Every NFL owner wants to win. But not every NFL team enters each season with Super Bowl aspirations. Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank stopped short of setting the Super Bowl as his team’s goal in 2023. However, he did make it clear that this season, he expects a cultivation of the plan general manager Terry Fontenot and head coach Arthur Smith put in place two years ago.
“This is the third year of a three-year plan,” Blank told reports on August 1. “What I see that I like a lot is that Coach Smith and Terry laid out a very careful, thoughtful, kind of methodical plan of what they were going to do with the roster, and I think they have been very disciplined about moving in that direction.”
Blank considering 2023 the final year of the franchise’s current plan is interesting for a couple reasons. But mostly, it places a lot more pressure on Smith ahead of this season than originally anticipated.
Smith probably isn’t on the hot seat right now. But with Blank referring to this season as the end of a plan, it should be worrisome for the coach if the Falcons fail to make the postseason again.
Before committing to another plan, it’s natural to want to see the first plan work. So, it’s nature to think Smith has to win more in 2023 than he did in his first two seasons to remain with the Falcons.
There’s an obvious problem with that philosophy. In 2021, Blank handed Smith and Fontenot a cap-restricted team. Then the decisions the team made last offseason made the cap situation worse in 2022.
The Falcons accepted the biggest dead cap hit in history to trade arguably the best two players in their history.
After that, Atlanta became a team in transition. That’s why commentators such as The Athletic’s Randy Mueller have actually stated the opposite of what Blank did on Tuesday.
“We all need to tell ourselves this is Year 1 of a retool for this front office and staff and to have some patience,” wrote Mueller on July 15.
Smith’s decision not to play Desmond Ridder until Week 15 last year helps Mueller’s argument. This summer, just about every NFL commentator has claimed to know exactly how good Ridder will or won’t be.
The truth is, they don’t know, and that’s at least partially because he only played four games as a rookie.
The reason for his lack of playing time, though, goes back to Blank. Smith may be aware he has a three-year period to prove he deserves to remain the team’s head coach. A playoff appearance last season would have helped Smith get a contract extension.
So, in the weak NFC South, Smith held out hope Marcus Mariota could lead him to extra January football. That is until the team fell to 5-8.
There is good news. The lack of playing time for Ridder last year hasn’t changed Blank’s confidence level in the young quarterback.
“We feel pretty strongly that he’s going to be our quarterback of the future,” Blank said. “We have to play games and we have to see, but we feel good about him.”
Of course, that comment is two-fold.
If Ridder struggles like a rookie in his second season, Smith is likely to receive the blame. That’s especially true with the growing narrative around the league that the Falcons possess some of the best young offensive weapons in the NFL.
“I think we have as many offensive tools as most, if not, any team in the NFL today,” said Blank.
No pressure, Arthur Smith.