Arthur Blank

NFC Notes: Falcons, Quinn, Freeman, 49ers

Falcons coach Dan Quinn managed to save his job by rattling off some wins down the stretch last year. If his team has a repeat performance in 2020, he won’t be so lucky. It’s the consensus of just about everyone that Quinn will be fired if Atlanta doesn’t get things turned around next year, and Falcons owner Arthur Blank more or less confirmed as much in recent comments to the media. Blank wouldn’t divulge the exact number of wins he was expecting, but he did say “yep,” when asked if making it back to the postseason was the standard he was setting, via Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com. “I can definitely say that’s right.”

Blank went on to say some nice things about Quinn and the team’s turnaround in the second half of the season, but it’s clear that Quinn will be on a short leash. Just about everyone thought he was a goner before the Falcons finished the year 6-2, so perhaps he’ll pull a rabbit out of his hat once again. The former Seahawks DC fired both of his coordinators after a lackluster 2018 campaign, and it didn’t help much right away. Matt Ryan is already 34 and Julio Jones is 31, so Blank’s impatience makes a lot of sense as he wants to capitalize on the core that took his team to the Super Bowl just a few short seasons ago.

Here’s more from the NFC as we head into the weekend:

  • We heard earlier this week that Falcons running back Devonta Freeman could be on the chopping block, and Blank certainly didn’t do anything to quash that story. “Well, I love him, too,” Blank said of Freeman in McClure’s same piece. “But this has nothing to do with love. It has to do with building a roster. The salary cap is not unlimited.” That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement, and that doesn’t bode well for Freeman’s chances of sticking on the roster. “Sure, I love what [Freeman] brings to the team. I also know we’ve drafted well and we’ve got some really good backups now today. We’ll see how all that works out,” he continued. Freeman has three years left on the five-year, $41.25MM pact he signed with Atlanta a couple years ago, and he seems increasingly unlikely to be back with the team in 2020. As of right now, it looks like the team will be moving on. The Falcons can save around $3MM against the cap by releasing him, but they’d still be taking a significant dead cap hit by shedding his expected $6.5MM salary.
  • 49ers linebacker Kwon Alexander tore a pec in November, and was expected at the time to miss the remainder of the season. He improbably battled his way back with remarkable speed, and ended up being activated off injured reserve for San Francisco’s playoff run. Not only was Alexander dealing with the pec issue, he also played in the playoffs and the Super Bowl with a significant bicep injury that required surgery, sources told Ian Rapoport of NFL Network (Twitter link). Rapsheet reports that Alexander underwent the procedure on his bicep Friday, and will make a full recovery for the 2020 season. The 49ers signed him to a big contract last offseason, and he’s one of their leaders on defense. This kind of grit shows why. Alexander has been bit by the injury bug recently, as his 2018 season in Tampa was cut short by a torn ACL. Hopefully he can stay healthy this year as San Francisco gears up for another run.

Falcons Eyeing LG Help

Falcons owner Arthur Blank recently brought up his team’s need for help at left guard, as Albert Breer of SI.com points out. Breer believes the mere fact that the owner is getting into the specifics of O-line upgrades in the offseason is indicative of how critical that unit will be for Atlanta next season.

Of course, the Falcons invested two first-round picks in the offensive line in 2019, when they drafted Chris Lindstrom with the No. 14 overall pick and Kaleb McGary with the No. 31 overall selection. Lindstrom, a right guard, injured his foot in the season opener and ultimately played in only five games, and though McGary started all 16 contests, he struggled, yielding a league-high 13 sacks from his right tackle position.

Still, those two will enter the 2020 campaign as the starters on the right side of the line and will hope to live up to their draft status. The fact that Blank brought up left guard is somewhat interesting, as the Falcons signed LG James Carpenter to a four-year pact last offseason and he started the team’s first 11 games before succumbing to a season-ending concussion. The Falcons would save a minimal amount of money by cutting Carpenter, though they could certainly keep him around as an experienced backup and seek an upgrade.

But such an upgrade may need to come via the draft again, as Atlanta is right up against the salary cap. If GM Thomas Dimitroff does find the room to acquire a free agent, players like Brandon Scherff or Andrus Peat could be in play.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Julio Jones, Rest Of Falcons In Camp

Led by star receiver Julio Jones, all players who did not attend Falcons OTAs arrived for the first day on minicamp, the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport tweets

That list includes the recently franchise-tagged Grady Jarrett, defensive end Vic Beasley and linebacker Deion Jones.

In addition to arriving for mandatory minicamp, Julio Jones is not worried about his contract and is sure a new deal will get done, ESPN’s Vaughn McClure writes.

“The situation will get handled. It’s just a matter of time when they’re going to do it. Mr. Blank has spoken, so what more do I need to say or talk about?” Jones said.

McClure notes that in addition to a reworked deal for the pass-catcher, the Falcons also hope to sign Jarrett and Deion Jones to extensions. In addition to Julio not worried about his deal getting done, Falcons owner Arthur Blank sounds just as confident.

“I’m not worried about getting the deals done. I’m speaking on behalf of Atlanta and Atlanta fans. [General manager] Thomas [Dimitroff] is working hard to get them done. Coach [Dan] Quinn is supportive, as well. It will happen. It’s just a matter of when,” Blank said.

Though he did arrive at the three-day minicamp, Julio will not be participating due to a foot injury. Jones is coming off his fifth consecutive 1,400-yard campaign and led the league with 1,677 receiving yards in 2018.

Falcons Owner Discusses Team’s Offseason

Earlier this week, veteran NFL reporter Peter King wrote in his “Football Morning in America” column that Falcons owner Arthur Blank “is getting restless.” However, in a statement to D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Blank said that wasn’t the case, as the owner was happy with the organization’s offseason.

“I’m feeling very good about what (general manager) Thomas (Dimitroff) and (coach) Dan (Quinn) have done this offseason,” Blank said. “We have some key guys getting healthy again, the draft picks are getting up to speed, the new coordinators are meshing well and I’m confident we’re going to be ready to go for a very competitive training camp. I like where we’re going.”

The Falcons have been especially focused on improving their offensive line this offseason. The front office used a pair of first-rounders to select linemen Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary, and they also added projected starter James Carpenter via free agency. The team’s other notable offseason moves include signing defensive linemen Adrian Clayborn and Tyeler Davison, and they also added backup tight end Luke Stocker. The Falcons even reshaped their coaching staff, hiring Dirk Koetter as their offensive coordinator and Ben Kotwica as their special teams coordinator.

However, it isn’t unfair to wonder if the Falcons are floundering. As King noted in his article, the team is 18-17 over their past 35 games (a string that starts with their devastating Super Bowl loss to the Patriots). Furthermore, the team is set to pay quarterback Matt Ryan $30MM over the next half-decade, and they’ll presumably be paying wideout Julio Jones a lucrative contract, as well.

The Falcons have head coach Dan Quinn and GM Thomas Dimitroff under contract through 2022. Their deals would indicate that their fates are tied together, but Blank previously said the duo isn’t necessarily linked if the 2019 season goes poorly.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Latest On Roger Goodell

The Roger Goodell saga has dominated headlines for months, but we could be inching closer to a resolution. There is a “strong sentiment” among owners to get the matter fully resolved ahead of NFL’s owners meeting on Dec. 13, Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com. That group of determined owners includes some of those who serve on the league’s six-man Compensation Committee. Roger Goodell (vertical)

Recently, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said that he expects the matter to be discussed at the December meeting. Although Jones wields considerable influence and the meeting is being held in his backyard, it’s not his call to make since the league’s full ownership group already voted to authorize the Compensation Committee to complete a deal months ago. With that in mind, owners looking to put a bow on Goodell’s negotiations (presumably resulting in a new multi-year deal for the commissioner) believe things can be taken care of in New York this week with a portion of the NFL’s owners on hand for committee meetings.

The committee meetings take place on Tuesday and Wednesday, so Goodell could have a new contract in hand shortly. La Canfora hears that Falcons owner Arthur Blank is particularly driven to get things squared away.

It could happen really fast after the committee meetings,” one ownership source told La Canfora, adding that Blank is expected to “allow for more dialogue with any owners” – beyond Jones and (Redskins owner) Dan Snyder – who have “issues” with the proposed deal.

A new deal for Goodell could be worth as much as $200MM.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFC South Notes: Falcons, Clayborn, Blank

Falcons defensive end Adrian Clayborn had six sacks on Sunday, and that allowed him to cash in on a $750K incentive, a source tells Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (on Twitter). Clayborn’s contract called for a $750K incentive if he reached eight sacks on the year and he entered the game with two. If he gets another two this season, he’ll earn $1.25MM. Clayborn’s real payday could come in the spring after his two-year contract with Atlanta expires. The former first-round pick is still only 29 and will not turn 30 until next July.

Here’s more from the NFC South:

  • Falcons owner Arthur Blank did his best to quiet speculation about Roger Goodell‘s pending extension in a statement. “The Committee is continuing its work towards finalizing a contract extension with the Commissioner, consistent with the mandate provided in the unanimous May 2017 Resolution,” Blank said (via Schefter on Facebook). “Regardless of what may have been reported, the Committee is working within the financial parameters outlined to the ownership at the May meeting. The negotiations are progressing and we will keep ownership apprised of the negotiations as they move forward. We do not intend to publicly comment on our discussions.”
  • Panthers rookie wide receiver Curtis Samuel may be done for season, as Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer writes. Samuel exited Carolina’s 45-21 win over Miami in the third quarter after a Dolphins defensive back rolled on his foot. Initially, it was believed that Samuel had suffered a high ankle sprain, but a team source tells Person that it could be a whole lot worse. If Samuel is done, the Panthers could replace him with second-year wideout Damiere Byrd since he can return from IR in time for their game against New Orleans on Dec. 3.
  • Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter expects Jameis Winston to play again this season.
  • Saints running back Daniel Lasco is done for the year.

Jerry Jones: Owners Misled On Goodell Deal

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has doubled down on his crusade against the NFL, accusing Falcons owner Arthur Blank — head of the league’s compensation committee — of “misleading” NFL owners on the terms of Roger Goodell‘s contract extension, according to Chris Mortensen of ESPN.com.Jerry Jones (Vertical)

There’s quite a bit to unpack in this story, but Jones’ key complaints revolve around the six-man competition committee, a ownership sub-group that determines Goodell’s salary. Per Jones, Blank previously indicated the specifics of Goodell’s new deal would be “unanimously” approved by the committee before heading to a vote from all 32 of the league’s owners. When two members of the group showed concerns with Goodell’s extension, Blank “backed off” his claims that a unanimous vote was a prerequisite.

Jones also claims he “discovered a number of very concerning issues” regarding Goodell’s deal, including a “discretionary bonus plan” that hadn’t been part of the original contract. Additionally, initial plans for an offer to Goodell contained performance-based incentive language — the new contract was a “departure” from that original concept, per Mortensen.

Whether or not Jones will actually follow through with his intention of suing the NFL is unclear at present, but the league’s competition committee — which recently removed Jones as an “ad hoc” seventh member — has sent a stern reminder to the Cowboys owner, as Daniel Kaplan of SportsBusiness Journal tweets. The group revealed contract language which requires an owner who sues the league to pay for not only his own legal expenses, but those of the NFL as well.

Also left unresolved is whether the NFL’s decision to suspend Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott for six games — a suspension which will now seemingly take effect at long last — has played any role in Jones’ legal threats. While reports have indicated Jones’ battle is solely on Goodell’s compensation, it’s fair to wonder whether Elliott’s ban, and the ongoing saga surrounding the back, have pushed Jones into his current frame of mind.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Extra Points: Hall, Falcons, Wentz, Saints

Some assorted notes from around the NFL on this Saturday afternoon…

  • The Falcons won’t be signing veteran cornerback Leon Hall, according to ESPN.com’s Vaughn McClure. The 31-year-old auditioned for Atlanta last week, and considering coach Dan Quinn’s comments regarding the player’s injury history, McClure presumes that Hall didn’t check out medically.
  • Despite suggesting that every team deserves an ‘A’ for their draft efforts, Falcons owner Arthur Blank was particularly happy with his team’s haul. “You think from our perspective, I would give our coach and general manager Thomas (Dimitroff) a grade A because I know that every single position they drafted very specifically for exactly what the coach wanted and the coaching needs in terms of defense or in terms of the offense,” Blank told Doug Roberson of AJC.com. “Hopefully, that will play out in a successful way over the next couple of years.”
  • Eagles rookie quarterback Carson Wentz isn’t anticipating any issues with teammate Sam Bradford“I think the relationship with him, and really, the other quarterbacks in the room, I think it’ll be great,” Wentz told Les Bowen of Philly.com.“I think it’ll be a really competitive atmosphere. Hopefully, we’ll all learn together and grow together and really push each other, and ultimately (that will) lead to benefiting the team and winning a lot of ballgames.” An April report suggested that Bradford wanted out of Philly.
  • ESPN’s Mike Triplett passes along (via Twitter) a trio of veterans auditioning for the Saints: kicker Connor Barth and defensive linemen Matt Shaughnessy and C.J. Wilson.

Falcons Owner on Quinn, Front Office, Ryan

The Falcons had a busy offseason, replacing head coach Mike Smith (the winningest coach in franchise history) with Dan Quinn, the former Seahawks defensive coordinator.

On the field, the team will be hoping that the additions of Brooks Reed and Justin Durant can elevate the defense. On offense, they’ll be eyeing a new group of running backs, as the organization moved on from veterans Steven Jackson and Jacquizz Rodgers.

Regardless, it was a very busy offseason in Atlanta. Owner Arthur Blank discussed his team’s moves with D. Orlando Ledbetter of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and we’ve compiled some of the notable quotes below…

On the Falcons 2015 offseason:

Well, I think it’s been a great offseason. I think we started with hiring (of Quinn) who I think is going to be an outstanding coach for us. I love what Dan has brought to the team in terms of leadership and energy and positive thinking. I couldn’t be happier with the coach and the coaching staff.

I couldn’t be happier as I look at the changes. It’s not easy in this league to make changes, both defensively and offensively in the same year. I think you’ve seen a little more success of one side of the ball than the other, not quite the (same) consistency. But I’m very happy with where we are.

Arthur Blank: J. Jones To Be A Falcon For Life

We learned at the end of last month that Julio Jones and his agent had begun working towards a long-term extension that would keep the star wideout in a Falcons uniform for the foreseeable future. Although there is not yet a timeline for such an extension, owner Arthur Blank expects Jones to be a Falcon not only for the next few years, but for the remainder of his career.

Per D. Orlando Ledbetter of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Blank said, .

The market for top-flight receivers was, of course, set just a few weeks ago, when Demaryius Thomas and Dez Bryant inked five-year, $70MM deals with their respective clubs. As our Luke Adams pointed out in his recent examination of Jones as an extension candidate, Jones is in line to land an even more lucrative contract, with an average annual value of over $15MM.

Jones’ numbers would certainly support such a deal. As Adams wrote, “in 15 games, Jones racked up 1,593 yards and six touchdowns on 104 receptions, setting a new Falcons team record for most receiving yards in a season. Pro Football Focus (subscription required) also ranked him right behind Bryant and Thomas, despite the fact that he played fewer snaps than either player.” However, a fractured foot limited Jones to just five games in 2013, he missed a game last season due to a hip pointer, and he has dealt with multiple hamstring issues in his professional career.

Blank, though, seems unconcerned with Jones’ injury history. He said, . [Jones]

Blank also went out of his way to compliment Jones’ agent, Jimmy Sexton, calling him a “very professional agent who actually understands the business.” We have seen negotiations between clubs and their best players turn ugly, so it makes sense that both sides are working quickly towards a deal while positive feelings prevail. Blank certainly wants to avoid any unnecessary drama next year, when Jones is eligible for unrestricted for free agency and would be a prime candidate for the franchise tag. And if Blank’s recent comments are any indication, he may be close to achieving that goal.