The Falcons lost a tough one to the 49ers that negatively impacted their playoff chances. That was Sunday. It's Wednesday morning now, and they've already moved on to the next one.
That's the job requirement for players and coaches alike. There's plenty of progress left to be made this season on both sides of the ball, with work done now that can impact their efforts in 2022.
It's clear from the mailbag that there's plenty of focus on 2022 at this stage, as we try to sort out who might return and what happens next. The next three games will play into that.
Let's dive into all those things, both present and future, in Wednesday's Bair Mail:
JC Daniel from Savannah, Ga.
After watching us regularly blow games in recent years with a coaching staff that did "less with more," it is actually refreshing to know we finally have coaches who can do "more with less." If we win a game or two at home, this season will be a success. It is disappointing to see or hear comments about losing more veterans before next year. Outside of Patterson, who will we have to replace? Also, we have one reliable offensive lineman, Matthews, and one reliable defensive lineman, Jarrett. They are not getting any younger. How do we get them help to truly improve the team?
Bair: There's almost always significant roster turnover between one season and another, but that's more pronounced when a team has salary-cap issues. The Falcons certainly have those and are set on removing them, meaning they signed most free agents to one-year deals.
They have several players hitting unrestricted free agency, including 12 players I would consider significant contributors. That includes Foye Oluokun, Russell Gage, Hayden Hurst, Lee Smith, Erik Harris, Duron Harmon and Cordarrelle Patterson. Dante Fowler is entering a void year of his contract. There are a lot of decisions to make, but they must weather this storm to right with the cap, adding veterans on shorter-term deals. If they continue to draft well, however, that young foundation will get bigger and Falcons will be ready and able to reward contract extensions to those worthy of them.
Artie Hobson from Warner Robins, Ga.
I asked you before, and here goes again, why does Arthur smith not use Keith smith for more than just blocking?
Bair: Hey, Artie. Thanks for the question. Okay, questions, plural. Ha. I've covered Keith Smith at two spots now and think he's among the best of an endangered species. Fullbacks aren't used much these days, though they have a regular place in a few modern systems. The Falcons' scheme is one.
It also features a bunch of multiple tight end sets. It becomes about the package of players you want on the field. My point in all that is to say this: can't use him on every down. That said, The Falcons have gotten Smith more involved with at least 10 run blocking snaps in five of the last six games, per Pro Football Focus. In fact, only five fullbacks have more run blocking snaps than Smith.
Bob Mendel from Houston, Tex.
Please explain to us how a team with Matt Ryan reaches the Super bowl in 2017 with I think it was a 12 and 4 season and now they are the bottom of the pack. This team has not been competitive ever since the Super bowl I just don't see how other teams year after year after year reload and have good seasons!!
Bair: Arthur Smith said it a few months back (and I totally agree) that the NFL is so captivating because all the teams have the same amount of resources. It's about how you use them. That makes for a great sport. So, we can deduce it was too many draft misses and unwise use of salary cap funds the Falcons are still living with today. It'll be up to Smith and Terry Fontenot to make the right choices – sometimes they'll be hard ones – to get the Falcons into a stretch where success can be replicated time and again.
John Walls from Front Royal, Va.
First, thanks for writing about this "franchise". I get you're a "cup half full", probably comes with the job requirement. But this team is, has been, and will continue to be awful. The talk of playoffs prior to Sunday's game was hilarious. No one honestly thought they had a chance. They haven't beat even a half-way decent team. Their wins were nail biters against the bottom of the NFL who were playing at their worst. If they played the same teams again now, they might, might beat Jacksonville and the Giants. That's it. Anyway, to my question. If the Falcons approached Grady on an extension, do you think he accepts?
Bair: Appreciate you writing in, John. I wouldn't say I'm glass-half-full or half-empty. I'm just not the type to scream "They suck!" or "They're awesome" from the mountaintops. That was the case during stints covering three other NFL teams for independent outlets, as well. I'm more interested in the why. That requires some nuance, and a lot less shouting. I can understand your level of pessimism through the playoff chase, with the factors you mentioned, but the Falcons had a real chance to make a bold statement against the 49ers. That's a fact. It didn't happen. Now we reassess and shift our focus.
Now to your question about Grady Jarrett. The Falcons didn't restructure his deal last offseason when they did so to so many others. He has one year left on his deal and is certainly playing well enough to warrant a new one. Finding one could be complicated, given the state of the Falcons cap, and restructures often just kick cap trouble down the road. Eventually that has to halt on a large scale. Following Jarrett's status will be interesting in the coming months and possibly years.
Call for questions
Let's fill the mailbag up one more time before Sunday's game against the Lions. Submit them right here for inclusion in Friday's Bair Mail.