Atlanta Falcons rumors: Latest on team’s head coach and general manager search for 2021

By Matt Johnson
Nov 28, 2019; Atlanta, GA, USA; The Atlanta Falcons logo is shown in an end zone before the game between the New Orleans Saints and the Atlanta Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta Falcons rumors: Following an 0-5 start to the 2020 NFL season, the Atlanta Falcons fired head coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff. With the organization heading into a pivotal offseason, rumors are already swirling regarding Atlanta’s plans in 2021.

For team owner Arthur Blank, he must hire a head coach and general manager at a crucial point that will decide this team’s future. Atlanta’s roster is getting a lot older and the team is in a tight salary cap situation heading into a year where the NFL salary cap might drop for the first time in years.

With so much work to be done to overhaul this roster and front office, let’s dive into the latest Atlanta Falcons rumors.

Update: Dec. 14, 2:30 PM EST

Related: If you’re a fan of the Falcons, check out #RiseUpATL rumors, rankings, and news here.

Atlanta Falcons rumors: Key candidates emerging for team’s general manager vacancy

While several NFL teams prioritize a head coach for their first hire, Atlanta is reportedly more focused on finding its general manager as the first step of an organizational retool. On that note, while the process hasn’t officially begun, two candidates are already emerging.

According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, the Falcons have touched base with former Houston Texans general manager Rick Smith and are interested in him to replace Dimitroff.

Smith began his career as a coach, serving with the Purdue Boilermakers (1992-’95) and later with the Denver Broncos (1996-’99). He then transitioned to the front office, serving as Denver’s director of pro personnel (2000-’05).

Houston hired Smith as its general manager in 2006 and he served in that role until 2017, when he stepped away following his wife’s cancer diagnosis. During his tenure, he oversaw the selections of Duane Brown, Benardick McKinney, Will Fuller, D.J. Reader, Jadeveon Clowney, DeAndre Hopkins and J.J. Watt. As detailed on Adam Schefter’s podcast, Smith was also the driving force behind Houston selecting Deshaun Watson.

According to Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer, the Falcons are also being connected to former New York Giants general manager Jerry Reese. A two-time Super Bowl champion, the NFL is advocating for Reese in Atlanta and team president Rich McKay has strong ties to the league office.

Reese served as New York’s general manager from 2007-’17. During his time with the Giants, the team won two Super Bowls.

Regardless of who Atlanta hires as its next general manager, there is a growing belief that interim coach Raheem Morris will have a shot to retain his role in 2021.

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Atlanta Falcons rumors: Raheem Morris a candidate to be full-time head coach

When the Falcons parted ways with Dan Quinn, they named Raheem Morris interim head coach. Since taking over the top gig in Atlanta, the team has largely turned things around in a short amount of time.

Under Morris, the Falcons are 4-3 with close losses to the Detroit Lions (23-22) and New Orleans Saints (21-16). It’s been an impressive turnaround, with rumors heating up in November that Morris is earning himself consideration for the full-time role. With his success continuing since then, the 44-year-old is garnering even more attention.

According to ESPN’s Dan Graziano and Jeremy Fowler, Raheem Morris will be in a great position for Atlanta’s coaching search if the team finishes the 2020 season strong. Furthermore, it could also help him generate interest for openings across the league.

Morris first became an NFL head coach in 2009, promoted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after serving as their defensive backs coach (2004-05). Despite having limited NFL coaching experience, Tampa Bay took a chance on the 33-year-old.

The Buccaneers went 3-13 in his first season, but experienced a massive turnaround the following year with a 10-6 record. However, with the roster gutted, Morris was fired following a 4-12 season in 2011.

After being dismissed by Tampa Bay, Morris joined the Washington Football Team as a defensive backs coach (2012-’14). When the Falcons hired Quinn, Morris joined the coaching staff and has served in a variety of roles since 2015.

For NFL teams seeking a sharp defensive mind with experience as a head coach and a player-friendly approach, Morris could be the guy.

Related: 2021 NFL mock draft – New York Jets rebuild offense, surprise team trades up for QB in 2021 NFL Draft.

Atlanta Falcons rumors: Arthur Blank eyeing two top candidates for head coach, general manager

Of course, Arthur Blank also needs to find a general manager to oversee roster construction for his team. With the Falcons likely headed for a top-10 pick in a loaded draft class, Atlanta’s owner might have his eyes on a highly-regarded evaluator.

According to Pro Football Network’s Tony Pauline, many around the NFL expect Blank to make a big push for Eric Bieniemy and John Dorsey this offseason.

Dorsey has previously served as a general manager for the Kansas City Chiefs (2013-’16) and Cleveland Browns (2017-’19). He played a prominent role in Kansas City’s selections of Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and Kareem Hunt. In Cleveland, he signed Hunt and drafted many of the players who helped the Browns become a playoff-caliber team.

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Dorsey does come with some red flags. As detailed by USA Today’s Jeff Risdon, Dorsey is known for being inflexible and stubborn with those he works with. His confidence in his evaluations and an inability to admit when he made mistakes, along with how difficult he could be to work with, led to his dismissal from Cleveland.

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If the Falcons hire Dorsey, it would likely mean that Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy joins him. It’s widely believed that the two are a package deal, which is something that would appeal to plenty of NFL teams with openings at both spots.

Smith can make a run at both and certainly has the background, respect and money to make attractive offers. However, the Houston Texans have the star power already making its push and there are early indications that a Dorsey-Bieniemy pairing could happen in Houston.

Atlanta Falcons rumors: ESPN commentator among candidates for general manager

The search for a general manager is ongoing, but Dorsey might not be the only former NFL executive who the Falcons are looking at. While Atlanta can’t interview candidates who currently work for NFL teams, Dorsey and a second target are free to be interviewed during the season.

According to The Athletic’s Jeff Schultz, ESPN’s Monday Night Football analyst Louis Riddick is among a list of candidates under consideration to become the Falcons’ next general manager.

Riddick came into the NFL as a player, bouncing around the league with the Falcons, Cleveland Browns and Oakland Raiders. He transitioned to scouting after he retired in 2001, becoming a pro scout for the Washington Football Team (2001-’04). He later became Washington’s director of pro personnel (2005-’07).

He then joined the Philadelphia Eagles as a pro scout in 2008. After spending a year as a scout, he became the assistant director of pro personnel. The following season, he was promoted to director of pro personnel.

Riddick joined ESPN a short time later, starting as an NFL analyst and quickly appearing on more programming. He is now one of the network’s top experts, serving as an announcer for Monday Night Football this season.

The 51-year-old is no stranger to being coveted by NFL teams. He was a candidate to become the San Francisco 49ers general manager in 2017 and has been connected to numerous vacancies in recent years.