5Q: Thomas Dimitroff

5Q: Thomas Dimitroff

Jay Adams

Published April 26, 2012 at 10:22 AM

For general manager Thomas Dimitroff, the next three days — starting tonight with the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft — are like his gamedays. Here in the final stages of his preparations, Dimitroff is still busy as ever despite not owning a selection in the first round this year.

Last week, he spoke about the advantages and disadvantages of his circumstances at this year’s draft during his pre-draft press conference and later expounded on some of those points when I had a chance to speak with him one-on-one.

Here are my five questions with him:

Jay Adams: You’ve said before that this is your season. Head coach Mike Smith has fall and winter, but the spring is really when you do the bulk of your work. In that context, what’s the draft for you?

Thomas Dimitroff: Having been a scout all my career and then moving into management with a scouting background, this is our one game a year that we have. The focus continues to build, build and build until, obviously, up to when the draft starts and through the draft. So there’s this excitement that continues to build, and the idea of improving a team to hopefully help us break through that door that Arthur Blank referred to — we’re knocking on the door, we haven’t broken through yet — that’s one of those things that always provides motivation for me and I know Mike Smith, as co-team builder. We have a very adept scouting staff led by Dave Caldwell, our personnel director, and Lionel Vital, our associate personnel director, as well as the rest of our staff, who are very, very in tune. We have a very focused staff and they provide all the information that we need to get us ready for our final decisions, because, in the very end, it comes down to myself and Mike Smith as per the player we’re going to pick at 55 or 84 or 157. It’s a one-game season for us on the personnel side and there are a lot of pressures there and in inordinate amount of time and research that goes into picking these players. I would say that, when the draft is over, it’s honestly like finishing a season of football because there’s a lot of work that goes into it.

JA: We looked at the draft retention numbers recently and the numbers you’ve been able to amass in that category are certainly striking. This year was really, for all intents and purposes, a chance to re-sign your first draft class and you brought a good amount back. For a player being drafted by the Falcons, how much of a commitment should they view their selection as?

TD: It’s a huge commitment, Jay. Obviously — let’s call it the way it is — it may be descending from the first pick to your final pick. The commitment is going to be that much stronger at the front end of the draft. That said, everyone we take in the draft, we are committing to and we are giving them every opportunity to make the football team, and that’s very important to us. As you mentioned earlier, we’re very encouraged and proud of our retention rate because it’s something we feel very strongly about. When you’re building a football team and you’re attempting to be fiscally responsible, that’s an important thing. It’s also bringing certain players through your system, year in and year out, so that you can truly create the type of player that you want to sign to not only a second contract, but potentially a third. If, as an organization, your scouting staff and your personnel people have done all the research in the proper manner, I feel that we all in the league should have very sound retention rates because that’s where we spend millions and millions of dollars, researching and scouting players to come into our team. Obviously, there are situations — be it injuries or other unfortunate situations that occur — from organization to organization where they don’t re-sign a player or they lose a player or, quite honestly, a blunder or a bust happens. Quite honestly, that can happen. We understand that. It’s part of it. It’s not an exact science. What you can do is be as thoughtful, as acute in your focus and as well-researched as possible at so many levels to eliminate the uncertainties going into the draft, and that’s what I feel our staff has done a fine job with in the four seasons we’ve been here.

JA: Fans always have an idea of what they consider needs coming into any particular year, but as an NFL GM, how do you go about determining what the needs actually are, or are not?

TD: We have conversations with our scouting and our coaching staff, some together with the scouts and coaches, some separate, some with Mike Smith, myself and our coordinators, some with our owner. There are countless discussions and meetings to determine where our weaknesses may be, where we need to strengthen our depth and, in the end, we come to a consensus decision about where we truly need to pick, whether it’s in this year’s draft or whether it’s in free agency. Another part of the equation that’s not talked about that much is continuing to project into the next year’s draft or next year’s free agency, as well. You need to take the entire picture, not only this year but in years to come, so that you can determine if, in fact, you don’t acquire a certain need this year, can you acquire it in next year’s draft or next year’s group of free agency? Can you hold off a year before you address that certain need? We do categorize our needs and prioritize our needs, as well, so that will determine a lot of times what we do in the draft or free agency.

JA: A year ago at this time, we were talking about all the uncertainty that comes with picking at No. 27 overall because of all the things that could happen before you go on the clock. Of course, now we’re talking about double the number of picks before the Falcons select. You talked a little about uncertainty in you press conference, but how much does the number of picks ahead of you change your mindset?

TD: Interestingly enough, our focus has been on 55, but we make sure that we are thoroughly evaluating all the players in the top tier of the board. We all know who all those names are so we won’t go into specifics. We feel that we know them, for the most part, inside and out — at least, that’s our hope. But we are very focused on our projections about who may be there at 55 and we will put extra focus, as you can imagine, on that area. What that does is it limits the time you’re spending on the very top of the board as far as discussions and meetings, and has you focused on a different part of the board. It also has you focused on what we call our “side board,” and the bottom part of our draft board because there are so many different things that can happen at 55 that may prevent us or allow us to pick later on in the draft. Back to the uncertainties, it’s one of those things that we’re very mindful of. Our focus has been on the 55 projected players as well as the down-the-line players on the draft board that could affect what we do at 55. It sounds like a puzzle, and it is.

JA: With the draft being three days now, it’s a marathon and it’s constant. I imagine it’s got to be crazy for you. When you get to Day 3 and you get into the sixth and seventh rounds, how do you keep from letting the monotony get to you?

TD: The monotony of what you may feel in the media or the fanbase may feel waiting, there is so much more action going on in the war room and in our building, discussing players, watching, analyzing what’s happening, analyzing the needs from other teams that are picking before us — there’s a lot of action, whether it’s the first pick in this case at 55 all the way through the draft when we pick at 249 with our compensatory pick. There will be action. There’s not a bore. There may be a bore from some of the people that are watching the draft from the backseats, but when you’re involved and it is about building your team and you’re very particular about every draft pick, there’s no monotony there for us.

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