But that was just part of the Atlanta staff's to-do list. The Falcons had to sign their two exclusive-rights free agents, decide which restricted and unrestricted free agents they would pursue (both their own and those from other teams) and fill out their roster with 23 undrafted college free agents, players who in normal years are signed in a two-day window after the draft.
Dimitroff put director of player personnel Les Snead in charge of the undrafted players, and Snead used a staff of nine scouts and administrators to recruit and make agreements with the top names on Atlanta's board. Snead not only had to oversee agreements with the players, but also had to do it all in about five hours because of the intense competition among teams. And then every one of those players had to be on a flight and in camp by Tuesday night, in time to undergo physicals, sign contracts and attend the first team meeting on Wednesday morning.
With so many clubs calling players over such a short time, there were going to be defections. At 11 p.m. on Monday scout Bob Kronenberg, who drew up the short list of offensive linemen, got Nevada tackle Jose Acuna to agree to terms. When Snead came back into the draft room for a 12:30 a.m. update he was told Acuna had switched to the Cowboys. Kronenberg got back to work, and by 9 a.m. on Tuesday he had the next offensive lineman on his list, Stony Brook center Paul Fenaroli, in the fold.
At one point Snead needed a 15-minute mental-health break. He retreated to his office, closed the door and put on some Norah Jones. When he came out he got word that two more players had gone elsewhere. Not to worry, Dimitroff told him. "The cruel reality," the G.M. said, "is that very few of these guys are going to have the chance to sniff our practice squad. So we've just got to move on to the next guy." All 23 rookie free agents were in-house 26 hours after the Falcons hit the phones.
Shortly before 2 a.m. on Tuesday, Dimitroff lay down and heard his phone ping—an e-mail from Polk, maybe 1,000 words long, with a checklist for the next day. Scroll, scroll, scroll. The topics: unrestricted free agents, rookie-pool projections, offers to draft picks, cash and cap projections, contract language for veteran players, travel arrangements for players, how far to go with free-agent contracts. "I hope this wasn't too cumbersome," Polk wrote. Dimitroff's head spun.
The Falcons were 13--3 last year, and though the Packers blew them out in the divisional round of the playoffs, Dimitroff knew his roster didn't have many major holes. After trading up to draft Alabama wide receiver Julio Jones with the sixth pick in April, he could scratch "explosive offensive weapon" off his shopping list. (The move saved him from having to possibly overpay a free-agent wideout such as Sidney Rice, who signed a five-year, $41 million deal with the Seahawks.) That left one big free-agent need: at defensive end, where the Falcons got five sacks combined from Kroy Biermann and Jamaal Anderson last season.
Atlanta had begun the week interested in Panthers free agent Charles Johnson and pursued him when veteran free agency began on Tuesday afternoon. Dimitroff liked Johnson at $7 million a year but not at $12 million, which is what Carolina paid to keep him. At 7 a.m. Friday, Dimitroff decided to waive Anderson and wideout Michael Jenkins, two former first-round picks who never produced at first-round level. That saved $7.8 million in '11 cap room and allowed Polk and Dimitroff to focus on the man they wanted most: Vikings free-agent defensive end Ray Edwards.
The decision to offer Edwards a deal worth half of Johnson's—$27.5 million over five years, with a potential $2.5 million more based on his sack production—was easy. But the process was far from normal. With little time to arrange visits, Dimitroff, coach Mike Smith and owner Arthur Blank got Edwards on a webcam for 75 minutes on Thursday afternoon. "At least you can look at him and get a sense of the kind of person he is," Blank said. "That's how I interviewed Thomas before I offered him the general manager's job."
The strangeness was just as disconcerting to the players. As Dimitroff walked through the locker room on Friday, he saw a gaggle of veterans staring up at a TV, watching ESPN's Adam Schefter reporting the latest news on player movement. "It's a tough time for them," Dimitroff said of the vets. "They're not sure who's coming and going. It's their livelihood, and the roster is still in a state of flux."
Later that afternoon Dimitroff called Edwards's agent, Doug Hendrickson, to go over terms. "Dougie Fresh!" said Dimitroff. "We got a deal on Ray?"