Coming off their second consecutive 7-10 season, the Atlanta Falcons are sticking with Arthur Smith as head coach and Terry Fontenot as GM. However, there are significant changes afoot in the front office. Quite a few significant changes, in fact.
The morning after their season concluded with a 30-17 win over Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the franchise announced the promotions of five senior executives to new positions within the Arthur M. Blank Sports and Entertainment portfolio, which includes the Falcons along with the Atlanta United and Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Steve Cannon, CEO of AMBSE, was named vice chairman of AMBSE; Rich McKay was promoted to CEO of AMBSE while continuing to serve as CEO of the Atlanta Falcons; Greg Beadles was named president of the Atlanta Falcons, and will preside over all of the franchise’s business functions; AMBSE chief revenue officer Tim Zulawski was elevated to president of AMBSE; and Dietmar Exler was tapped as executive vice president and chief operating officer of Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Even though the off-season is barely a month old, an NFL team’s front office is typically waist-deep with game planning for free agency, which kicks off March 15, and evaluating college players for the following month’s NFL Draft. But amidst impending momentous decisions, Blank has a proclivity for thinking in the future tense, annually talking of succession planning so that his businesses are set up for sustained success and his long-tenured employees, such as Beadles, who cut his teeth in the NFL when he started as an intern for the Falcons back in the mid-’90s, are rewarded.
“I may not even have known what a president did at that time [mid-’90s],” said Beadles, who grew up wearing Steve Bartkowski’s jersey and red helmet in his backyard as a child in Georgia. “It was definitely beyond my comprehension that I could possibly do something like that at that point. I was just looking to get my foot in the door and learn what this business is all about.”
The NFL is now a multi-billion dollar business that has seemingly grown a hundredfold from the days of the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys virtually having a monopoly on the Lombardi Trophy and MLB ballparks doubling as NFL stadiums and games getting blacked out on local television because of unused tickets.
“It [NFL] has changed dramatically on so many different fronts,” added the Falcons’ new president. “On the field, the level of competition and parity and everything that the league has done over the years to improve that has been fantastic to where we have the great product that we have today.
“Everything there is so much bigger than when I came into the league 28 years ago now. The financial metrics and numbers are just something I could have never imagined where they are today from back in those early days in my career.”
The nascent days of Beadles’ career with the Falcons marked the beginning of McKay’s run as GM of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. A big believer in organization-wide continuity, McKay served as the architect of the 2002 Super Bowl champion Bucs team—one stacked with franchise legacy players such as Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, and Ronde Barber—before sliding over to the Falcons in December 2003. Despite the Falcons falling short of the postseason the last two years, McKay remains a steadfast adherent to the system Smith and Fontenot are instilling.
“We had a bunch of close games,” said McKay. “We certainly had some opportunities, but I think we saw the plan that Arthur Smith and Terry Fontenot have for the football team—the type of football team they want to have going forward. So now this is a big step for us in this off-season. The first off-season really, it has to be at least five years or six years, since we’ve actually opened free agency under the cap. Usually, we have had to go into free agency and find a way to get under the cap. This will be the first time that we’ve been, let’s call it, active in free agency and using free agency as a piece to complement the building blocks they [Smith and Fontenot] put the last couple years.
“If all goes according to McKay’s plan, said free agent acquisitions, along with recent first-round picks Kyle Pitts and Drake London, will be longtime pillars of the Falcons organization…just like the aforementioned trio of Sapp, Brooks, and Barber were in Tampa.
“In the NFL, there is a limited talent pool and there are all of these restrictions [free agency, it takes four years for a player to be able to leave a team],” added McKay. “When you live in that world, if you make a lot of changes in your plan, in your approach [toward] the players you want, and you cycle through those players, they’re not so easily replaceable. That’s why when you make any type of major change, you want to try to have sustained success for as long as you can and stay into that plan because then you don’t have to go back into the pool and start over again on players.
“They [Smith and Fontenot] did a really good job of resetting the team two years ago and have really built on it from that day. That’s what gives us a lot of confidence going into 2023 for sure.”
- Atlanta falcons
- David Ostrowsky
- Arthur Smith
- Terry Fontenot
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Arthur M. Blank Sports and Entertainment
- Atlanta United
- Mercedes-Benz Stadium
- Steve Cannon
- Rich Mckay
- Greg Beadles
- Tim Zulawski
- Dietmar Exler
- Steve Bartkowski
- San Francisco 49ers
- Dallas Cowboys
- Lombardi Trophy
- Warren Sapp
- Derrick Brooks
- Ronde Barber
- Kyle Pitts
- Drake London