In this recent column, Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank talked quite a bit about the importance of continuity.
He cited it as a reason why the Falcons didn’t make a big splash in free agency. That pretty much backs up the philosophy that’s been recited by the Falcons since the arrival of general manager Thomas Dimitroff and coach Mike Smith in 2008 -- draft well, keep your core players for the long term, and supplement them with free agents when necessary.
You’ve got to give the Falcons credit for practicing what they preach. This offseason marked the first time that a big portion of a Dimitroff/Smith draft class became eligible for free agency, and the Falcons did a good job of keeping the players they wanted. They re-signed receiver Harry Douglas, safety Thomas DeCoud, and defensive end Kroy Biermann. Quarterback Matt Ryan and offensive tackle Sam Baker, the top two Atlanta picks from 2008, remain under contract. The Falcons did lose middle linebacker Curtis Lofton, a player they had interest in keeping.
The Falcons gave Lofton an offer before free agency, but he had a different figure in mind. Lofton ended up signing with New Orleans for a lot less than his original asking price, and the Falcons are prepared to move on with either veteran Lofa Tatupu or second-year pro Akeem Dent in his place. Ryan is likely to get a contract extension at some point, and the Falcons might use the final year of Baker’s contract to make a decision on if he’s a long-term answer.
I just got some numbers that back up what the Falcons have been saying. When it comes to retaining drafted players, the Falcons are among the league leaders in the Smith/Dimitroff era.
Of the 32 players drafted by the Falcons since 2008, 26 are on the roster. That’s 81.3 percent, which puts the Falcons second only to the Minnesota Vikings, who have an 82.1 percent retention rate in that same time frame (the percentages were current as of early Tuesday afternoon). For the sake of comparison, Denver ranks last in the league by retaining only 48.6 percent of the players drafted since 2008. For more context, Tennessee (77.8 percent) and Houston (75 percent) are the only other teams with a retention rate of 75 percent or better.
Most of the rest of the NFC South also has fared well in retaining draft picks since 2008. Tampa Bay, which has been preaching a philosophy similar to Atlanta’s, ranks No. 7 in the NFL at 70 percent. Of the 31 players the Buccaneers have drafted since 2008, 21 remain on the team.
Although the Saints have had the second-fewest number of picks since 2008, their retention percentage is fairly high at 68.2 percent. Of the 22 players New Orleans has picked, 15 remain on the roster.
Carolina is the only NFC South team in the bottom half of the league in retention. The Panthers are No. 21 at 61.8 percent. They’ve had 34 picks, and 21 remain on the roster.