(Updated: 3 p.m.)
If you were going to blame Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff for past personnel mistakes that led to the team’s decline, it wouldn’t seem right to not give him some credit for the obvious improvements over the past two years.
Falcons owner Arthur Blank obviously agrees. He has given Dimitroff a three-year contract extension.
Yes, I agree with this decision.
Dimitroff took a brunt of the criticism when the team went 10-22 and missed the playoffs over the 2013 and 2014 seasons. He deserved the hits. There was a case to be made that he should have lost his job along with coach Mike Smith, even if I — and clearly owner Arthur Blank, by his actions — believed that despite the mistakes, Smith underachieved with the rosters he was given.
I also believe Blank, as the builder of one of the most succeessful retail chains in history, has also a special affinity for builders of sports organizations. What Dimitroff accomplished after taking over in 2008 surpassed anything any Falcons’ general manager had accomplished in history. An organization that never had back-to-back winning seasons underwent a radical makeover and strung together five straight winning records under Dimitroff and Smith and made the playoffs in four of those years.
Drafts and some key personnel decisions, particularly those involving offensive and defensive linemen, contributed to the two-year slide, costing Smith his job. Blank chose to retain Dimitroff but in hiring Dan Quinn as new coach, he also gave him final say over the final roster, effectively making him head of football operations. It has never been articulated who actually has final say over the draft, but it’s difficult to imagine that Dimitroff would acquire a player — or be empowered to do so — if Quinn didn’t want him. Blank restructured also restructured the organization so that Quinn and Dimitroff report to him directly.
Quinn said if he and Dimitroff were split on a personnel decision, Blank would break the tie.
“But generally if we have a tie it, wouldn’t be the right (player) for us.”
So you’ve agreed on every personnel decision?
“We have. And that’s important. Over the last year and a half there have been a lot of roster decisions and personnel decisions we’ve made and we put a lot of thought into it together.”
Blank and Dimitroff first addressed the contract issue in the spring but, in Dimitroff’s words, “We put it away. I needed to get my head in the right spot. It was important for me to partner with Dan and focus on the process of the offseason. It was important that my focus be on that and not on my future.”
Dimitroff acknowledged that his reputation as a talent evaluator took several dings but said he has benefitted from the clarity from Quinn and assistants on the type of players they’re looking for.
“Obviously people are going to perceive things a certain way after two very difficult years,” he said. “We can talk about exactly why something happened, but that’s not important. A lot of us were raised that when you get knocked, you get back up. You don’t piss and moan and cry about it.”
Quinn and Dimitroff obviously have worked well together and there have been far more correct decisions than mistakes in the draft and free agency since the new structure. So why would Blank make a change? Quinn wanted to work with Dimitroff when he first got the coaching job and he wanted him again after last season.
Blank was correct to hold off extending Dimitroff’s contract before now. He obviously was not happy when the Falcons opened the season with a home loss to Tampa Bay. But they are 6-2 since, including wins at Denver, at Oakland and over Green Bay, and nearly won at Seattle.
As much as critics don’t want to give Dimitroff credit for the improvement, it short-changes his abilities as a personnel man and gives him no credit for what he accomplished when he first took over the organization. It also gives him no credit for the input he is providing now.
That doesn’t excuse past mistakes. But to completely ignore the man’s body of work never seemed right, either.
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