When it comes to turning a team's fortunes around and building them into consistent winners, few have done it better than Bill Polian.
Polian spent 32 seasons in the NFL and made his mark as a general manager for three different franchises – the Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers and the Indianapolis Colts. Those Polian-built teams appeared in eight conference championships and five Super Bowls, including the Colts' win over the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI.
To top off his amazing run, Polian – a six-time NFL Executive of the Year by The Sporting News – was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2015.
So, who better to assess the Atlanta Falcons' current vacancy at general manager? I caught up with Polian on Wednesday and asked several questions about the position.
We covered a number of topics, including what Polian thinks about the makeup of the Falcons roster, the salary cap, front office structure, ownership and how this job compares to others currently open around the league.
Question: The core of the Falcons roster is a mix of older and younger players. When you look at Matt Ryan (35 years old), Julio Jones (31), Jake Matthews (28), Grady Jarrett (27) and Deion Jones (26), is that collection of players that makes this job more attractive or will their ages and contracts scare some candidates off?
Bill Polian: No, I don't think so at all. There are only 32 of these jobs in the world. People don't get scared off by that; they're anxious to be employed. I don't think that's an issue.
Second of all, player personnel issues are the purview of, in some cases, ownership. I think that would be a discussion regarding Matt [Ryan]. Everybody else is the purview of the general manager and the coach, so they can make those decisions accordingly. As they go through the interview process, they will make their opinions known, I'm sure. And that's how the process works.
My personal feeling is that there's some talent here. Julio has still got some good years left. Matt has some good years left. I certainly think [Calvin] Ridley does. There are some guys on defense like [Grady] Jarrett and [Deion] Jones. Perhaps both safeties have some merit. So, I don't think the cupboard is bare. I think there are worse jobs, let me put it that way. But the new coach and general manager are going to go through that one and sort it out.
Question: When looking at the Falcons roster from top to bottom, what stands out the most about it to you?
Polian: I think Rich [McKay] would tell you and any other experienced football man would tell you, you look at the roster and say, what is it we need to win? You need 53, but beyond that, you do need some people who can change games.
Running back is one of those. I think you're pretty good at receiver. The offensive line – I can't offer an opinion on it because I haven't seen that much film, although I would think that the tackle position is one that bears some scrutiny.
On defense, that's been the principal problem. I think … [A.J.] Terrell has a bright a future. [Deion] Jones strikes me as a player who can be a big contributor. And certainly, Grady Jarrett has been a big contributor over time – and those big guys who can play are hard to find.
As I said, I think the cupboard is far from bare here. And Matt still has some good years left in him, I think.
Question: How important is it for this team and fan base to experience success early with a new regime?
Polian: I don't think you can expect to have success early. I think that's a false expectation. The bottom line is that you're going to have a new coach who will bring with him a new staff. The players have to learn a new system. The offensive guys will have to learn probably their fourth new system in at least six years. Defensively, who knows what the system may or may not be.
It's not a drawback. It's a growth process. It's an opportunity. But it does not bring with it instant success. And I don't believe – and I've been in the game a long time and built three pretty good teams – I don't think that the idea there will be instant success makes any sense at all.
My experience tells me that is simply talk radio or talk TV fodder. The real world doesn't work that way.