Falcons owner optimistic 5-2 surge that saved Dan Quinn's job will carry over

Late-season success convinces Falcons to retain Quinn, Dimitroff (1:24)

Adam Schefter says the Falcons' late-season success is what drove Arthur Blank's decision to retain Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff. (1:24)

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The decision won't please everyone in the fan base, but Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank felt comfortable enough with the direction of this season's team to retain coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff.

Does that mean the Falcons will be contenders in 2020? They had better be, even if Blank didn't demand such publicly.

Blank and team president Rich McKay -- newly assigned to oversee Quinn and Dimitroff -- addressed the media Friday and talked about the reasons they decided to keep the staff in tact. Perhaps the biggest was the Falcons' second-half turnaround where they went 5-2, which Blank kept pointing to as reason for optimism. He was asked specifically what his message would be to disgruntled fans who thought a change was imminent.

"Time will tell, but I think based on all the information that we have available to us -- based on the way the team is playing, based on the way the coaching staff is leading -- that we have every reason to think that the success we've had not for one game, but over a seven-game period of time in the back half of the year, there's no reason to think that's not sustainable going forward," Blank said.

"I wish I had a crystal ball and knew for certain."

Blank didn't give Quinn an ultimatum on number of wins next season. But Blank reiterated that 7-9 is unacceptable -- although the Falcons were 7-9 in 2018 and will be either 6-10 or 7-9 following Sunday's season finale at Tampa Bay.

When pressed later in the day on whether Quinn has to make the playoffs next season to survive, Blank wouldn't go that far.

"I expect a much higher level of performance next year," Blank told ESPN. "I would say that. And that's what [Quinn] would say as well."

So what gives Blank the confidence in Quinn to have a successful 2020 campaign?

"He's a good student; I think he's a good learner," Blank said of Quinn. "Some people either have humility or they don't. Some people learn it over time. Dan's the kind of guy that is a learner. He loved to study. He loves to learn. He loves to listen. He's very reflective.

"He has examined what is his role as head coach, what's the best position for a variety of other coaches, how do I make sure I'm putting players in the best possible way that they can win their matchups and win in the scheme. I think that he's learned from that. ... Dan will be even more reflective and more sensitive and more balanced in that way going forward. And I think he's prepared to make decisions earlier rather than later."

The latter part of Blank's answer spoke to his biggest criticism of Quinn this season. The Falcons started 1-7 and looked pathetic in the process. A turnaround came after the bye, when Quinn moved assistant head coach Raheem Morris from coaching wide receivers to working with the defensive backs and assisting linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich with the defensive playcalling. The life Morris injected into the defense is the reason he was designated as the defensive coordinator for next season, though Morris is sure to get some head-coaching looks before then.

In terms of other coaching changes, Quinn was asked if he plans to keep Dirk Koetter as offensive coordinator next season. He responded, "Yes." Quinn said he plans to speak more about the coaching staff after the season.

As far as how 2019 unfolded, Blank wondered why Quinn didn't make adjustments sooner.

"My major criticism of the coach this year goes beyond the 6-9, 7-9, whatever the record finally ends up being after we play a pretty good [Tampa Bay] team on Sunday,'' Blank said. "A number of these decisions, they were all within [Quinn's] ability to make. He made them too late, in many cases. ... The second-half record speaks to that and speaks for that.

"I don't think he's the kind of coach that will make the same mistake again in that regard."

Quinn took responsibility for the Falcons' slow start

"There was a lot of change heading into our season, and I certainly take responsibility for that,'' Quinn said about changing all three coordinator spots, including naming himself the defensive coordinator. "For me, certainly I felt like I took on too much at times: that's being the head coach, the defensive coordinator, trying to work with the [defensive] ends. I learned that, and I fixed that."

Blank said he never seriously considered a midseason coaching change despite holding an impromptu news conference following a Week 8 loss to Seattle where he insisted every aspect of the team would be reevaluated. He didn't pinpoint one moment or result that persuaded him to retain Quinn, although Blank made sure to magnify the road wins over NFC front-runners New Orleans and San Francisco.

No one knows how the Falcons' roster will come together next season, although they have a solid core with Julio Jones, Matt Ryan, and Calvin Ridley on offense along with Grady Jarrett and Deion Jones on defense. Blank already gave Julio Jones, Ryan, Jarrett, and Deion Jones lucrative deals. However, those four players can't do it alone.

Blank pointed to the areas of the roster he believes need to be addressed.

"Any improvement on the offensive and defensive lines is going to be helpful and important," Blank said. "I think we have to continue to put pressure on quarterbacks. And obviously, it helps when you have great coverage in the secondary. But both offensive and defensive lines, you'll see a lot of emphasis on."

Quinn and Dimitroff, with Quinn maintaining control over the 53, have to construct a roster capable of not only competing with the elite teams in the league, but challenging -- or surpassing -- the Saints in the NFC South. The Falcons hope continuity works for them like it did for the Saints, who had three straight 7-9 seasons under Sean Payton from 2014-16 before winning the division the past two seasons.

"I'm excited to get rolling [into next season]," Quinn said. "We've got a lot of good pieces in place. I think we lay a good foundation over the last eight weeks of what [tweaks] would look like, especially for me. I recognize when there's a problem. I'm not somebody to just sit back on my hands and not doing anything about it."

Perhaps this biggest obstacle is the Falcons are projected to be over the salary cap going into next season, and that's even before signing their draft class. Those lucrative deals to the top players put the Falcons in a financial bind Dimitroff has to navigate, with Quinn's input and McKay's oversight.

"I am not overly concerned about the salary-cap situation," McKay said. "I've seen the tight cap. It makes you make hard decisions. It makes you be very, very certain in what you do whether it's in free agency or whether it's a re-signing or whether it's a restructuring. But it is all doable. You're living in a world of a $200 million cap."

As it looks now, the Falcons don't have the money to bolster the pass rush or offensive line through free agency. They could free up some cap space by making some tough decisions on veteran players such as cornerback Desmond Trufant and running back Devonta Freeman. They could make some trades to acquire draft picks, like they did when they traded wide receiver Mohamed Sanu to the New England Patriots for a second-round pick.

Time will tell how it all comes together. Although Blank said he has grown more patient as an owner, it would be hard to imagine him tolerating mediocrity again in 2020.