The Atlanta Falcons may have never won a Super Bowl (sorry, touchy subject), but they’ve still been one of the NFL’s better franchises over the past few decades.
The team has made some excellent trades, and here are the five best in franchise history.
5. Deion Jones, 2016
The Falcons owned the 50th overall selection in the 2016 NFL Draft, a second-rounder. Rather than taking a player there, they fell back two spots with the Houston Texans.
With that extra pick, they took guard Wes Schweitzer, who was a solid offensive lineman for the past three seasons, and is now with the Washington Football Team. With pick #52, Atlanta selected LSU linebacker Deion Jones, who has since blossomed into one of the league’s top coverage LBs and signed a four-year $57 million contract extension last offseason.
Finding the centerpiece of the defense in the second round was great; doing that after a trade-down was even better. And it’s not like Jones was a highly-touted prospect coming out either; he was seen as a reach by many, but the choice ended up being a brilliant piece of projection from general manager Thomas Dimitroff and company.
4. Bill Fralic, 1985
Atlanta finished with the fourth-worst record in 1984, earning them the fourth overall pick in the 1985 Draft. The Falcons had one target, and the didn’t want to risk him being taken ahead of them, so knowing (along with everyone else in the league) that the Buffalo Bills were taking pass-rusher Bruce Smith first overall, Atlanta trade their third-rounder to the Minnesota Vikings to move up to pick #2. The Vikings took defensive end Chris Doleman at four, and Doleman ended up in the Hall of Fame, so it was a pretty good deal for Minnesota.
The Falcons didn’t make out too poorly either. They chose Pittsburgh guard Bill Fralic, who played eight seasons in Atlanta, making two All-Pro teams and four Pro Bowls. H wasn’t a Hall of Famer, but Fralic was a very good player who was the anchor of the Falcons offensive line for a long time. Post-football, he spent time as a broadcaster, both with the Falcons and his alma mater Pittsburgh Panthers.
Fralic sadly passed away in 2018 from cancer, at the age of 56.
3. Steve Bartkowski, 1975
The Falcons were in search of a franchise quarterback in 1975, and they identified California’s Bartkowski as their guy. However, Atlanta held the third overall pick, and was convinced that it had no shot at Bartkowski if they stayed put. So the team made the very difficult decision to part with Pro Bowl right tackle George Kunz, sending him and #3 to the Baltimore Colts for the top pick, and selected Bartkowski.
The risk paid off, as Bartkowski spent the next 11 seasons in Atlanta, going 55-66 and throwing for 23,470 yards, 156 touchdowns, and 144 interceptions. He led the Falcons to the playoffs three times and made two Pro Bowls. Bartkowski’s best seasons came in 1980 and 1981, as he tossed over 3,500 yards and 30 touchdowns each year.
Bartkowski was never great, but he was good, and was the franchise’s best signal-caller until Matt Ryan showed up in 2008.
2. Michael Vick, 2001
The day before the 2001 NFL Draft, the Falcons made a blockbuster trade with the San Diego Chargers. Atlanta sent the fifth overall pick, second and third-rounders in 2001, a second-rounder in 2002, and wide receiver Tim Dwight to San Diego for the first overall pick. They took electrifying quarterback Michael Vick out of Virginia Tech, and even though Vick wasn’t the team’s starter as a rookie, he was too talented not to put on the field, which gave fans small glimpses at what was to come.
Vick became the starter in 2002, and led the Falcons to a playoff victory on his way to a Pro Bowl selection. A fractured right fibula forced him to miss 11 games in 2003, but he returned to form the next season. In 2006, Vick became the first QB in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards, and until Lamar Jackson joined him in 2019 (and surpassed his yardage total), Vick was alone in that category. Unfortunately, that would be the final season that Vick played for the Falcons. Vick signed a 10-year $138 million contract in 2004, but made it through only three years of that deal.
In 2007, Vick plead guilty to dogfighting charges, and was suspended for the entire 2007 and 2008 campaigns, spending 548 days in prison. He returned to the league in 2009 with the Philadelphia Eagles, enjoying a short renaissance before spending 2014 and 2015 as a backup. Vick has since talked about how he didn’t put in the work needed to be a great QB with the Falcons, leaving fans to wonder “what if?”
The Chargers were unable to turn their extra picks into impact players, and Dwight was only solid for the team, but San Diego did take TCU running back LaDainian Tomlinson at #5, who is now a Hall of Famer and one of the best runners of all time. The trade worked out well for both teams, although the Chargers did better because of Vick’s legal and ethical issues.
1. Julio Jones, 2011
At first, this mega-deal seemed to be mutually beneficial. The Falcons moved up from #26 to #6 to secure fourth-year QB Matt Ryan a primary target, and the Cleveland Browns added a treasure trove of picks with which to build their team. The intentions were good on Cleveland’s side, but the execution was not.
The Browns ended up receiving 1.27, 2.59, 4.124, and first and fourth-rounders in 2012 for pick 1.6. They turned that package into defensive tackle Phil Taylor (after a trade-up), WR Greg Little, fullback Owen Marecic, QB Brandon Weeden, and used the 2012 fourth-rounder to trade up for RB Trent Richardson. Yikes.
Meanwhile, Atlanta couldn’t be happier with their massive investment. Jones has been worth all the team gave up, and more. In 126 games over nine seasons, Jones has caught 797 passes for 12,125 yards and 57 touchdowns. He’s made seven Pro Bowls, two All-Pro teams, and yet is still consistently underrated by the public.
But make no mistake; Jones has a very good claim to the title of NFL’s best receiver, and a Hall of Fame bust is within sight for him.