ATLANTA — If you ever wanted to know why some teams succeed and others seem so hopelessly lost in today’s NFL, here was your answer. Two teams on parallel tracks heading in opposite directions, taking the form of Dan Synder’s Discontents vs. the Blue-Collar Birds.
The study in contrasts:One team threw $100 million at a free agent defensive tackle with spotty character. The other team finds starters in the waiver wire bargain bin.
One team handcuffed the head coach midway through the season and lets a consultant who’s been out of the league since 2004 run the offense.
The other hired a good general manager and coaches, and leaves the football decisions to the football men.
One team chooses to employ DeAngelo Hall.
The other team doesn’t.
In sum, one team makes bad decisions; the other is one of the league’s smartest franchises, and that’s the difference between 2-6 and 5-3.
Everything about the NFL is set up to produce parity. The salary cap, revenue sharing, bottom-first draft order — it’s all in place to make the best teams worse and the worst teams better.
But no by-law that can be collectively bargained is enough to make up for front office fumbles, of which the Redskins make many and the Falcons make few.
Make no mistake, Atlanta isn’t a great team yet. The Falcons are 5-3 at the midway point of the season and nothing is assured — not a playoff berth, not a winning season. But they’re remarkably better than they were pre-Dimitroff, and Sunday’s showing was further confirmation that the current regime is pursuing greatness the correct way.
On the opposite sideline, the ugly alternative was on display.
Just about anything you can say or write about Redskins owner Daniel Snyder has already been said and written. Earlier this week, Redskins legend John Riggins stopped just short of calling him the devil, but current Washington defensive coordinator Greg Blanche gave more than just lip service in his owner’s defense.
What’s indisputable is that the product Snyder puts on the field is mediocre at its best.
He’s free and easy with his considerable riches, paying top dollar (and more) for the shiniest objects on the free agent market. But treating your real-life roster like a fantasy football team isn’t the way quality franchises are formed. The Falcons are proving that.
Consider the case of Hall.
Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff wasted little time shipping “MeAngelo” out of Atlanta when he took over after the 2007 season, and Hall hasn’t forgotten, spouting off in various published reports about “lies” the Falcons told him, and antagonizing a near-melee on the Falcons' sideline Sunday. Interestingly, Hall didn’t go after anybody with a helmet on, but nearly took a swing at Falcons coach Mike Smith.
In a season and a half without Hall, Atlanta still hasn’t found a true No. 1 cornerback, not that it’s made much of a difference.
The Falcons have won 2/3 of their games without Hall and won less than 50 percent while he was here. He’s been replaced by journeymen like Domonique Foxworth, who stepped into a starting role in 2008, and Tye Hill, who returned an interception 62 yards for a touchdown Sunday.
More evidence that get-rich quick rarely works in pro football: In case you hadn’t heard, the NFL’s most expensive player was also on the Georgia Dome turf Sunday. He’d have been easy to miss, because he got out-performed at every step by a guy who makes about 1/4 of his salary.
This offseason, the Redskins signed Albert Haynesworth to a 7-year, $100-million contract. Meanwhile, the Falcons opted to re-up with Jonathan Babineaux late last season.
How’s that working out?
Well, Haynesworth jumped offside twice on the Falcons opening possession, including once on fourth down, allowing Atlanta to score two plays later. He finished with four tackles, one for a loss. Babineaux matched that in the first quarter Sunday.
For the season, Haynesworth has 25 tackles and three sacks. Babineaux finished Sunday with 10 tackles and 2.5 sacks.
In a league structure that pulls teams to the center, it’s the smart that survive by counting character and knowing when to spend and where.
The rest just throw money at fools and their gold.