On Monday, the Atlanta Falcons announced contract extensions to head coach Mike Smith, general manager Thomas Dimitroff and president/CEO Rich McKay.
From a stability standpoint, the move prevents Smith — the Falcons’ head coach since 2008 — from being consigned to "lame-duck status" for the 2014 season.
Like Smith, Dimitroff signed a one-year extension, leaving owner Arthur Blank the flexibility to part ways with the coach-GM duo that has guided the franchise to its best era of regular-season success over the past six seasons — in the event of another lackluster season (4-12 this year).
McKay, who took over the CEO role from Blank in September 2011, received a four-year extension. The role of McKay, the team’s general manager until Dimitroff took over in 2008, mainly involves business operations, along with some negotiation of player contracts.
In particular, McKay is the point man as the Falcons build a new stadium (soon to break ground). The new venue is expected to open in 2017, with McKay’s contract going one year beyond that date.
The news release from the Falcons said McKay will "have responsibility for the creation and management of a new AMB Sports & Entertainment Group, serving as its president." The entity will include the Falcons and the stadium and is likely to include a possible MLS expansion team. Blank has made no secret of his desire to add an MLS team to his holdings.
McKay also co-chairs the NFL’s prestigious competition committee, for which he has represented for 21 years.
Smith’s extension is significant especially in light of the recently completed season. After a horrendous stretch, when the Falcons lost five straight games (four that weren’t competitive), he was able to turn the things around, to a degree, in the final five games (2-3 conclusion).
In 2011, the Falcons awarded Smith an extension with one year remaining on his original four-year deal. His new runs through the conclusion of Atlanta’s 2015 season.
By giving Dimitroff a short-term extension, Blank has done something interesting: In a January news conference, Blank said he would make "additional changes" if the Falcons do not show tangible progress next year. (The Falcons changed offensive and defensive line coaches following the season.)
As a result, Blank could start from scratch and easily dispatch both Smith and Dimitroff following next January. Or, he could keep one or the other.
Usually, general managers, as part of a management team, get the opportunity to hire more than one coach during their tenure. However, if Blank believes Smith has done a better job than Dimitroff, he could theoretically keep the coach and look for a new GM.
The team did not disclose financial terms of the deals.
"We are fortunate to have talented key leaders at the Falcons who are dedicated to a common goal of being a league leader on and off the field," Blank said in a statement released by the team. "I have great respect for the skills and commitment of Rich, Thomas and Smitty and I look forward to continuing to support and work with them in the years to come."