Friday, September 25, 2009
Falcons GM Dimitroff follows Patriots' blueprint
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Thomas Dimitroff hesitates to give the New England Patriots too much credit for his success as general manager in Atlanta.
After all, nobody on New England's payroll was responsible for the Falcons' decisions to hire coach Mike Smith, draft quarterback Matt Ryan and sign running back Michael Turner.
And did the Patriots trade Tony Gonzalez to Atlanta?
Well, not directly.
But it was Kansas City GM Scott Pioli, Dimitroff's former boss in New England, who dealt the NFL's career-leading tight end to the Falcons for a second-round draft pick in 2010.
"It's probably safe to say No. 88 wouldn't be playing for us," Dimitroff said Thursday.
When Atlanta (2-0) visits New England (1-1) this weekend, Dimitroff will make his first trip to Gillette Stadium since he left to take charge of the Falcons' football operations in January 2008.
Atlanta has won 13 of 19 games during Dimitroff's tenure, and he believes a victory Sunday would lend more credibility to a Falcons organization trying this year to achieve consecutive winning seasons for the first time in the franchise's 44-year history.
The Patriots have won three Super Bowls since 2001. In '07, became the first NFL team to go unbeaten in a 16-game season.
"If anything, for me, it's more about us going in there and proving that we can compete at a high level," Dimitroff said. "For us, it's going to be sort of playing the benchmark organization and seeing how we fare against a historic program."
During Dimitroff's stint as director of college scouting from 2003-07, New England went 77-17. Though his love for football began as the son of late NFL quarterback, assistant coach and scout Tom Dimitroff, the Falcons' GM acknowledges the important roles Pioli and Patriots coach Bill Belichick played in shaping his career.
Like Smith, who had never worked as a head coach on any level, Dimitroff was considered a largely unproven and obscure choice when Falcons owner Arthur Blank hired him.
But Blank arguably needed Dimitroff's experience in judging personnel more than Dimitroff needed to become a wealthy GM at age 42. Atlanta was coming off a 2007 season that included the imprisonment of quarterback Michael Vick, the resignation of coach Bobby Petrino and poor acquisitions in free agency like Joey Harrington and Joe Horn.
As team president Rich McKay lost his dual role as GM, Dimitroff and Smith were the point men in jettisoning established locker room personalities like cornerback DeAngelo Hall and tight end Alge Crumpler.
"Thomas has done a great job of putting the team together," Belichick said. "It seems like every time they make a move or do something, whether it's draft a guy or sign a guy like Turner or trade for a guy like Gonzalez or get a guy like Brian Williams, it's always something that makes their team significantly better."
The Falcons employ 14 of their 19 draft picks over the last two years. Ryan, left tackle Sam Baker, linebacker Curtis Lofton and strong safety Thomas DeCoud are starters, and so was nose tackle Peria Jerry before the rookie sustained a season-ending knee injury last week. Defensive end Kroy Biermann and receiver Harry Douglas have held important reserve roles.
Among the free agents signed and veterans acquired in trades, Atlanta has starters in Pro Bowl selections Turner and Gonzalez, linebacker Mike Peterson, cornerback Brian Williams, free safety Erik Coleman and kicker Jason Elam.
Two starters were retained before they became free agents, receiver Michael Jenkins and defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux. Pro Bowl wideout Roddy White became the NFL's second highest-paid wideout after a weeklong holdout last month.
"When you win football games, everyone looks good, and you can't win football games if you don't have the right guys in the mix," said Brian Finneran, a Falcons receiver since 1999. "It started last year, obviously, when we made the playoffs, and so far this year it's carried over. He's been making all the right moves and doing the right things. It started with (Turner and Ryan), which was a home run, and picking up Tony this year has been fantastic."
Dimitroff plans to shake hands with Belichick, whose success represents everything the Falcons want to become, before the game.
"It's not going to be the forum to have a lengthy conversation, obviously," Dimitroff said, "but it is special in the sense that you see how time flies in where I was a number of years ago and where I'm sitting now."