Dimitroff wound up keeping his gig with reduced power. New coach Dan Quinn was given control of the 53-man roster and reported directly to Blank. Scott Pioli, Dimitroff’s close friend, assumed greater responsibility with the NFL draft and pro scouting. Dimitroff’s status remained precarious after Quinn piloted the Falcons to an 8-8 season in 2015, requiring Blank to pen a statement after the season simply to say Dimitroff wasn’t getting fired. His excellent working relationship with Quinn was cited as the primary reason. But the team’s recent drafts should have been.
The 2016 Falcons proved once again how quickly NFL teams can hashtag rise up with a few good drafts, especially when a franchise quarterback is in place. Only six current starters were on the team in 2013. Dimitroff and Pioli unearthed 10 starters in the last three drafts, highlighted by Pro Bowl running back Devonta Freeman, Pro Bowl linebacker Vic Beasley and left tackle Jake Matthews. Nearly half of Atlanta’s roster, 22 players on the active roster, were added to the team this season. That includes four rookie starters selected in the first four rounds of the 2016 NFL Draft.
However, it became a story of “what could have been” as the Patriots gained momentum late in the quarter, leading to a 34-28 overtime victory against the Falcons at NRG Stadium. Quarterback Tom Brady, appearing in his seventh Super Bowl, led his offense to 31 consecutive points in the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history.
Throughout the season, the Falcons have relied heavily on the concept of brotherhood. In the midst of their loss, the focus remained on one another, as individual accomplishments were pushed aside. Not being able to bring the title back to Atlanta caused the same plays that were considered game-changers to quickly lose significance.
With all due respect to other hot locales — namely New York, Los Angeles and Miami — Atlanta is the place to be right now. It’s been the epicenter of hip-hop culture for years, but now it’s claiming the best team in the NFC, a squad plenty capable of delivering the first Lombardi Trophy ever to these parts. Falcons fans already were losing their minds as Atlanta produced a 44-21 win over Green Bay in that NFC title game. Now they’re hoping their hometown heroes can conquer Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and cheap jerseys and the rest of the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI.
If the Falcons can achieve that feat, Atlanta will surge even higher in the realm of hipness. “Atlanta is a unique city to the world,” Lil Jon said. “It’s a certain pulse that the city has. I don’t know how to explain it, because I’ve been here all my life. There’s no other place like it. I love the food. I love our culture here. We’re the music capital of the world pretty much for hip-hop, and we got a great football team.”
“I think we are mentally tougher,” quarterback Matt Ryan said. “We are a more resilient group, for sure, and you learn from that. Obviously we started fast last year, and it didn’t go our way in the second half of the season. But I think what you learn, especially for young guys, is that the difference between wins and losses are a handful of plays, and we have to be on the right end. I think we have done a really good job being opportunistic early in the season.”
That is the biggest reason to feel good about Atlanta right now. These Falcons realize that they’ve been down this road before, and they don’t want to falter again. The hidden blessing in last year’s collapse was that it hardened this team in such a way that it won’t start believing it’s arrived too quickly. The more the Falcons talked after Sunday’s game, the more they sounded like a group of guys who won’t be savoring their success until they’re playing deep into January.
When healthy, Poe is among the most athletic interior defenders the league has seen. He blew up the 2012 scouting combine in the 40-yard dash, the 10-yard split and the bench press. Although he was deserving of a Pro Bowl selection as an exceptionally disruptive force in 2013 and 2014, he hasn’t played at that level since undergoing back surgery in the 2015 offseason.
The prove-it deal allows Atlanta to gamble on Poe on recapturing that Pro Bowl form without committing beyond the 2017 season. If Poe does excel in Quinn’s system, he will form an imposing interior duo with Super Bowl LI star Grady Jarrett.
Roberts has signed a one-year, $1.8 million deal that includes $750,000 guaranteed with the Falcons, a source informed of the situation told NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport on Tuesday. The team later confirmed the signing.
The Falcons mark Roberts’ fourth NFL team in five seasons. He played his first four seasons with the Arizona Cardinals before playing two seasons with the Washington Redskins. The eighth-year veteran made 14 catches for 188 yards and a touchdown last season in Detroit.