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Monday, January 27, 2014
With extensions, Smith, Dimitroff must win

By Vaughn McClure

Rarely, if ever, will you see an NFL coach get a contract extension after his team finishes a season 4-12.

Such was the scenario for Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith on Monday, as Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff received one-year contract extensions while team president Rich McKay received a four-year extension through 2019.

No matter how you examine it, Smith's extension is a vote of confidence from team owner Arthur Blank, although a longer extension would have been an expression of complete faith. Smith had at least one year remaining on the three-year contract extension he signed back in February of 2011. Tallying the numbers means Smith is now signed through 2015 and will go into the 2014 season not having to worry about an expiring contract.

That doesn't mean the pressure is off Smith, by any means. He still has to produce. He still has to show last year's implosion was just an aberration; a product of an injury-riddled team who had bad coaching along the offensive and defensive lines.

This past season marked Smith's lone losing campaign since taking over the Falcons in 2008. He has guided the team to four playoff appearances, including the NFC Championship game during the 2012 season.

Smith deserved a pass regardless based on his body of work alone. You don't give up on a coach who has the sixth-highest winning percentage since '08, as Smith posted a 60-36 record over that time span.

Yet the onus isn't just on Smith to get the Falcons back among the NFL's best. In fact, Dimitroff probably should face the bulk of the scrutiny due to the personnel decisions that need to be made this offseason.

The Falcons have to rebuild their offensive and defensive lines. They need to replace Tony Gonzalez, or at least attempt to do so. They need to add more bodies at linebacker and better depth across the board.

To help with the task, Dimitroff hired old friend Scott Pioli as his assistant general manager. No one expects the former New England duo to turn the Falcons into the Patriots overnight, but creating such a dynamic dynasty should be what they're striving for daily.

Let's not ignore McKay's role in this whole equation. He'll be responsible for overseeing the new stadium, which is scheduled to be ready in 2017.

By then, Blank hopes the Falcons are back among the league's elite teams. It's up to Dimitroff and Smith to have Blank's back, just like he has theirs.