Terry Fontenot has gone through all the scenarios. He has weighed a bunch of things in his mind. But the Atlanta Falcons’ first-year general manager still isn’t sure exactly what he’ll end up doing Thursday night when his team comes on the board with the fourth pick in the NFL draft.
He could stay. He could trade back. He could take a quarterback. Or maybe a tight end. The options are there. Fontenot recognizes that but insists there’s “definitely no pressure” heading into his first draft because he believes the pressure comes in the process of preparing for the draft, not the night itself.
“There are still variables involved, so we know the players that we will be discussing there, and we can all anticipate the first three picks, but it has to actually happen,” Fontenot said Wednesday. “And then from that point we have to weigh the options of, do we trade back compared to the player we could get at 4, or if we trade back, what would be the value. So we have to weigh all those different variables and all those scenarios so we know the players that we’re talking about.
“We’ve gone through the different things that can happen. But you never know what is going to happen at that exact moment, but we know the players that we’re talking about.”
Fontenot didn’t go into specific players, although when asked about Florida tight end Kyle Pitts, he called him a special player. The common thought is the Falcons will look at quarterbacks — perhaps North Dakota State’s Trey Lance or Ohio State’s Justin Fields — along with Pitts, while there is the potential to move down away from No. 4 to acquire more assets to help build a younger team in a cap conundrum. The Falcons, at this point, don’t have enough cap room to sign their draft class, so moves will be coming.
Fontenot said Atlanta will have a large rookie class, and that’ll start with whomever the Falcons take at No. 4 or elsewhere in the first round if they trade down.
“It’s really case by case, and we have to weigh it,” Fontenot said. “Wherever that team is and the assets, the draft capital, that that team would give up, and we have to look at the player we would get at 4 compared to us anticipating the players that we would be looking at, at that later pick, and obviously taking into consideration the future picks that we would get. So it’s really a weighing process at that point.”
If the Falcons stay at No. 4, Fontenot and head coach Arthur Smith have to balance the short-term, win-now thought process along with the broader plan the two of them have for the franchise beyond 2021.
They could take a player they know would play right away, like Pitts, or one they know might sit behind starting quarterback Matt Ryan in any of the quarterbacks.
“When you’re picking at 4, we’re trying to take an impact player. Whether it’s a player that’s going to sit or a player that’s going to play right away, we want to bring in an impact player that fits the culture, that has the right makeup and that we have clear vision for that player,” Fontenot said. “So whether that’s someone who is going to sit or that’s someone who is going to play day one, we have to have a clear vision, and we have to feel really good about not only the player and the skill set but also the person that we’re bringing into the building.”
Ryan, based on his contract, is expected to be the starter in 2021, and since the team restructured Ryan’s deal earlier this year, it could mean he ends up as Atlanta’s starter in 2022 as well. That would leave a quarterback selected Thursday — or at any point in the draft — having to prepare to sit.
Even if the Falcons don’t take a quarterback at No. 4, it’s likely they will select one during the draft. Atlanta has one quarterback on its roster — Ryan — and Fontenot essentially said the team has been scouting quarterbacks at every level of the draft and pointed out that good quarterbacks have come from the middle rounds too.
“We understand we have to add quarterbacks to the roster,” Fontenot said. “And there’s a lot of good ones and a lot of good options.”
Fontenot also addressed the possibility of a big move in the future for Atlanta, reiterating again that the team has been taking calls on players for potential trades, including star receiver Julio Jones. The Falcons’ salary-cap situation all but means Atlanta has to listen and, if there’s enough value, perhaps consider a deal.
Fontenot didn’t want to go too deep into the Jones conversation Wednesday, although it is notable the club restructured the deals for Ryan, linebacker Deion Jones and left tackle Jake Matthews, and had Dante Fowler Jr. take a pay cut. Julio Jones has been left out of that. Fontenot said that when it came to the decision of whom to restructure, the Falcons didn’t want to do that with everyone to create space — it causes issues in future years — and that correcting the cap “is not going to be an overnight fix.” But it doesn’t answer why the team chose to restructure some players instead of others.
“I know we keep talking about Julio, but I don’t want to make this about one player, drill down into one player. It’s just when we look at the scope of things, and we look at the circumstances we are in, we make some decisions and there’s a lot of variables in it,” Fontenot said. “And there’s a lot of really smart people, I promise you, there’s a lot of really smart people that we discussed it with and determined what to do.
“And it’s not over. We’re still going through this process, but we want to have balance and we want to do things the right way and we’re still … it’s all fluid, and it’s all in process right now.”
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