The Falcons interviews several extraordinary candidates from Chiefs Eric Bienemy to Panthers Joe Bradey, but it was Smith who stood out the most to Falcons owner Arthur Blank and president Rich McKay.
“He has all the characteristics of a strong leader”, Arthur Blank said via AtlantaFalcons.com. “And while his achievements have primarily come on the offensive side of the ball, he has provided a plan that is comprehensive within all three phases of the game. With Arthur, I am very confident that our process and approach have led us to a dynamic leader for our team and I believe our players, staff, fans and community will be as well.”
Smith was a hot head coaching candidate this offseason and interviewed for the Jets and Lions vacant job as well.
Mark Florio Isn’t Sure Smith Should Have Taken Falcons Job
While there have been mixed feelings between fans and analysts about Smith taking over the Falcons job, well-known NFL host Mark Florio doesn’t even think Smith should have accepted the position––or any head coaching opportunity for that matter.
“If I was Arthur Smith, I don’t know if this is the job I would have taken”, Pro Football Focus’ Mike Florio said during his show.”Stepping into this cap mess with a team that’s just had this lingering frustration that traces back to Super Bowl 51…he’s going to be a hot candidate next year with Derrick Henry and Ryan Tannehill. I would have waited if I were him. But he didn’t. And we’ll see what he can do. I just think it’s going to be a challenge right out the gates because he’s not going to have the same quality of players that he had in Tennessee on both sides of the ball.”
Smith led one of the most potent rushing attacks in NFL history as Henry became the eighth player in the league to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a single season. Henry’s 2,027 rushing yards rank fifth all-time and put the Titans with the second-best rushing offense in 2020.
While Smith had Henry’s talents to build off of, he also revitalized Tannehill’s career. In two seasons the former No. 8 overall draft pick started 26 games and totaled 6,561 passing yards with 55 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, and a 110.6 passer rating, and completed 67.3 percent of his passes. Tannehill earned his first Pro Bowl invite in 2019 and named the Comeback Player of the Year.
Smith jumps from having an easier job to being tasked with rebuilding the Falcons offense and defense.
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Looking At Falcons Salary Cap Mess
Falcons GM Terry Fontenot and Smith will have to put their heads together to figure out a solid roster under a very tight salary cap. There has not been an exact number determined yet, but COVID-19 has caused a decrease in each team’s spending amount.
The Falcons will have some unused cap space over from last year with a rollover of $1.7 million, according to the NFLPA’s public salary report.
But, the Falcons are already nearly $36 million over the projected cap for 2021, so the $1.7 million in cap relief won’t be much help.
Florio mentioned on his show that the projected cap hit won’t be lower than $175 million but is rumored to be around $180 million. That would give the Falcons some flexibility, but they will still need to make several cuts and reconstruct player contracts.
Smith and Fontenot plan to take their time, but contrary to what Florio thinks, Smith believes the Falcons have the talent to build off of.
“It’s more than Matt and Julio (Jones),” Smith said via AtlantaFalcons.com. “There’s a lot of talented players on this roster, whether you’re talking about Chris Lindstrom, Grady Jarrett. … The roster today is gonna look different to September and as you get to Week 17. It’s a constant evolution. There’s a lot of talent here that we’ll want to build off of. But I can’t give you any snap judgments today because we’re still early in this process.”