement this offseason. But can they take that approach too far? Just because they want to build through the draft, do they completely avoid signing defensive depth or making a trade for a Tony Scheffler (mentioned in your last blog) for that reason alone? Could they not build more effectively through the draft by acquiring some depth/starters via other means? They could still hold true to the build through the draft philosophy.
Pat Yasinskas: Excellent question. I'm going to point to some personal experience I had covering two other NFC South teams in my newspaper days. In the cases of Tony Dungy and Rich McKay joining forces with the Buccaneers in 1996 and John Fox and Marty Hurney becoming a team with the Panthers in 2002, I got to see up close two teams that decided to build through the draft. In both cases it worked very nicely. I know Thomas Dimitroff and Mike Smith looked at those and some other similar models when they took over the Falcons a year ago. What they're doing is taking a very calculated and deliberate approach and factoring in the salary cap and long-term implications for every move. Is it going to be the same every year? No, but the basic premise is to build through the draft and take your shots when you get them. For instance, Hurney and Fox have varied from their plan at various times, signing big free agents like Ken Lucas, Mike Wahle and Keyshawn Johnson. Interestingly, none of those guys stayed with the Panthers for long. They came in, played a role and left while the Panthers continued to build their team around the drafted core. The Falcons already have a lot of core parts in place and they'll get more in the upcoming draft. They might sign a free agent or two after the draft, but they'll be guys like linebacker Mike Peterson, who they previously signed. Peterson is basically a guy who came in at a moderate price and can plug a hole for a year or two. It might make for boring offseasons, but history has shown systems like this can work over the long term.
Eric in Nashville writes: Hey Pat, I was wondering if you had any more insight into Atlanta's trade of Laurent Robinson? The team seemed pretty happy to get him in the third round two years ago, and he showed some promise during his rookie season. I know he didn't play much last year, but I thought that was largely because of hamstring issues. What did the coaching staff not like about him? I was also curious as to how you think this will affect the Falcons' draft plans. Are they looking to spend a late-round pick on a receiver now? Clearly White, Jenkins, and Douglas are the top three guys, but there isn't much depth beyond them. Finneran is reliable, but he's old, and a lot of people were shocked that he even made the roster last year. I don't see him lasting much longer, given the youth movement everywhere else.
Pat Yasinskas: I remember arriving in Flowery Branch for training camp last year and some coaches, team officials and local media members were all thinking Laurent Robinson had a chance to win a starting job. But that prospect faded quickly. Yes, some injury issues might have played a small role. But the real reason why Robinson fell out of favor was that he wasn't much of a blocker and wasn't enthusiastic about going over the middle. The Falcons were putting in their new offense last year and both of those things are requirements for their type of receivers. Michael Jenkins was a willing and above-average blocker and that's why he won the No. 2 receiver job and had a breakout season. The Falcons are also very high on Harry Douglas, who had a nice rookie season. Along with Roddy White, they've got a nice group of top three receivers. Brian Finneran may stick around and continue to play a role, but I'm pretty sure you're going to see Atlanta add a receiver somewhere in the draft.