Falcons: Will Terry Fontenot rely more on free agency or the draft?

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Looking back at Terry Fontenot’s history with the Saints’ organization, we can guess at what he’ll favor — the draft or free agency. Some teams, like the Packers, are strictly a draft-and-develop organizations that very rarely dip into free agency. Then there are those teams, like the Jets and Jaguars, who spend carelessly in free agency to build their roster. The Saints were one of the top teams in the league in spending through free agency, which provides a good idea of what Fontenot will do.

The Falcons weren’t dormant during free agency. Thomas Dimitroff would occasionally make a splash signing — they just never panned out. Alex Mack is the only one in recent memory that met and exceeded expectations. It isn’t necessarily hitting on your lucrative free-agent signings that is important — but hitting on the mid-tier ones. Micky Loomis, though he has experienced recent success in the draft, built New Orleans’ roster over the past decade through free agency, but when they do build through the draft, it’s aggressively.

Loomis has traded up 17 times over the past 13 years — including nine cases where they traded a future year’s draft choice in the deal. He has been quoted saying, “If you like the player, go get ’em. That’s our philosophy.” So expect the Falcons and Terry Fontenot to have an ultra-entertaining offseason, especially in free agency.

What is most incredible about Fontenot, and Falcons fans will soon find out, is his ability to hit on those mid-tier free agents — where I think he will build the rest of the roster through. Tori McElhaney and Jeff Duncan — who use to work as a Saints’ beat writer — sat down to discuss what Fontenot brought to Atlanta.

Terry also has a keen eye for talent and understood how to find players who fit the vision of the Saints’ coaching staff and scheme. Demario Davis is by far his best free-agent signing. Few people had ever heard of him when the Saints brought him in, and he’s become a team captain, a leader and an All-Pro. But even more impressive has been Terry’s ability to beat the bushes and find mid- and veteran-minimum-level players to bolster the team’s depth and fill out the roster. Players like Malcom Brown, Latavius Murray, James Hurst, Nick Easton and Ty Montgomery have come in and played key roles and allowed the team to withstand attrition and injuries, which is so critical in today’s game. He also has mined the CFL ranks for players like Delvin Breaux, Erik Harris and Adam Bighill.

As I said, it isn’t just about hitting on the high-priced free agents, but also the “other” guys.

“They can’t all be high-paid free agents,” he said. “They can’t all be top draft picks. We have to hit on the mid-and-late-round picks. We have to hit on the undrafted free agents. We have to hit on the lower-paid players and make sure we’re clear with our vision and in line with our coaches.”

As of now, the Falcons roster is probably right around the middle of the pack talent-wise. Fontenot will surely dissect the roster and trim the fat, so to speak.

As the former director of pro personnel, Terry definitely will have an intimate working knowledge of Atlanta’s personnel and roster. Roster management and building will be strengths of his. More important, Terry has learned how to build a winning culture for sustained success, the importance of hiring smart, talented people and empowering them to do their jobs.

If the roster isn’t as talented as I thought, there will surely be more turnover this offseason than expected. One thing is certain: Fontenot will dip into free agency, hitting on those signings at an unprecedented rate. It is surely a different era in Atlanta. I don’t think fans realize how lucky they are to have someone as blue-collar as Fontenot is.


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