INDIANAPOLIS --Speaking to the media on Saturday at the NFL Combine, Atlanta Falcons General Manager Thomas Dimitroff called himself the "co-architect" of the Falcons, a title he shares with Head Coach Mike Smith.
Dimitroff and Smith have worked hand-in-hand in their two years to construct a consistent contender, crafting an offense littered with weapons and a defense that is younger and more urgent.
Smith, who spoke with the media on Friday, and Dimitroff have always said they will build the Falcons through the draft with a few choice free agents sprinkled throughout.
Thus far, the regime has held true to that mantra, signing free agent running back Michael Turner in 2008 to pair with three draft picks who became starters that season. Last year, Dimitroff brought future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez to Atlanta for a 2010 second-round draft pick, signed 11-year veteran linebacker Mike Peterson, and gained one immediate starter in first-round draft pick Peria Jerry and one eventual starter in third-round cornerback Christopher Owens.
The two architects in Atlanta accomplished all of this without doling out excessive amounts of money in long-term contracts. Smith and Dimitroff say this trend will continue, despite the likelihood the 2010 season will be an uncapped year with the collective bargaining agreement set to expire on March 5.
Dimitroff said the lack of a salary cap when free agency begins would not signal a departure from how they've built the franchise.
"We can only project as far as what we're going to do," Dimitroff said of the team's activity in free agency this year. "I'm not speaking for any other team; I'm just speaking for us. I just know that we're going to be very fiscally responsible going forward."
Smith echoed the same-as-any-other-year idea, sharing he and his coaching staff are evaluating the thinner pool of free agents this offseason. But their approach hasn't changed at all, despite the knowledge that more money can be spent.
"The only way we can approach it as a coaching staff is that it's going to be like any other year," said Smith. "We're going to go out and evaluate the players that are available and then it's going to be up to Thomas Dimitroff and his staff to make those decisions. Really our approach as a coaching staff has not been any different this year than any other."
The emphasis on using the draft to acquire talent is a system that has worked thus far for the Falcons.
Dimitroff pointed out due to the lower number of players available in free agency this year, focus on the draft became heightened. He and Smith are using the Combine process as a final evaluation in comparing the merits of potential free agents versus potential incoming draftees.
"We were very calculated in our thought process of let's go through the whole process here," Dimitroff said. "Let's get to the Combine and let's see exactly what we have out here one last time before we make the decision. To me, that's taking the whole body of work into consideration."
Atlanta's brass believes the key to building a consistent winner is to remain budget-conscious, scout and draft well and think globally for the long term. The NFL has shown this is the most productive way to build.
"We have to make sure we are building for sustainability and not just for the single year," Dimitroff said. "And we feel we are continuing to do that."
Other Notes from the Press Conferences:
Smith said running back isn't a priority, but the team always want to have depth at a position that takes such a pounding. * Smith likes the play of Spencer Adkins, a rookie from Miami who impressed on special teams, and second-year man Robert James. Both contribute depth to a unit he believes is maturing. * Quarterback Matt Ryan, according to Smith, is running and should be ready for offseason conditioning after struggling in the second half of 2009 with a toe injury. The head coach pointed out Ryan's toughness in coming back from an injury the team initially believed would keep him out up to six weeks. * When he drafted wide receiver Harry Douglas in 2008, Dimitroff envisioned a player impacting Atlanta's offense in a similar way that Pro Bowler Wes Welker has in New England. He's also pleased with Owens play, surpassing expectations as a No. 3 cornerback.
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