Falcons GM Dimitroff, once a rising star, now on hot seat
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) With the Atlanta Falcons heading for a historic collapse, no one is feeling the heat more than general manager Thomas Dimitroff.
Once hailed as rising star in the NFL executive ranks, he could be in the final weeks of an eight-year tenure.
The Falcons are mired in a six-game losing streak and all but eliminated from playoff contention with three games to go. More stunning, Atlanta (6-7) must win at least two of those games to avoid becoming the first team in NFL history to finish with a losing record after starting 5-0.
''When you're in a situation like this, you have to know from a business standpoint that everything you do is being evaluated,'' linebacker O'Brien Schofield said.
Rookie coach Dan Quinn could begin his second season in Atlanta with a different person in charge of personnel decisions.
He insisted Wednesday that he wants to keep working with Dimitroff.
''Thomas is a really big part of why I wanted to be here,'' Quinn said. ''The respect I have for him, and the partnership that I wanted to help create from the head coach to a general manager. We were in sync in every facet from the time we got here to going through every process together.''
Dimitroff deserves praise for drafting Matt Ryan in 2008, landing another franchise quarterback after Michael Vick's downfall, and swinging trades that brought Tony Gonzalez and Julio Jones to Atlanta.
But those moves have been overshadowed by abysmal drafts (none of the six players selected in 2012 is playing in the NFL) and numerous questionable free-agent signings (including Ray Edwards, Dunta Robinson and Tyson Jackson), which has left the Falcons desperately short of talent and on the cusp of a third straight losing season.
There is no indication that owner Arthur Blank will dump Quinn. Instead, it seems far more likely that a new GM will be brought on board, someone who's compatible with the first-year coach and might be willing to assume more of a job-sharing role on personnel matters.
There are huge holes to fill, especially along the offensive and defensive lines and linebacker. Also, there is need for other pass catchers to compliment Jones, who is essentially a one-man receiving corps.
Dimitroff rarely speaks to the media these days and, through a team spokesman, turned down an interview request from The Associated Press.
Blank, who will make the call on Dimitroff's future, also declined to comment.
A protege of Bill Belichick, Dimitroff was only 41 when hired as the Falcons' general manager in 2008. With spiked hair and a love for youthful pursuits such as biking and snowboarding, he brought a fresh perspective to a team that had never had consecutive winning seasons.
Atlanta surprisingly made the playoffs in Dimitroff's first season, beginning a run of five straight winning campaigns. During that time, the Falcons made four playoff appearances, captured two division titles and barely missed out on a trip to the Super Bowl in 2013.
Since then, the Falcons are 16-29. Coach Mike Smith, who came aboard with the general manager, was fired after last season. Dimitroff survived, but only after a reshuffling of duties that gave more power to former Kansas City GM Scott Pioli.
''I've got a great relationship with Thomas,'' Ryan said Wednesday. ''Obviously he's the guy, along with Mike Smith, who brought me here to Atlanta. I can't thank those guys enough for the opportunity.''
Ryan aside, the draft has proven to be Dimitroff's biggest failing – especially the second through the fifth rounds, which usually provide the bulk of a team's roster. Of the 22 players Dimitroff selected in those rounds between 2008 and 2012, safety William Moore and defensive end Kroy Biermann are the only ones still with the team.
The Falcons have really struggled to find competent players in the trenches. Dimitroff has picked 21 offensive and defensive linemen, nine of whom are no longer in the league. Sam Baker and Peria Jerry – first-round selections – didn't work out, and neither did second-round pick Peter Konz. Only three of those draftees are starting for Atlanta – all chosen in the last two years, far too soon to judge whether they were worthy picks.
It's no surprise Ryan has taken a beating the last three years, while Atlanta has not finished in the top half of the league in sacks since Dimitroff's first season. This year, the Falcons are last in the league with just 15 sacks, even after drafting hybrid defensive end Vic Beasley Jr. in the first round.
Outside of signing running back Michael Turner in his first free-agent class and trading for Gonzalez, Dimitroff's record on acquiring veteran players mirrors his draft slate.
This season, the Falcons took a chance on oft-injured players Leonard Hankerson and Justin Durant. Hankerson got hurt again and was cut on Tuesday. Durant has been in and out of the lineup because of various ailments.
Soon, it could be Dimitroff on the way out.
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/paul-newberry .
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