The Falcons haven’t had much success under the new regime drafting and developing talent, but one area Terry Fontenot’s front office has thrived is on the pro personnel side of things.
Most of the club’s significant acquisitions have worked out. Calais Campbell, Jessie Bates III, David Onyemata, Kaden Elliss, Jeff Okudah, and Jonnu Smith headline this offseason’s class, but even Fontenot’s work without cap space was impressive — i.e., Cordarrelle Patterson.
However, like every other general manager, Atlanta’s GM isn’t perfect. He’s had a few misses, and this offseason’s miss is Mike Hughes. The former Vikings first round pick spent his first three seasons in Minnesota but wound up being traded to the Chiefs in 2021.
He would go on to sign a free agent deal with the Lions last year, but his time in Detroit was a bag of mixed results. It certainly wasn’t his best season, but the Falcons felt he showed enough to warrant a two-year deal. I’m sure it’s one the club would like back because the investment hasn’t materialized.
Hughes was initially set to compete for the starting nickel role but was beaten out by Dee Alford, who has quietly turned in a great season. With nowhere else to play him, Atlanta decided to stick him back to return punts in the wake of the Avery Williams injury.
It’s the classic “we paid this guy too much and need to find something for him to do” schtick, and it’s gone as poorly as expected. He’s had multiple gaffes on punt returns, none more brazen than last week against the Titans. Hughes inexplicably fielded a punt at the one-yard line and then called a fair catch at the seven-yard line later in the game, resulting in him losing his job.
On Sunday against the Vikings, Hughes was forced into the game after an injury to Dee Alford. It looked like he lost Brandon Powell in coverage on what became the game-winning touchdown for Minnesota.
No GM bats 1.000, but this was a big miss from Terry Fontenot. The Falcons might be better off with Clark Phillips in place of Alford if the injury is a long-term situation.
Photographer: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire