Tag:Thomas Dimitroff
Posted on: March 2, 2012 9:53 am
Edited on: March 2, 2012 10:57 am
 

Falcons place franchise tag on Brent Grimes

Since he's been franchise-tagged, Grimes can expect to make $10.4 million next season. (Getty Images)
By Josh Katzowitz

In a move that doesn’t surprise, Atlanta general manager Thomas Dimitroff announced Friday morning that the team will place its franchise tag on cornerback Brent Grimes.

Grimes has become one of the better defensive backs in the NFC South, and though he missed four games last year because of a knee injury, he’s started the last 28 games in which he’s played. After a standout 2010, when he made 87 tackles, five interceptions and 23 passes defensed (in a reserve role, he actually had six interceptions in 2009), his numbers decreased last year -- he recorded 49 tackles, one pick and 14 defended passes.

[RELATED: NFL Franchise Tag Tracker]

Grimes -- No. 2 on our list of free agent cornerbacks -- also will turn 29 before next season, so there might be some concern in the organization about giving him a long-term deal after a so-so 2011. Especially since the Falcons signed Dunta Robinson to a six-year contract worth $57 million in March 2010.

With the tag, Grimes should expect to make about $10.6 million next season. If he signs it, that is. Which, according to his agent, he's not wanting to do at this point.

“We have no plans to sign the tag at this time,” Ben Dogra told the Atlanta Journal Constitution. “We hop[e] to be able to continue to disscuss through all the issues at the appropriate time.”

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Posted on: February 29, 2012 12:33 pm
Edited on: February 29, 2012 2:28 pm
 

2012 NFL Free Agency: Linebacker Rankings

Fletcher, at 37, might not have many options other than returning to Washington. (US Presswire)
By Josh Katzowitz

Leading up to the start of free agency on March 13, we're compiling the best 2012 NFL free agents by position. These are the linebackers.

While there are a ton of free agent linebackers about to come on the market -- I’ve counted approximately 80 -- there doesn’t seem to be many surefire game-changers in the bunch. London Fletcher, vastly underrated in Washington, is one such player, but other than him, you’ve mostly got solid guys who can be contributors to whichever team signs them.

Some of the better free agent linebackers have been taken off the board already, as D’Qwell Jackson has re-signed with Cleveland while Ahmad Brooks agreed to return to San Francisco. Here are the rest of those who probably will try out their fortunes on the market.

1a. Mario Williams


Breakdown: Though we have Williams as the No. 1 defensive end available, we have to give him some love on the linebacker list, as well. Simply because in Wade Phillips' 3-4 scheme, Williams was an outside linebacker. He only played five games for the Texans last year before tearing his pectoral muscle, but with five sacks, he also proved he can be successful in a 3-4 defense, meaning every team in the league should be thinking about Williams' worth. We thought he might struggle to find his balance in the first year of Phillips' scheme, but, as a linebacker, Williams is pretty damn good also.

Possible Landing Spots: Texans, Jaguars, Seahawks, Titans

1b. London Fletcher


Breakdown: Fletcher is one of those players who, unless you’re paying close attention, somehow seems to rack up the tackle numbers -- and you’re not really sure how. And before you know it, he’s leading the league with 166 takedowns, like last year.  In fact, Fletcher has recorded at least 116 tackles every year since 2001, and he’s started 224-straight games. The problem with Fletcher is that he’s 37, and you have to wonder how long his durability will hold up -- as well as his penchant for making scores of tackles every season. That shouldn’t matter, however, because it sounds like he wants to return to Washington and that the Redskins feel the same way. “We want our captain back,” Redskins general manager Bruce Allen said earlier this month. The feeling apparently is mutual.

Potential Landing Spots: Redskins

Tulloch might be a good fit in Philadelphia because he knows how to play in the wide nine. (US Presswire)

2. Stephen Tulloch


Breakdown: After a solid 2008-10 with the Titans (the dude had 160 tackles in 2010), Tennessee let the Lions take away Stephen Tulloch for 2011. After recording 111 tackles, two interceptions and five passes defended last year, Detroit would like to keep him. It’ll likely cost the Lions much more than the one-year, $3.25 million deal they paid Tulloch last year. More importantly for the Lions, though, is locking up defensive end Cliff Avril, and you have to wonder if the Lions will want to shell out that much money to two defensive players. One good option for Tulloch might be the Eagles. Considering Tulloch played for years with Jim Washburn, who installed the wide nine scheme in Philadelphia last year, Tulloch would be comfortable in that system. Besides, the Eagles linebackers last year were pretty horrible, and Tulloch would be a big upgrade. Wherever he lands, one can only hope that Tulloch gets another chance to Tebow in front of Tebow.

Possible Landing Spots: Lions, Buccaneers, Eagles

3. Anthony Spencer


Breakdown: He’s pretty much the definition of one of those solid linebackers I wrote about before, and the Cowboys don’t fancy losing him to free agency. There has been speculation that the team could place the franchise tag on him, but if not, at least one Dallas reporter has speculated that Spencer could land a Chris Canty-like deal (a six-year, $42 million contract signed in 2009). The Cowboys might be averse to giving him such a long deal, because he hasn’t necessarily lived up to his first-round draft pick expectations. Spencer’s representatives and the Cowboys were scheduled to meet at the scouting combine, and if they can’t come to a long-term agreement, Dallas might just have to grit its teeth and tag him.

Possible Landing Spots:Cowboys, Dolphins

4. Curtis Lofton


Breakdown: For the past three years, Lofton has been a tackling machine, accumulating at least 118 (including 147 in 2011), and it’s clear the Falcons want to re-sign him. But when Atlanta general manager Thomas Dimitroff says that negotiations between the team and Lofton are “amicable,” it strikes kind of a weird tone (or is that just me?). And maybe the Falcons won’t be terrified if Lofton leaves. As the Atlanta Journal Constitution wrote last week, “There’s growing sentiment that he’s a liability against the pass. The question thus becomes: Would you pay $8 million a year for a two-down linebacker?” Lofton might want more than that. Reportedly, Lofton is asking or a four-year deal worth $36 million.

Possible Landing Spots: Falcons, Eagles, Browns

5. David Hawthorne

Breakdown: With Hawthorne, you pretty much know what you’re getting. He’s good for about 110 tackles a season, five passes defended or so, and an interception or three. But it sounds like the Seahawks have a higher priority to sign running back Marshawn Lynch and defensive end Red Bryant than inking Hawthorne to a new deal. Hawthorne is only 26 years old, and he’s solid across the board. But maybe more than most of the other linebackers on the list, there’s not a great chance for him to return to his old team. The one caveat to that: now that Leroy Hill is facing another drug charge, that might open up Seattle’s interest in Hawthorne again.

Possible Landing Spots: Bears, Cowboys, Seahawks

6. Jarret Johnson


Breakdown: The Ravens, at some point soon, might have to make a choice between whether they want Johnson or Jameel McClain (see below) to return to Baltimore for 2012. General manager Ozzie Newsome had said he wants to keep both, but that will be tough for the club to accomplish. So, if you’re Newsome, who is the priority between Johnson and McClain? Well, McClain had more tackles (84-56) last season  but less sacks (Johnson had 2.5 to McClain’s 1), and the Baltimore Sun predicts the Ravens have a better chance of retaining Johnson. He is, though, four years older, which might mean Baltimore will actually go harder after McClain. “I’d like to fit in again here,” Johnson said last month, via the team’s official website. “But unfortunately this is a business and sometimes business decisions [have] got to be made. I hope to be back. I’d love to retire a Raven, but we’ll see.”

Possible Landing Spots: Ravens, Colts

7. Jameel McClain


Breakdown: At 26, McClain is a young talent who likely will command a large salary (moreso than Jarret Johnson (see above)). It doesn’t sound like there’s a great chance for the Ravens to keep him.

Possible Landing Spots: Ravens, Colts, Eagles

8. Honorable Mentions

Unrestricted: Barrett Ruud, Chase Blackburn, Clark Haggans, Joey Porter, Andra Davis, Manny Lawson, Geno Hayes, Wesley Woodyard, Dan Connor

Restricted: Dannell Ellerbe, Aaron Maybin

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Posted on: January 17, 2012 7:42 pm
 

Falcons hire Mike Nolan to head up defense

Mike Nolan has been hired as Atlanta's defensive coordinator (US Presswire).By Josh Katzowitz

Now that the Falcons have hired former 49ers head coach Mike Nolan as their defensive coordinator, as written by the Atlanta Journal Constitution, it seems that former Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo could be headed to New Orleans to replace Gregg Williams as the Saints defensive coordinator.

That’s the word from Rapid Reporter Larry Holder, who writes that Spagnuolo “has reportedly been high on the Saints wish list for the job with (Williams) leaving for St. Louis.”

Both moves make sense: Spagnuolo because* the 2008 Giants squad, the last time he was a defensive coordinator, was a top-five defense and stopped the Patriots high-powered offense in the Super Bowl, and Nolan because he’s put together strong defenses in Denver and Miami after he was fired in San Francisco.

*But as CBSSports.com’s Ryan Wilson and Will Brinson point out, Spagnuolo also could be a candidate to replace Jim Caldwell as the Colts next head coach. Which he obviously would accept over a New Orleans offer.

Nolan will replace former defensive coordinator Brian Van Gorder, who unexpectedly bolted for the Auburn defensive coordinator job, and he’ll join newly-hired offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter on Atlanta’s staff.

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“Mike Nolan is an established coordinator in this league,” said Falcons head coach Mike Smith in a statement. “He brings more than 25 years of NFL experience to our team and has been a coordinator at this level for 14 years. Mike has a history of developing physically intimidating defensive units, and we are fortunate to have him join our staff.”

Although Nolan has been known as a 3-4 defense schemer and though the Falcons personnel is suited toward a 4-3, the AJC writes that coach Mike Smith has so much respect for Nolan that the team will become something of a hybrid of the two schemes.

“Moving forward, this defense needs to continue its growth and evolution as a passionate and fiery defense, one that is going to fly to the football, disrupt, be opportunistic and capitalized on opportunities to turn the game around; flip the game in critical situations,” general manager Thomas Dimitroff said before the Nolan hiring. “We’ll look for a coordinator who will [aid] Coach Smith and his approach to putting that type of aggressive defense on the field.”

The Falcons feel they’ve got the man in Nolan who will help do so.

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Posted on: January 9, 2012 4:30 pm
 

Brian VanGorder bolts Falcons for Auburn DC job

VanGorder left the Falcons for Auburn. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

Falcons defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, known for good defenses and a better mustache, left his gig in Atlanta for the same job at Auburn, the team announced on Monday.

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VanGorder's departure is a bit of a surprise, as the Falcons are coming off a strong defensive season, ranking third in the NFL against the rush and 12th in total yardage allowed. In his four years as coordinator (albeit under a defensive coach in Mike Smith who was hired at the same time), the Falcons defense has steadily improved in most categories, though they did slip in points allowed per game.

Plus, it's not often that a coordinator for an NFL team takes the same job at the college level. Though the title is the same, it's clearly a step down.

Which is why VanGorder's departure may be an indication that changes are coming for the Falcons; Smith is obviously safe, with the Falcons making the playoffs in three of his four years in Atlanta.

But should Mike Mularkey be worried about his job now? The Falcons offensive coordinator has done good work with Matt Ryan in his four years there, and he's up for some nice head-coaching opportunities, but if he doesn't land a gig, it's hard to imagine he wont' be scrutinized heavily in the offseason.

The Falcons offense is good and it has been good. But it's struggled mightily in three playoff games, even though two of the three were against the eventual NFC Champions (we'll let you know about the Giants).

This is nothing more than speculation, of course, but considering that VanGorder's unit outscored Mularkey's unit 2-0 on Sunday in an embarrassing wild-card loss in New York, it's hard to imagine that Thomas Dimitroff and Smith won't take a long, hard look at the coaching staff in preparing to reload for 2012.

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Posted on: January 5, 2012 10:37 am
 

Film Room: Giants vs. Falcons wild-card preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit


Both of these teams seem to be peaking at the right time. The Falcons are looking for their first playoff win in the Matt Ryan-Mike Smith-Thomas Dimitroff era; the Giants are looking for a second improbable Super Bowl surge in five years. Here’s the breakdown:


1. Falcons offensive approach
The Falcons spent most of the season trying to figure out if they would remain the two tight end/two-back run-oriented offense that has defined them since Mike Smith and his offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey arrived, or if they’d go ahead and assume the pass-first identity that Thomas Dimitroff committed them to when he traded a bounty for the chance to draft Julio Jones.

In the end, the pass-first approach won out. After fullback Ovie Mughelli went down with a Week 7 knee injury and Jones’ iffy hamstring strengthened, the Falcons drifted to more three-receiver sets and wound up finishing fourth in the league in pass attempts.

They also expanded Ryan’s presnap freedoms. The fourth-year quarterback has considerable power when it comes to audibling and changing protections at the line of scrimmage. In fact, it’s not unheard of for the Falcons to eschew huddling for an entire half. There have been some rough patches – Jones, in particular, was prone to mental mistakes early on – but the Falcons are finally clear about being a passing team.

By working out of three-receiver sets, Atlanta makes it tougher for defenses to double both White and Jones, as doubling both all but ensures Tony Gonzalez gets matched up on a linebacker:

Gonzalez has made a living feasting on zone defenses with an option route. With an option after Gonzalez gets over the top of a linebacker’s coverage, he runs his route based on how the safety plays. A lot of times the safety’s actions are determined by how he’s reading other receivers’ routes. This illustration shows the concept in its simplest terms. Gonzo and his QB must diagnose the defense the same way. That’s never been a problem for Matt Ryan and the veteran TE.

Also, what people don’t think about is how the three-receiver sets can actually help Atlanta’s power run game. Yes, there are fewer lead-blockers or offensive linemen for Michael Turner to run behind, but if Turner can get to the perimeter, he’s more likely to meet a defensive back than linebacker.

Not many defensive backs can’t tackle the 244-pounder one-on-one. This season Turner rushed for 459 yards on 93 attempts (4.9 average) out of three receiver sets.

The Falcons have not completely abandoned their heavy run game (they constantly used a fullback or extra tight end last week, likely to assure that Tampa Bay’s atrocious middle linebacker, Mason Foster, stayed on the field). If they don’t go no-huddle, they’ll be more inclined to bring in Michael Palmer, Reggie Kelly or Mike Cox, rather than stay exclusively in the three-wide spread.

That said, no-huddle would be an excellent tactic for them Sunday, as it could help quell the Meadowlands crowd and slow down that Giants’ pass-rush.

2. New York’s big nickel package
After rookie nickel corner Prince Amukamara got torched for the umpteenth time in early/mid-December, the Giants reverted back to their “big nickel” defensive package, with Antrel Rolle sliding down to slot corner/outside linebacker and either Deon Grant or Tyler Sash coming in to fill Rolle’s safety spot.

Rolle, whom the Cardinals drafted in the first round as a cornerback out of Miami, has the skills to cover slot receivers, and he also happens to be a superb run-defender. In fact, he’s so good that the Giants often used their “big nickel” package against base offensive personnel last season. Rolle doesn’t just offer solidity against the run; he’s also a shrewd blitzer and help-defender in zone coverage. In short, he’s a poor man’s Charles Woodson.

Obviously, though, if the Giants were overwhelmingly better with Rolle at slot corner, they wouldn’t have moved him back to safety to begin this season. Rolle being in the slot does leave the secondary a bit more vulnerable in downfield coverage. Cornerback Corey Webster’s terrific work in solo coverage ameliorates this somewhat, but Aaron Ross is a bit of a concern on the other side.

3. Atlanta’s approach
If Webster defends Julio Jones, Matt Ryan will look for the mismatch with Roddy White. If Webster defends White, Ryan will look for Jones. The Giants may want to give Ryan one more presnap read to dissect by having Webster alternate between defending Jones and White.

Regardless of where Webster lines up, a big focus of Ryan’s will be on getting the ball out quickly. He’s more inclined to find his rhythm with three-and five-step-drops, just as Tony Romo did in the second half Sunday night (it was a mistake for the Cowboys to not go with this approach earlier in that game).

Matt Ryan will be celebrating if he can get the ball out quickly. (Getty Images)

Even if Ryan’s rhythm is not a concern – and maybe it isn’t; the guy is a cerebral, fundamentally sound passer – Atlanta’s pass protection IS. The Falcons’ front five is a mauling, power-based group that is below the NFL’s athletic median.

It holds up because the five cogs are cohesive and familiar to Ryan. But that isn’t enough when facing a technician like Justin Tuck, a lightning bolt like Osi Umenyiora or a freak like Jason Pierre-Paul.

The only way the Falcons can give Ryan enough time to take a shot downfield is if they go max protect. Thus, when the Falcons do get away from their three-wide personnel, they won’t just be looking to pound the rock – they’ll be looking to go deep. The Giants secondary should be on high alert for play-action.

4. Stopping Eli and the passing game
Cris Collinsworth mentioned early in last Sunday night’s broadcast that Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan regretted not blitzing Eli Manning more when they met back in Week 14. But in the rematch, Ryan quickly found out that even his most creative blitzes couldn’t faze Manning.

The eighth-year veteran has reached that level where he himself can’t be beat. He simply has too much intelligence, poise and arm strength. Instead, the way to beat Manning is to beat his receivers and hope that leads to Giants mistakes.

Thus, don’t expect the Falcons to do anything more with their pass-rush than the occasional zone blitzes that they’ve used all season. They’re better off focusing on Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz. The Redskins discombobulated the Giants in Week 15 by bracketing the top receivers with corners underneath and safeties over the top. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett was betting that Manning would get impatient and force some balls into those coverages. He was correct.

Stifling the receivers outside is a great approach because it forces Manning to work to his third and fourth reads. He’s more than capable of that….as long as his protection holds up. The Falcons have only a good-but-not-great pass-rush (free agent pickup Ray Edwards has been a disappointment), but it’s a pass-rush that’s capable of exploding at any moment thanks to the supple speed of John Abraham. When Manning’s primary reads are covered, this offense goes from being big-play oriented to dink and dunk. That bodes well for the Falcons (see item 5).

5. Atlanta’s speed
The emergence of Sean Weatherspoon has been huge for Atlanta’s defense. The second-year linebacker is a swift, powerful three-down player who attacks the run and can patrol sideline-to-sideline in underneath coverage. The Falcons have a second player of this ilk in Curtis Lofton, a sound fourth-year pro who lacks Weatherspoon’s elite athletic prowess but compensates with decisive diagnostic skills.

With these two working behind vociferous, quick defensive tackles like Jonathan Babineaux and Corey Peters, it’s not only tough to run on the Falcons, it’s tough to execute screens, dumpoffs and shallow crosses. The intended receiver might catch the pass, but he’s not going far. If he does get away, he still has to get by William Moore and Thomas DeCoud, two of the game’s faster downhill safeties.
 
Overall, this speedy zone defense will be a problem for the Giants, a team that compensated for its bad run game this season by totaling 138 completions to Jake Ballard, Bear Pascoe, Henry Hynoski, D.J. Ware, Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all the wild-card games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: November 13, 2011 11:59 am
 

Belichick didn't like Julio Jones draft-day deal

Posted by Will Brinson

When the Falcons decided to trade a pile of draft picks to the Browns for the rights to Julio Jones, there was reason to be skeptical, considering the bounty. But there was also reason to be optimistic if, as Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff thought, the Falcons were just one piece away from a team that was capable of going the distance.

Jones isn't necessarily guaranteed to be that piece, but he's shown flashes of being the prescription for what ails Atlanta's deep-threat problem. More interesting, though, is franchise-building savant Bill Belichick's reaction to the trade, before it happened, when Dimitroff called him to get his input on the deal.

"Thomas, I'm just telling you as a friend," Belichick told Dimitroff prior to the trade, per the Cleveland Plain-Dealer. "I wouldn't do it."

Two things are important to recognize about Belichick's comment, which comes from Michael Holley's book about the coach. One, Belichick felt that Jonathan Baldwin, now a Chiefs wideout, was "just as good if not better." And two, hindsight is always 20/20.

None of that is to say that the deal worked for Atlanta. That still remains to be seen. In fact, their decision to jump up in the draft inherently hinges on their ability to make the playoffs.

What's interesting to me, how Atlanta and Cleveland fare aside, is what would have happened if Belichick, master of the draft-day manuevering, moved up to nab a top-tier prospect.

As I've noted over the past few weeks, the top seven picks in this recent draft are outstanding. Four of those players -- Von Miller, Patrick Peterson, Marcel Dareus and Aldon Smith -- would have an immediate impact on a terrible Patriots defense.

Belichick isn't a guy that jumps into the top 10 of the draft to pay heavily for a player with upside that doesn't equate to guaranteed. But is it possible he missed the economic trend of grabbing the best young players at a much more reasonable cost by virtue of sticking to his guns?

It absolutely is -- Belichick held five picks in the first three rounds of the 2011 draft. Trading up to grab an upper-tier selection would've been tough, but the Pats could've pulled it off. Guaranteeing that they landed a great player is a totally different ballgame of course, and it's hindsight to assume all the top picks from this year will succeed.

But exploiting the new rookie-wage scale is exactly the Moneyball-esque technique we've come to expect out of the Patriots and somehow, instead, New England's left wondering why Ras-I Dowling is on IR and the defense can't stop anyone.

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Posted on: May 23, 2011 6:27 pm
Edited on: May 23, 2011 6:58 pm
 

Falcons latest team to decline Hard Knocks

Posted by Andy Benoit

Over the weekend, Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff indicated that his team might be ready for the HBO Hard Knocks spotlight. Dimitroff said the club turned down the opportunity two years ago but may respond differently if approached again.

That different response won’t come in 2011. Falcons coach Mike Smith told NFL Network’s Scott Hanson that the team had internal discussions about the possibility but came to the decision not to do it.

Lately, it seems like turning down Hard Knocks has become as popular as watching Hard Knocks. The Buccaneers and Lions have both said no, thanks. The Broncos are not interested. No one has mentioned the Patriots, Colts or Steelers, but we’ll assume that the old “when Hell freezes over” cliché applies to the likelihood of them participating. And, sadly for all fans, the Jets have indicated that they do not wish to give an encore performance.

Maybe these rejections won’t matter, anyway. After all, Hard Knocks is based on the assumption that training camps will be held.

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Posted on: May 20, 2011 2:01 pm
 

Dimitroff open to Falcons on 'Hard Knocks'

Posted by Will Brinson

We already know that the Bucs won't be on "Hard Knocks," and we learned yesterday that the Broncos are already out.

But what about the Falcons? The seemingly odd fit for HBO's reality television series about training camp should be considered a possibility, according to Atlanta GM Thomas Dimitroff.

"Two years ago we were approached and decided that it wasn’t right for us at that point,” Dimitroff said on Sirius, via Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "That’s not to say we wouldn’t go down that road if it was presented to us at another time. We are much closer to being in that spot where it’s not going to be as much of a distraction as it would have been another time.

"It’s such an individual thing. Hard Knocks could be right for some of the teams that are fairly entrenched. It could be right for some team that wants to kick off some more brand recognition."

Brand-iness is certainly something that the Falcons could use: look no further than where they fall amongst the elite teams from 2010. You had the Steelers, the Packers, the Bears, the Jets, the Patriots ... and the Falcons.

You can argue more teams were "elite" (or less) if you want, but whatever. The point is that the Falcons are easily the most vanilla of the teams listed there.

Vanilla isn't bad, per se, but it's not gonna sell jerseys outside of the ATL. A "Hard Knocks" appearance won't turn a team into a pile of superstars overnight, but it will make the general football-watching world vastly more interested in what happens to the Falcons the year of the show.

That might not seem like the type of thing Dimitroff would be interested in, but you can definitely argue that making the team more marketable falls under his responsibilities as well.

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com