Arthur Smith has led the Atlanta Falcons to back to back 7-10 seasons after taking over an aging 4-12 team buried in salary-cap hell.
The Falcons played last season with over $80 million in dead cap space, meaning roughly 40% of there player budget was going to players no longer on the team.
The talent on the roster was ranked either last or second to last by virtually every national publication last year, but still the Falcons clawed out seven wins.
By nearly anyone’s measure, Smith and the Falcons overachieved the previous two seasons.
Free from the salary cap restraints placed on them by the previous regime, Smith and general manager Terry Fontenot have added as many as 10-new starters for the 2023 season.
However, Cody Benjamin of CBS Sports uses the Falcons losing records as a club to bludgeon Smith when he ranked him 29th among head coaches in the NFL.
“The man can draw up a ground game, which should only be bolstered by Bijan Robinson’s arrival,” wrote Benjamin on CBS Sports. “But his “D” has been consistently porous, he’s yet to taste second place in a weak NFC South, and he’s now three years in without much of a promising plan at QB, where Desmond Ridder will be tasked with captaining a widely expected breakout.”
Smith comes in behind Shane Steichen of the Indianapolis Colts and Demeco Ryans of the Houston Texans. Two men who have never been a head coach.
About that “D”
Because of the financial restraints placed on them by the previous regime, the Falcons were forced to field a team full of first or second-year draft picks and castoffs from the Chicago Bears and Tennessee Titans.
The Falcons had two players in the starting lineup drafted second round or higher: defensive backs A.J. Terrell (1st, 2020) and Richie Grant (2nd, 2021).
Their defensive line next to Grady Jarrett, one of the great-draft steals of the last decade, was a waiver-wire pickup (Abdullah Anderson) and an undrafted rookie free agent (Timmy Horne).
The Falcons attacked the defense in the offseason with players like David Onyemata, Kaden Elliss, Calais Campbell, Bud Dupree, and Jessie Bates among others.
To ding Arthur Smith for not having a plan at quarterback while ignoring the additions made on the defense is shortsighted at best, intellectually dishonest at worst.
NFL.com’s Adam Schein rightly praises Smith for the work he’s done the last two seasons as he predicts the Falcons make the playoffs in 2023.
Expectations are higher in Atlanta heading into 2023. Smith will have to prove that he can do more than get the best out of a scrappy bunch of underdogs. With talent and depth on both sides of the ball that he hasn’t had the previous two seasons, he’ll need to make a legitimate run at the playoffs this year.
Or prove Benjamin right.