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Bair: Why discipline is essential for Terry Fontenot, Arthur Smith to execute Falcons offseason plan well

Atlanta has tons of salary-cap space and No. 8 overall draft pick, assets required to get better fast

INDIANAPOLIS – The Falcons have tons of salary cap space and the No. 8 overall pick in this year’s NFL Draft, resources required to significantly upgrade their roster, build around an sturdy young foundation and get better fast.

Only, however, if they do it right.

With great (financial) power comes great responsibility.

General manager Terry Fontenot was quick to point that out in his Tuesday morning press conference here at the NFL Scouting Combine.


The Falcons created this golden opportunity through tough decisions that required salary-cap sacrifice. Now they must execute in the second phase of Fontenot and Arthur Smith's long-term plan. They have drafted and developed well while erasing cap constraints.

That doesn't mean they'll be tossing money from a parade float or throwing it at every talented free agent making eyes at them on the open market.

Discipline is required here. Restraint is as important as ever in a competitive open marketplace.

"When you have a lot of cap space, that means you have a lot of work to do," Fontenot said. "We have to add to every position, every phase. We just want to make sure we have the right discipline and make sure we're doing the right things.

"We have to set parameters. If we don't, we can get ourselves in a bind. We need to add a lot and we need to make sure we go through the process in the right way and focus on the right kind of people. We have to focus on our makeup and not compromise that at all."

That quote got me thinking about the task at hand in the coming weeks and how vital each move becomes. Proper salary-cap management is an puzzle spread over the 4-D chess board. It requires smarts and foresight and maybe a little strategy to get the talent required without getting back into trouble.

This can't be one wild spending spree over free agency's first days and that's it. They have homegrown players to extend this offseason and the next and the next after that. They must add premium talent that also offers value to the pass rush and offensive explosiveness.

Look, nobody bats 1.000. The Falcons won't this offseason. Missteps will be made, but they must be minimized wherever possible with a hit average that remains high.

We must also remember that, while there's a chance to get better in a hurry and become an NFC South contender, this remains a longer-term project. The Falcons defense won't get overhauled overnight. That unit should see significant upgrades, but it might not be possible to fix every ailment. The Falcons will be able to upgrade faster, however, with the cap flexibility possess and will look to maintain in future seasons.

"Clearly, we have a lot of cap space. Clearly, we have a lot of flexibility," Fontenot said. "That was a part of the plan. This is the phase we're in. But we have to be cautious because we're not trying to win a press conference. We want to make sure we're bringing in the right types of players into our building."

Smith and Fontenot talk a ton about finding culture fits, that it's about finding the right 53 over the best 53. That will be vital in their talent pursuit both in the draft and free agency.

They'll be looking at a different class of player in free agency, one that's more expensive but more valuable, to shore up glaring weaknesses.

And then there’s the quarterback question, one that will dictate how other moves go. Sticking with Desmond Ridder as a primary option, while on a rookie contract, would provide more space to add other positions of need. Adding pricey vet takes that away.

Fontenot and Smith, in separate interviews, weren’t willing to make sweeping declarations regarding their quarterback situation. Why should they?

That doesn't fall in line with a clear theme of this offseason. The Falcons have money spend and are keeping options open with how they'll spend it. Why, as Fontenot said, would the Falcons want to put themselves in a box?

Survey the field. Do tons of research on culture fits. Get creative with contracts to leverage all this cap space. And then, above all else, execute well. The Falcons are confident they can do exactly that.

“With where we’re at now, our cap is clear,” Smith said in an interview with "That will allow us to become more aggressive in player acquisitions. As always, we put high expectations on ourselves. We've never shied away from that. We didn't in 2021. We didn't in 2022. And we really like where we're going in 2023."

Join us as we take a look back at our favorite photos of our rookies from the 2022 Atlanta Falcons season.

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