Despite rising from the downtrodden to the top of the NFC South, the Falcons will continue as a needs-based team when it comes to the next NFL draft.

Since Thomas Dimitroff was hired as the general manager in 2008, the team has retained nearly 80 percent of the players it drafted. He’s selected 13 starters and four Pro Bowl players in five drafts.

With that massive infusion of talent, the Falcons reached the conference championship game last season. They have been eliminated in the playoffs by the NFC’s Super Bowl representative in four of the past five seasons. The team will continue to rely heavily on the draft.

With big contracts looming on the horizon for quarterback Matt Ryan, left tackle Sam Baker, safety William Moore and possibly tight end Tony Gonzalez and cornerback Brent Grimes, the Falcons will need younger players and their lower salaries to fill out their roster.

After the Ray Edwards debacle — $27.5 million contract, $11 million guaranteed, virtually no return — the Falcons will be extremely selective in free agency. They have discussed adding defensive linemen Dwight Freeney and Osi Umenyiora. Teams can’t start negotiating until March 9. Free agency officially starts on March 12.