Happy New Year's, everybody! Well, almost.
Odds are great you're reading this on Friday, with 2022 just hours away now.
We still have two games left in this 2021 season, however, even if they're played after the calendar turns.
Sunday's matchup with the Buffalo Bills still means something, even if playoff odds are paper thin. We'll look a bit at that game, and a lot more into the future, in Friday's Bair Mail, [technically] the last one of the year:
Charlie C. from Boulder, Colo.
Scott, what are your predictions & prospects for rookie TE Kyle Pitts breaking mike Ditka's rookie receiving record for a tight end on buffalo in the frigid cold and snow Sunday?
Bair: If we're making bold predictions, Charlie, I do think Kyle Pitts breaks the record. I also think he does it at home against the Saints. That would make for a fun regular-season finale if it pans out that way. While Matt Ryan throws to the open guy, I think Pitts will be open often enough to enter the record books.
I think he will set the record for receiving yards by a rookie, breaking Julio Jones' mark, against Buffalo. That isn't such a bold prediction, considering he only needs 11 to do so.
Willis Walker from Montgomery, Ala.
I think that we will never be able to get the type of offensive line that is needed because of salary cap issues. Not to take anything away from Matt Ryan who in my opinion is a stellar quarterback, but if we can't afford the offensive line that is needed to protect Matt Ryan, why not look for a more mobile quarterback that can function effectively with the caliber of players we have on the offensive line? I don't know who it could be, I just know that Matt Ryan is an amazing quarterback, just not very mobile.
Bair: Thanks for the question, Willis. I don't think anything temporary, that includes the current cap situation, should impact the search for a quarterback of the future. If the front office and coaching staff fall in love with one, someone who fits and has "it," they should make sure to secure his services.
I'm of the belief that Matt Ryan remains a high-quality quarterback who will be the Falcons signal caller in 2022, possibly beyond that. But even that shouldn't stop the Falcons from taking a quarterback of the future wherever they find him.
Bill Whitten from Killen, Ga.
Scott, while it might be a little early to discuss the 2022 draft I'm curious of your personal opinion. Do you believe in drafting the best player available regardless of position or the best player available in the position of greatest need. I would like to see them make their two first picks the best defensive ends available. Would they ever consider that approach?
Bair: Thanks for the question, Bill. And happy new year to you. I've said several times in this space that the Falcons need edge rushers. Notice the plural. They could use more than one.
That said, the draft board trumps need in most every scout's mind. That's especially true for the Falcons, who have several needs across the roster. They need better in several areas and will look to upgrade all of them over time.
That's why best player available is the way to go in this situation. Get talent. Get value. And keep stacking draft classes. That'll get a team right, even if the cap's not in perfect shape.
The Atlanta Falcons are getting ready to take on the Buffalos Bills this Sunday. Take a look at the best images in this gallery.
Matt Storey from Prosper, Tex.
Long time Falcons fan, originally from Atlanta and used to work for the team in the 90's when they were in Suwanee. I am also a fan of what you are doing for the team, and I read your column every week, thank you for what you do! My question is - how can a team with a limited salary cap, not have but one player in the top 10 at any position (Grady Jarrett at #10, Kyle Pitts as a "riser") [according to a recent ESPN column]?
I am a big fan of where we are going for the future but can't get over a roster paying full price but not getting the value in return. Does the draft fix this? Sounds like a lot of work for the new front office.
Bair: That often happens, Matt, after a big year, or stretch of years, where you pay for what a player has done over what they will do. If you look at consistently good teams, there are players rewarded with bigger deals and other agonizingly cut. A franchise has to get those hard decisions right, especially in the NFL, where there's a finite amount to spend.
Rewarding the right players is an important step. So is drafting well. Many of the players from the list you reference are on rookie deals. Drafting and developing is another key component, with great value found in top players on their first NFL contract. And step three: being smart with veteran contract structure. Up front money's attractive to players, and contracts can be designed with lots of early guarantees that become pay-as-you-go deals as they progress. You need cap space to make that last part work. The Falcons must work their way towards that.