Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank admitted the results of his team's last eight drafts have been "mixed,” so he asked general manager Thomas Dimitroff and assistant general manager Scott Pioli to take a "brutally” candid reassessment of the personnel staff.
"I think we're in a good place,” Blank said.
The most noticeable changes for the Falcons were the parting of ways with player personnel director Lionel Vital, the hiring of pro personnel director Joel Collier, and the resurfacing of former general managers Phil Emery and Ruston Webster as national scouts. Some in the NFL community were surprised the Falcons let go of long-time scout Mark Olson, who has since been hired by the Detroit Lions.
With Emery and Webster on staff along with Pioli and player personnel scout Billy Devaney, the Falcons now have four former general managers assessing personnel. Former GM Rich McKay serves as team president but isn't involved in personnel decisions.
But Blank isn't worried that he might have too many cooks in the kitchen as the NFL combine swings into motion this week.
"As I said, I think the depth of the changes that have been made on the pro side -- completely redone -- and the significant changes with the deletions and additions on the college side will give us a different capacity in terms of evaluation," Blank said. "I also think now we're talking about a second-year head coach (in Dan Quinn) who has more experience in that regard and is more clear with what he's trying to accomplish. All of those things coupled together, I think, will equal a better result for the franchise."
Quinn doesn't view the new additions as information -- or misinformation -- overload.
"I don't look at it as too many cooks," Quinn said. "I look at it as guys saying, 'I did it this way, I did it that way.' Honestly the guys that we added, Phil and Ruston in particular, it felt like 'I'm in man, what do you need?' from them. That's what fired me up in big way."
Webster and Emery do not bring a wealth of success from their GM days. Tennessee posted an 18-45 record in four seasons under Webster while Chicago went 13-19 after Emery fired Lovie Smith following a 10-6 season. And while these will be different roles, their assessments of college players will be valued.
Quinn insisted the player evaluation process has improved and will continue to evolve. He pointed to how the coaching staff and personnel department already have met this offseason to create more in-depth evaluations regarding the traits of players who would fit the scheme.
Although Dimitroff remained in place, the Falcons felt the urgency to make some sort of changes after a third consecutive playoff-less season. There have been more draft misses than hits under Dimitroff's watch since 2008. Only nine of 24 draft picks from the first-to-third rounds since 2008 remain with the team, as opposed to 17 of 33 for New England and 11 of 22 for Carolina. And the only Falcons draft pick from 2012 who's currently in the league is Lamar Holmes, who signed with the Lions last week.
Not to mention the Falcons have faltered in free agency, too, with players such as Steven Jackson, Osi Umenyiora, Justin Durant, Leonard Hankerson, Paul Soliai, Jon Asamoah, Tyson Jackson and Brooks Reed not having as big an impact as expected due to diminishing skills, scheme fit, or injury. Only Soliai, Jackson and Reed remain with the team, and Soliai is set to be released at the start of the new league year on March 9.
Blank was asked bluntly how he would assess the personnel decisions made under Dimitroff.
"I would say that the results have been mixed," Blank said. "I think Thomas would say that, and he already has. There are a lot of things that go into those decisions. It's not all on the general manager. Coaches have input. Coaches have a say. Coaches have influence. It's variety of factors that go into those decisions.
"But most importantly with where we are today going forward, I spent a lot of time with (Quinn) in assessing his feelings about Thomas and Scott and, probably most importantly, about the whole personnel department because (Quinn) is responsible for the 53 and the 46. His feelings are very important to me. And his sense, and my sense, was that keeping Thomas and Scott in place and asking them could they and would they … transparently and brutally candidly reassess their personnel staff, they've done that. To their credit, and, based on my request, have completely redone our pro personnel side. They've made changes as far as the college side as well, and some important decisions that bring us more experience.”
Dimitroff's contact expires after the 2016 season, so the personnel decisions made this offseason and the results on the field next season are likely to determine his future with the organization. Blank didn't want to discuss the possibility of Dimitroff earning the right to remain longer.
"It's not what I'm focused on now," Blank said. "It's not what Thomas is focused on now. The staff is focused on better results for 2016."