General manager Terry Fontenot was discussing how the Falcons managed a tricky salary-cap situation this offseason when interrupted by a knock at his office door.
A pressing matter kept him from finishing his thought right then, but he somehow picked up exactly where he left off four hours later, now armed with fresh perspective. A chance encounter with punter Dom Maggio provided it by recalling James 1:2-4, a Bible verse which says, in essence, that hard trials produce perseverance.
Fontenot related that message to how he and head coach Arthur Smith navigated a tricky first offseason running the Falcons. They had to quickly assemble personnel and coaching staffs. They had to conduct an NFL draft without a full scouting calendar to prepare. And they had to deal with salary-cap issues created by contracts they didn't write while building a roster designed to compete in 2021. And, yeah, that endeavor included a big trade.
The process wasn't easy, but Fontenot considers Falcons leadership better for the experience.
"As corny and cliché as it sounds, those things can really shape you as an organization," Fontenot said Tuesday in an exclusive sit-down interview with AtlantaFalcons.com. "It can really shape our relationships in the building, with our scouts and coaches, our operations people."
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The Falcons had cap issues compounded when the cap went down roughly eight percent in 2021. Getting right with it was no picnic.
"The cap was a challenge," Fontenot said. "We had to make some tough, difficult decisions, and yet we love where we are and the players we were able to sign. We were honest with them, and we're happy to have people who love ball and love to go compete and want to be a part of this. We had some players who took some pay cuts and did some things for us. It was a huge challenge, but we saw it as an opportunity. Yeah, it wasn't easy to get to this point. Nothing is going to be easy, and that's okay. We're ready to work hard, and we're excited to be where we are."
The Falcons are entering this season excited to compete, expecting to win. They didn't tear the roster down to the studs, begging fans to trust the process. Smith and Fontenot believe they can win now and build toward a prosperous future without sacrificing one aim for the other.
That's evident in the decisions made thus far, including the choice to strengthen the team around quarterback Matt Ryan through the NFL Draft. It's evident in the decision to add veterans on short-term deals ready to step in and start instead of relying on several rookies to make immediate and dramatic impacts. It's evident in the team's decision to restructure several deals over outright cuts. While Julio Jones was traded, the team got draft compensation and the relief required to sign the 2021 NFL Draft class.
That's all over now. It's time to focus on playing football with a talent base ready to compete. The Falcons believe they're better than some think, and vehemently disagree with those offering sour predictions for this season.
"There is a bunker mentality with us," Fontenot said. "It is disrespectful to say we're not going to be a good football team or that we're in a rebuilding mode. The players, coaches, staff, and everyone here, we put a lot into this. We're excited about it. We have confidence in ourselves, and we believe in the people here."
Fontenot believes the Falcons have some talented young players on the roster worth building around. The plan is to reach a point where the Falcons are free from cap trouble and can reward their own while stacking quality NFL draft classes that build the foundational depth required to usher in a period of sustained success.
He and Smith have a detailed plan for how to do all that, with the perseverance to overcome any obstacles presented to them along the way.
"When you take off on an airplane, it's rarely on its exact course," Fontenot said. "There are constant adjustments in flight, but you eventually land and get to where you're going. That's how we see it. We have a clear vision, but we also know we have to adapt and adjust."
Head coach Arthur Smith and general manager Terry Fontenot visit Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the first time and received a full tour from President & CEO Rick McKay.