Before you break out your collective pitchforks, while flooding the comments section with pure vitriol, please hear me out. After a surprising 4-12 season—with that term being used loosely—many have mixed views on the imminent direction of the Atlanta Falcons.
Are the Falcons one or two tweaks away from contention, or are they an outfit that's in need of a quiet revamp (youth movement)? I tend to lean more toward the latter over the former. That's why Atlanta needs to really think about acquiring assets for veteran receiver Roddy White.
The Falcons' front-office triumvirate of Thomas Dimitroff, Scott Pioli and Lionel Vital all cut their respective teeth under future Hall of Fame coach Bill Belichick (New England Patriots) and his "Patriot way." New England has mastered the art of the quiet rebuild, in part because of its propensity for keeping talent along both lines of scrimmage.
While many blame last season's debacle on injuries, the Patriots were able to overcome a similar amount of injuries to key players, as well as an offseason that included losing four of their top five receiving threats.
They once even posted an 11-5 season (2008-09) without the services of future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady. A great franchise should be defined by its ability to not only win when the ball bounces its way, but also by how it avoids the doldrums and never dips below respectability.
By seeing what the market bears out for White, Atlanta has a prime opportunity to make sure a season like this doesn't happen again—at least for the foreseeable future.
The Julio Jones Factor
For the first quarter of the season, before he was lost to a season-ending foot injury, the league received its first taste of what life would be like with receiver Julio Jones as the Falcons' primary target. With White nursing an ankle injury, and tight end Tony Gonzalez attempting to regain his sea legs (missed most of the offseason), Jones was the undoubted first read in quarterback Matt Ryan's progressions.
After five weeks, Jones not only led the league in catches but was also second in the league in receiving yardage. Normally with the presence of White, Jones would be used mostly in the vertical aspect of the offense.
Without White, Jones was allowed to show how dominant he could be in the short-to-intermediate game, which only strengthened his arsenal, further giving defensive coordinators headaches and ulcers. In addition, veteran Harry Douglas showed that he too could be a viable option, after moving into Jones' role, with an 85-catch, 1,067-yard performance.
Now this isn't an indictment of White. It's actually quite the contrary. White is the greatest receiver in franchise history and when healthy is still one of the very best doing it. But at 33 years old (next season), his value will never be higher than it is now. If you're thinking with impartiality, having him on a team that is in clear need of quite a few pieces is unnecessary.
With Jones now entering his fourth season, it's now time to surround him with youth. The Cincinnati Bengals have done an excellent job of building their program around their soon-to-be fourth-year star in A.J. Green (98 receptions for 1,426 yards).
They have found a No. 2 receiver in Marvin Jones (51 receptions for 712 yards and 10 touchdowns), who, at 23 years old, will continue to grow alongside Green.
Many fans will say that Jones will be double-teamed without the presence of White. The simple retort to that is, "so?" Every great receiver garners extra attention. Andre Johnson (Houston Texans) and Calvin Johnson (Detroit Lions) have at times been the only quality players on their respective offenses.
And both have been impossible to contain due to their uncanny skill set and understanding of NFL defenses. Jones has the ability to be right on their level. And as we saw though Week 5, he may already be.
Imagine if the Falcons picked up a young monster like Donte Moncrief (6'3", 226 lbs out of Ole Miss) or Martavis Bryant (6'5', 200 lbs out of Clemson) with a pick they would accumulate for White?
Having one of those young guys in addition to Jones and Douglas, along with receivers like Darius Johnson, Drew Davis and Kevin Cone, would be flat-out scary for years to come.
Furthermore, when you factor in it would force the Falcons to get back to a more balanced attack, you can easily see how they could turn around their program in a couple of seasons—while displaying a more sustainable product.
Most fans are under the belief the Falcons are winning the Super Bowl next season, as they should—because that's what fans do. But going from 4-12 to the Lombardi Trophy is a bit of a stretch. When you factor in the talent in the NFC it becomes even bleaker.
It's not out of the realm of possibility that White may be 35 by the time the Falcons are serious contenders. Then it would be time to replace him anyway, as Father Time is forever undefeated.
The Patriot Way
You ever wonder how a team like the Patriots could go 11-5 after losing their franchise quarterback, Tom Brady, to a season-ending knee injury—like they did in '08?
This quote from my favorite book, War Room by Michael Holley, is telling: "Over the years, making tough decisions and replacing seemingly indispensable players would become the Patriots' way of doing business."
It's also damning that the premise of the book happens to be about the Falcons' aforementioned front office trio and their presence in helping build a dynasty. Outside of Brady, New England has demonstrated that any player can be jettisoned for the greater good of the team.
Dominant veteran players like Richard Seymour, Mike Vrabel, Ty Warren, Asante Samuel, Ty Law, Lawyer Milloy and Deion Branch were all let go in some type of fashion. Belichick also is a master of taking the temperature of his team.
He can tell when his team has a legit shot at the Super Bowl, or when it's time to embark on more of a youth movement, which usually involves the skill players. The Patriots always make sure they are the strongest on both lines of scrimmage, as they know Brady will always make skill-position players better.
The Falcons are afforded the same luxury with Ryan. Atlanta didn't go 4-12 because of injuries to wide receivers; the futility can mostly be blamed on lack of manpower in the trenches. Considering Ryan still threw for 4,515 yards with 26 TDs, you can plainly see how such a notion is derived.
This season's Patriots squad exemplifies that theory the most. After losing valuable skill players like Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd and Danny Woodhead—who made up roughly 90 percent of last season's offensive production—they still went 12-4, making an appearance in the AFC Championship Game...in a "rebuilding year."
The Patriots don't rebuild, they reload. And they do this by making use of all of their available resources and constantly changing and tweaking their scheme to get the best use out of their current personnel.
But when they feel they are a couple of pieces away, they aren't afraid to add a veteran to get over the hump, which is why they would be the perfect team to trade White to.
With Brady now in the twilight of his career, the Patriots don't have the luxury of waiting for rookie receivers to develop like the Falcons do. They need a proven vet who will be at his best the next couple of seasons.
White is that guy.
According to Patriots beat writer Tom E. Curran of CSNNE.com, New England was interested in acquiring veteran receiver Larry Fitzgerald from the Arizona Cardinals. It can be argued that Fitzgerald's presence (and production) would've been all that New England needed to beat the Denver Broncos in the penultimate game of the season.
It can also be argued that White's presence in a Falcons uniform will not get the Falcons over the hump, as they have way too many holes to fill coming off a 4-12 record. New England owns the 29th pick in the first round of the upcoming draft.
Can you imagine what the Falcons could do with that pick?
There's a rule of thumb that you always trade a player one year too early opposed to one year too late. White is coming off the first injury-plagued season of his career, and it's rare that you get older and get healthier. Chances are the soon-to-be 33-year-old White might accumulate nagging injuries from henceforth (or he may not).
The Seattle Seahawks just won the Super Bowl with the fourth-youngest team in the NFL. They also possessed possibly one the league's least-productive, and least-talented, receiving corps. But what they sacrificed at the skill positions, they more than made up for it by being able to acquire top-notch talent in the trenches (and in the secondary).
It's expected that 99 percent of fans would be against a trade of such magnitude, as White is undoubtedly the best receiver in franchise history (and the all-time favorite of yours truly). But those same fans would be chanting "Rise up" ad naseum if the Falcons were to put themselves in a similar position as Seattle with a young, uber-competitive roster.
The chance to acquire an additional late first-round pick, or an extra second-round pick, could be the transaction that makes the Falcons competitive for years to come.
And remember, even the great Jerry Rice was jettisoned from the San Francisco 49ers. It's business—never personal.
After covering the rival New Orleans Saints for the 2013-14 season, Atlanta native Murf Baldwin returns home to cover his hometown team in 2014. Follow Murf on Twitter and welcome him home.
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