You can look at the Atlanta Falcons roster and see a lot of youth and exuberance on the team, and when you factor in two brand new coordinators on offense and defense, that view is magnified even more.
Glass half full.
On the other hand, you can look at the Falcons personnel in some key positions and see guys who are either retiring, or who are possibly near the end of their run with the team.
Glass half empty.
So which is the right way to view this team in transition?
My thought is that the Falcons need to win now, because beyond 2012, the window of opportunity is closing for this team to be a Super Bowl contender in the foreseeable future.
Alarmist view? Perhaps. But let’s look at some hard facts.
Pro Bowl tight end Tony Gonzalez is retiring at the end of this season, and right now the Falcons have no real plan to replace him and the massive numbers that he produces.
Pro Bowl running back Michael Turner is starting to get a little long in the tooth, and is nearing the end of his contract with Atlanta. His 300 carries and 1300 yards per year are not going to be easily replaced.
Pro Bowl defensive end John Abraham is nearing the end of his career, and has to be used more carefully than he did in past seasons. We’ve already seen the lack of pass rush that the Falcons produce when Abraham isn’t in the game.
Long time center Todd McClure is also hitting his career climax, and this will most likely be his last season in the NFL. Matt Ryan has nightmares about 300-pound nose tackles in his face without McClure anchoring an already shaky offensive line.
Right there you have four key players who most likely will not be strapping on the gear for the Falcons next season, and regardless of who the coaches are, it’s going to be hard for this team to win without real production at those four positions.
And make no mistake, those aren’t going to be easy shoes to fill. That’s not to say Atlanta couldn’t land a free-agent prize or two during the off-season, or that they couldn’t strike gold in the draft, but you can’t really count on either of those things the way you can count on those four players.
If the Falcons can (at the very least) get to the NFC Championship game or preferably the Super Bowl, it would pay huge dividends for the team being able to attract some marquis free-agents to come to Atlanta. But another early exit from the playoffs – or worse, the team sitting home in January – would be just as damaging to that prospect.
The problem with “win now” is that after replacing both the offensive and defensive coordinators, if you don’t win now, the head coach is the next man in the scapegoat line.
Personally, I think if head coach Mike Smith does eventually become the sacrificial lamb for the lack of Falcons success beyond just winning seasons, it will be one of the biggest mistakes the franchise has ever made.
So win now? I think so. Because after this season, there may not be an opportunity for a few seasons with the type of personnel you’ve got in the mix right now.