Falcons Owner Arthur Blank Exploring HC Options; Bill Belichick On Radar?

5:32pm: Week 18 did not go as planned for the Falcons, with a 48-17 loss marking an emphatic end to the campaign. Given the nature of Atlanta’s finish to the season, Bleacher Report’s Jordan Schultz provides the unsurprising update that this situation is pointing to a Smith dismissal. In such a scenario, the Falcons would join the Panthers as an NFC South squad in need of a new head coach during the upcoming hiring cycle.

8:24am: As of the time of this writing, the job status of Falcons head coach Arthur Smith is murky at best. Over the course of the past two months, we have heard reports suggesting that Smith is likely to get a fourth year on the job in 2024, as well as reports indicating that he is on the hot seat.

At the very least, it appears that owner Arthur Blank is not fully committed to Smith. According to Adam Schefter of ESPN.com, Blank is torn on how he should proceed, and he has “gone back and forth” on the matter (which helps to explain the vacillating reports). In case he does decide to part ways with Smith, Blank has explored what options might be available to him in the upcoming coaching cycle.

Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero of NFL.com also hear that Blank is considering a change, and that the owner has been calling his confidants within the league for advice. Should Atlanta, which is 1-4 over its past five games, defeat the Saints in today’s regular season finale, Rapoport and Pelissero say that Smith would stand a better chance of surviving Black Monday, even if the victory does not propel the club to a playoff spot (in addition to a win over New Orleans, the Falcons need the Panthers to upset the Bucs in order to qualify for a postseason berth). That is in keeping with a report from Albert Breer of SI.com just two days ago.

Smith and GM Terry Fontenot inherited a difficult salary cap and roster situation when Blank hired the duo in 2021, and the team has made considerable strides in terms of talent level on both sides of the ball. The problem has been the Falcons’ quarterback play, though Atlanta obviously has not landed a top-tier QB during the Fontenot-Smith partnership (the team’s attempts to acquire Deshaun Watson from the Texans during the 2022 offseason fell just short, which may have been a blessing in disguise). As Rapoport writes, the team will be taking a big swing on a signal-caller in the 2024 offseason regardless of who the head coach is, so perhaps Blank will give Smith — whose offensive acumen he greatly respects — one more shot to see what he can do with a more talented passer.

If Blank hands Smith his walking papers, Bill Belichick would be a legitimate candidate to replace him, per Rapoport and Pelissero. The prevailing opinion is that today’s game will be Belichick’s last as the Patriots’ HC, and his name has come up a great deal in conversations that the NFL.com duo has had with league sources about the Falcons’ future over the past week (Ben Volin of the Boston Globe, meanwhile, has been beating the Belichick-to-Atlanta drum for some time).

Assuming the Patriots and Belichick do end their relationship, the separation is expected to take weeks to finalize, which could further complicate Blank’s decision. Still, a team that appears to be a quarterback away from legitimate contention may be willing to roll the dice on a 72-year-old head coach, and Belichick, in turn, may believe that Atlanta gives him a real chance to overtake Don Shula for first place on the all-time coaching wins list (assuming the team does, in fact, add a high-end QB).

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