Falcons: Rich McKay is becoming a problem

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The NFL is fascinating because no matter how wretched a team is one year, there will always be optimism among fans for the next season. Although Falcons fans feel down right now given the current state of the team, there is always hope for next season. This is especially true due to the turnover at head coach and general manager, but Rich McKay could unwittingly dissuade the blue-chip general manager candidates from the job.

Rich McKay is a former general manager of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Atlanta Falcons. He has quite the reputation around the NFL. McKay is the longest standing member in the history of the NFL Competition Committee (26 consecutive years, 22 of which he has served in the chairmanship role), making him one of the more influential executives in the league. He has also been credited with building the Buccaneers into a respectable franchise.

As the general manager for the Buccaneers from 1994 to 2003, McKay directed six teams that reached the NFC playoffs and one team that won a Super Bowl. Eventually, the volatile relationship between Jon Gruden and McKay would force the latter out of Tampa. The Buccaneers’ 41 Pro Bowl selections between 1997 through 2002 were the most in the NFL, so it is not that McKay is inexperienced.

It is that McKay’s current standing with the Falcons is so obscure. He is the President/CEO and has been since 2008, but to what extent will he make his presence felt. There is a vague sense to his answers about his role from part of an interview with Jeff Schultz and Tori McElhaney of TheAthletic.com. There seems to be a lack of responsibility from McKay. If the new GM messes up it’s his fault, but if he succeeds — it’s because of the involvement of McKay.

When McKay was asked how he would respond to a candidate who wanted to move on from Matt Ryan and/or Julio Jones, he responded with:

“Give us a plan. Show us what you want to do and show us why. Show us how this gets us to Ws and make sure you actually execute the plan. At this point, you’re in partnership with the head coach so you’re going to need to create a common vision. The thing about high priced players is some people look at them as problems and some look at them as assets. I look at them and say we’re fortunate to have them.”

What is discouraging about this response is the sense McKay is in Arthur Blank’s ear, so you not only have to convince the owner but also his confidant. A highly coveted candidate would more than likely want to have the power to make these decisions without having to convince McKay and Blank first. The best general managers are great at pulling the trigger where a majority would not, and I have examples to prove it.

I reference the Packers frequently because their winning culture has been evident for the past 25 years. You can attribute the multiple Super Bowls to acquisitions like Reggie White, Sterling Sharpe, Ahman Green, LeRoy Butler, Charles Woodson, Desmond Howard, Antonio Freeman, B.J. Raji, Clay Matthews, Al Harris, and Nick Collins. But what has kept them relevant regardless of the talent surrounding them, is the back-to-back Hall of Fame quarterbacks in Aaron Rodgers and Brett Favre, both of which were scrutinized decisions at the time.

Favre was acquired from, funny enough, the Falcons for a first-round pick. Rodgers was drafted when he fell in the 2005 NFL draft. Both moves were regarded as asinine at the time. When Favre arrived in Green Bay, Don Majkowski was the beloved starter. When Rodgers arrived in Green Bay, Favre was the beloved starter. Years later, we know the decision to trade for Favre and draft Rodgers were some of the best in franchise history. Fast forward to the 2019 NFL draft, when Green Bay’s GM Brian Gutekunst traded up to select Jordan Love. Only time will tell if this incredible run of quarterbacks will continue, but it is apparent the organization believes in Love.

Now, if an owner like Jerry Jones were involved in any of these decisions, they would have likely been shot down. Since there is no principle owner of the Packers, the GM does not have to convince anyone of his decisions. What I am getting to with all of this is that the general manager usually performs best under no supervision, trusting his gut and sometimes shooting from the hip. When there are roadblocks to each decision, rifts get created and resentment is prevalent.

McKay left Tampa due to Gruden’s obvious control over the roster, even if Gruden denies it. It seems McKay is doing exactly what was done to him. What is even worse, the narrative of this power struggle is being compared to the one in Houston with Jack Easterby. If you have not read the Sports Illustrated article on Easterby, I highly recommend giving it a look. It is telling of just how small circles rule the NFL.

Arthur Blank is the best owner of the teams with a vacant general manager position. He wants to win and will do anything necessary to do so. But it is a clouded relationship between himself and McKay, that should be addressed with each candidate. Candidates are going to pitch their vision, but they should clarify what McKay’s role will be before accepting the job. But doing so could effectively eliminate them from consideration if McKay does not approve of his level of involvement in the candidate’s vision. I am afraid McKay will prevent the Falcons from hiring the best GM available but only time will tell.

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