I can't believe I'm writing these words, but it's time for the Atlanta Falcons to strongly consider tanking the rest of this 2020 football season.
It's time to attempt to be the first in line to select either Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence or Ohio State QB Justin Fields — a couple of former Peach State high school sensations — should either or both make themselves available for next spring's NFL Draft.
I know what many of you in Falcons Nation are thinking: Isn't tanking what the Dirty Birds have been doing for their first five games, all of them losses, some of them by the most embarrassing of methods? To point out just two of those five defeats — those back-to-back, blown 15-point leads in the fourth quarter against Dallas and Chicago — you almost couldn't have thrown those away without trying.
Beyond that, when you fire your sixth-year coach, a coach who had you within a single quarter — or even a single first down of winning your franchise's only Super Bowl — as well as your general manager, at the close of Sunday's fifth straight defeat, aren't you kind of already tanking the remaining 11 games?
No offense to interim head coach Raheem Morris, but wasn't the defense he was charged with coordinating prior to Monday's promotion the biggest reason Atlanta stands 0-5 today in the NFC South?
Trouble is, within that same NFC South, all four teams — Atlanta, Carolina, New Orleans and Tampa Bay — have at least two defeats. So nobody's all that scary, which means the Falcons could still win at least a couple of games within the division.
Then there's the rest of the schedule, which wouldn't exactly require a superhuman effort to go .500 against. This week's road foe, Minnesota, currently stands 1-4. Next week's opponent, dysfunctional Detroit, currently stands 1-3. Carolina was good enough to best Atlanta 23-16 inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday, but can the 3-2 Panthers sweep the Falcons the following week? Then 1-3 Denver visits Atlanta before the November 15th bye week.
After that, the Falcons visit New Orleans (2-2 heading into Monday night's game against San Diego), host Las Vegas (3-2), visit the Chargers (1-3), host Tampa Bay (3-2), then visit Kansas City (4-1) and Tampa Bay.
Not exactly a schedule made for subliminal tanking.
Then again, this is Atlanta, where just-ousted Dan Quinn managed to be the only coach in NFL history to blow a 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl on his way to becoming the first NFL coach to ever squander two fourth-leads of 15 or more points this fall. As for GM Thomas Dimitroff, the genius of his early moves to draft Matt Ryan and Julio Jones were somewhat sullied by later draftees, especially on defense, who never panned out.
Now Morris, who's overseen an injury-riddled Falcons defense ranked 31st out of 32 teams in scoring defense (32.2 ppg), is supposed to do, well, what? Finish .500? Go 6-10? Lose them all? And how would anyone cry foul on these foul fowls if they did go 0-16?
Nevertheless, without planning to fail, the Falcons could easily fail to secure anything better than the 10th or 12th pick in the 2021 draft, which would again guarantee them having to roll the dice week in and week out with quarterback Matt Ryan, who suddenly looks far past his prime.
Just Sunday, Carolina's defense suddenly leaking in the second half, Ryan overthrew a wide-open tight end Hayden Hurst for a touchdown. Then he threw an interception in the end zone that he never would have thrown five years ago. Through much of his career, the 35-year-old Ryan has been as good a come-from-behind QB as the league has seen, but too many sacks and too much drama seem to have taken their toll. Ryan's still pretty good, but when your defense is giving up over 30 points a game and the best quarterbacks have become those who can run and pass — Seattle's Russell Wilson and Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes, to name but two — Ryan's prime would appear to be behind him.
Moreover, Falcons owner Arthur Blank told the Atlanta media on Monday that he would not necessarily commit to keeping Ryan, despite owing him more than $73 million on his current contract.
"I love Matt, much like I love Dan, I love Thomas," Blank said. "Matt's been a franchise leader for us, great quarterback; one of the leading quarterbacks in the last 13 years in the NFL. I hope he's going to be part of our plans going forward. But that will be a decision that I won't make."
In other words, don't start building your dream home in or near the Big Peach, Matty Ice.
But who will ultimately decide Ryan's future, as well as most everyone else's on the Falcons? Try this: Hire ESPN analyst and former NFL player Louis Riddick to replace Dimitroff as GM. If possible, hire KC offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy as head coach. If you can't lose your way to the No. 1 pick before the draft, do everything possible — even possibly trading Julio Jones — to draft either Lawrence or Fields, though Lawrence currently seems the more certain success.
Until then, just keep doing what you've been doing all season — lose. Falcons Nation will thank you for it later.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at firstname.lastname@example.org