Early positive signs in Terry Fontenot's approach to rebuilding Atlanta Falcons roster

Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot is making plenty of changes to the Atlanta Falcons roster and more are coming.

The Atlanta Falcons have a salary cap problem. That's nothing new. 

Getting out of a salary cap problem in the NFL typically can't be done in a season or two. It takes years of shrewd decision making and financial restraint to move back into a position where signing impactful free agents is possible. It's even harder to do that while remaining competitive.

For that reason, one could argue general manager, and not head coach, was the more important position to fill this offseason for the Falcons. The team's incoming general manager was going to be tasked with replenishing the roster quickly to take full advantage of the final years with Matt Ryan. 

That was going to be nearly impossible with the salary cap shrinking in 2021 and without further jeopardizing the team's cap situation down the road.

The Falcons have yet to play a game in the Terry Fontenot era, but there are positive signs to his approach to roster building as Falcons GM. The biggest being constant change in an attempt to get a little better every day.

"This roster is going to change," Fontenot told Tori McElhaney of Atlantafalcons.com. "A lot.

"We say all the time that it's not like players are on scholarship, that, once you make the final 53, it doesn't mean you've made the roster for the entire year. We're going to constantly look to upgrade, look to make changes."

Fontenot means is so far. Seven players on last year's team that started at least nine games are not on this season's roster. Almost all of those players were expensive, aging veterans, particularly the offensive starters such as Alex Mack and Julio Jones.

Jones will continue to count towards the Falcons' salary cap through next season. That's tough to swallow considering the Tennessee Titans restructured his deal to turn Jones into more of a salary cap bargain.

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But the best way to add life to a roster is with fresh faces and younger players with upside. That's what the Seattle Seahawks did under general manager John Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll to reach two Super Bowls.

In the pair's first season with the Seahawks in 2010, Seattle completed 284 roster transactions. After the 2013 season when Seattle won Super Bowl XLVIII, only four players from the prior regime were still on the roster.

Under Schneider's leadership, the Seahawks drafted Russell Wilson, Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Tyler Lockett and KJ Wright in the third round or later. They also traded for Marshawn Lynch and more recently acquired Jamal Adams.

The Falcons will need that kind of roster diligence from Fontenot to return to the playoffs with Ryan. We can't grade Fontenot on his drafting yet, but he has showcased an early commitment churning the roster.

Last week, the Falcons cut backup running back Qadree Ollison, replacing him with Wayne Gallman. Head coach Arthur Smith said the organization preferred Gallman because of his ability on special teams. 

On Wednesday, the Falcons re-signed Ollison to the practice squad. Since filling out their initial practice squad, the Falcons also added wide receiver Keelan Doss.

The Falcons signed quarterback Josh Rosen following the injury to AJ McCarron. Despite Rosen performing fairly well in his only preseason performance, the organization didn't immediately promise the former first-round pick a roster spot. Fontenot continued to search the market for other options. That diligence ensured him Atlanta's quarterback depth behind Ryan was as good as it could be.

The Atlanta roster is going to be constantly in flux. That's the team's route to getting better.

Many small moves might go unnoticed by the average fan, but it's necessary for a team searching to add affordable talent. This appears to be Fontenot's plan to win and come out of salary cap hell.