Thomas Dimitroff has made both good and bad decisions as the Atlanta Falcons’ general manager. The Todd McClure/Peter Konz decision is certainly the worst.
As the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine rapidly approaches at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on February 23rd to February 29th, the Atlanta Falcons’ front office needs to enter this upcoming offseason with a great deal of focus, as the Falcons only have five draft picks and are only under the salary cap by roughly $23 million.
While the Atlanta Falcons did better than usual in the 2015 NFL Draft under general manager Thomas Dimitroff, the Falcons have to knock both the 2016 NFL Draft and the free agency period out of the park. They simply cannot have another 2012 NFL Draft or a 2013 free agency period, the two worst parts of an offseason in Atlanta for Dimitroff.
As we enter the second-year of the Dan Quinn era in Flowery Branch and what will be the ninth season of Thomas Dimitroff running the front office, let’s take a look at the biggest mistake Dimitroff has made to date in running the Atlanta Falcons: letting long-time starting center Todd McClure retire to promote second-year player Peter Konz.
Now one might wonder why this one roster move made by Thomas Dimitroff is worse than paying often-injured offensive tackle Sam Baker, taking defensive tackle Peria Jerry over Clay Matthews in the 2009 NFL Draft, or signing tired veteran running back Steven Jackson in 2013. Dimitroff’s decision to let McClure retire has left a massive void on the offensive line that the Atlanta Falcons have yet to rectify at center.
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McClure played his entire 13-year NFL career (2000-12) with the Atlanta Falcons. While he was never a Pro Bowler for the Atlanta Falcons, McClure was the cornerstone of the Falcons’ offensive line in half of the franchise’s 12 playoff berths to date (2002, 2004, 2008, 2010-12).
With McClure at center, the Falcons almost always had a clean pocket for their quarterback to throw from. While the tackle spots weren’t always great during McClure’s tenure in Atlanta, one could argue that the interior with McClure and guard Justin Blalock gave the Falcons’ quarterbacks a chance to have success under center with them protecting up front.
Dimitroff didn’t want to offer the veteran McClure a new contract before the start of the 2013 NFL season, opting to go younger with a 2012 second round pick out of Wisconsin in interior lineman Peter Konz. Konz struggled mightily in 2013 as the new starting center for the Atlanta Falcons and the team went 4-12.
Konz’s three-year stay in Atlanta (2012-14) was a forgettable as his 2012 Atlanta Falcons draft class, as every member of that group three years later was not only not on the Atlanta Falcons roster, but out of the NFL. That 2012 Draft Class was Thomas Dimitroff’s biggest series of mistakes as general manager, headlined by Konz’s inability to become an NFL starter on the offensive line.
Dimitroff has acknowledged the series of gaffes made in the 2012 NFL Draft and will need to hit on just about every front office decision he makes in 2016 to feel safe about returning to his job in 2017 with the Atlanta Falcons.
The Atlanta Falcons’ offensive line greatly improved under a new coaching regime, as offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s zone blocking system saw the tackles and guards play very well in 2015. Offensive line coach Chris Morgan in his first year in Atlanta led what Pro Football Focus rated as the No. 4 offensive line in the NFL. This unit in 2015 could run block, pass protect, and was rarely penalized.
However, one issue remains with the Atlanta Falcons’ offensive line entering 2016: who will start at center? Mike Person did well in the first four weeks before hurting his ankle against the Washington Redskins Week 5. He struggled the rest of the way. James Stone played center in 2014 when now departed starting center Joe Hawley got hurt.
Unless Thomas Dimitroff believes that Person, Stone, or Gino Gradkowski are the answer at center for the 2016 Atlanta Falcons, expect him to draft a center in the second, third, or fourth round of the 2016 NFL Draft. There are plenty of great players Dimitroff could select in the 2016 NFL Draft to help solidify the center position like Alabama’s Ryan Kelly, Michigan State’s Jack Allen, or Notre Dame’s Nick Martin.
With the Atlanta Falcons coming off an 8-8 2015 NFL campaign, the third straight season the Falcons have missed the NFC Playoffs, there is a ton on the line with the franchise entering 2016. The season schedule is significantly tougher than in 2015.
With the team needing a few holes filled to hopefully contend for a playoff spot this fall, the front office has to solve the problem at center this offseason. Since Thomas Dimitroff decided not to bring back Todd McClure in 2013, the Atlanta Falcons have had serious interior issues that are contributing to mistakes offensively and thus keeping the Dirty Birds out of the NFC Playoffs.