The Atlanta Falcons 2014 preseason opponents were announced this afternoon. Although times and dates will be determined at a later date, the Falcons will open their preseason schedule against the Miami Dolphins in the Georgia Dome. That will be followed up by a road trip to Houston to take on the Texans. The third game will see the Falcons return home against the Tennessee Titans and finishing their preseason schedule on the road against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Atlanta Falcons announced the signings of safety Dwight Lowery and cornerback Josh Wilson earlier today. Lowery spent the past three seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars, while Wilson played with the Washington Redskins during that same span. Terms of their deals have yet to be disclosed, although Wilson’s deal is reportedly for one year.
Lowery missed most of the 2013 season with a concussion, suffered in the third game of the season on a blindside hit from Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate. In 2012, he started nine games, missing five during midseason with an ankle injury and missing the final two with a foot injury. Lowery was first traded to the Jaguars at the start of the 2011 season after spending three years with the New York Jets, who drafted him in the fourth round of the 2008 NFL Draft. Lowery began his career as a cornerback, but was moved to free safety as an injury replacement for Eric Smith near the end of the 2010 season before making the permanent transition upon his arrival in Jacksonville. He spent his first two years in the NFL primarily playing as the Jet’s nickel cornerback. Through his entire career, Lowery has started 41 games both at cornerback and safety and tallied 178 tackles, three sacks, 10 interceptions, five forced fumbles and six recoveries.
Wilson signed a deal with the Redskins following the lockout in 2011 and started the past 48 games for them opposite DeAngelo Hall. He’s coming off a season where he finished with career-highs in tackles (89), sacks (two) and fumble recoveries (three). Prior to joining the Redskins, Wilson spent one season with the Baltimore Ravens after getting traded by the Seahawks. In both Baltimore and Seattle, Wilson played a lot as a nickel cornerback but still managed to start a combined 33 games between 2008-10.
Lowery is likely to move into the team’s vacant free safety position, while Wilson adds depth at cornerback and can compete for the nickel job or potentially push Robert Alford for a starting job. Wilson has experience playing the slot both in Washington and Seattle.
New Orleans Saints safety Rafael Bush himself tweeted yesterday that he would be remaining with the team, which was later confirmed by his agent according to various outlets. It indicates that the Saints matched the Atlanta Falcons offer sheet to the restricted free agent, meaning he will not be joining the Falcons as previous reports indicated was his desire.
The Falcons had offered a two-year, $4.5 million deal. The Saints had less than $2 million in cap space according to NFLPA documents, but opted to match the deal.
It leaves the Falcons without a clear-cut answer at the free safety position in the wake of the release of Thomas DeCoud earlier this offseason. Zeke Motta is the top candidate currently on the roster at the position, which puts the Falcons in the position where they could sign a veteran in free agency or wait until the draft to address the position.
Aaron Wilson of the National Football Post reports that the Atlanta Falcons have extended an offer sheet to restricted free agent safety Rafael Bush, currently with the New Orleans Saints. Terms of the deal are currently undisclosed. But the Saints now have until April 8 to match the offer sheet, else Bush will become a Falcon. And because the Saints gave him the lowest restricted tender of roughly $1.4 million, the Falcons will owe their divisional rival no compensation in the form of a draft pick since Bush was originally undrafted.
Bush is not new to the Falcons as they were his first NFL team when he signed as an undrafted free agent out of South Carolina State in 2010. He spent nearly his entire rookie season on the team’s practice squad before being elevated to the active roster for the season finale. He was once again signed to the practice squad in 2011 after he was cut when the team opted to add veteran James Sanders to fill a reserve role at safety. In October 2011, Bush was signed off the Falcons practice squad by the Denver Broncos, where he played in six games as a special teams player. After being cut the following summer, Bush was scooped up by the Saints and has filled a depth role the past two seasons. This past year, he earned six starts as an injury replacement. He finished the year with 38 tackles and five pass deflections.
Bush will turn 27 in May and spent the bulk of his time in New Orleans as their fourth safety. Prior to his departure from Atlanta, he filled in as a reserve at strong safety and also played some nickel cornerback, making him a versatile reserve option should he join the Falcons. He’ll likely be in the mix for the vacant free safety position if the Falcons don’t fill the position with a draft pick in next month’s draft.
The Saints will be hard-pressed to match the Falcons offer given the fact that they currently have just $2.2 million in 2014 cap space according to reports.
Aaron Wilson of National Football Post reports that the Atlanta Falcons have re-signed cornerback Robert McClain, who was a restricted free agent. The team tendered him at the original level, meaning he signed a one-year deal worth $1.431 million.
As an original tender restricted free agent, McClain was eligible to sign an offer sheet with opposing teams with the Falcons retaining “right of first refusal.” That means that the Falcons would have seven days to match any potential offer made to McClain by another team. If not, then the Falcons would receive compensation in the form of the original round in which McClain was drafted. Since McClain was a seventh-round pick of the Carolina Panthers in 2010, he would net the Falcons a seventh-round pick in 2014.
By signing his tender, McClain is no longer on the market to be signed to an offer sheet and will remain a Falcon in 2014.
After the 2014 season, McClain will then become an unrestricted free agent where he would be free to sign with any team. McClain first joined the Falcons in 2012 and played very well as the team’s nickel cornerback that year. His production and play fell off a bit in 2013, although he remains the incumbent nickel cornerback. He will likely compete with incoming free agent signee Javier Arenas for that role.
Defensive tackle Corey Peters appeared on Sirius XM NFL Radio on Saturday afternoon, and Pro Football Talk has a pretty good summary of what was said with quotes. In it, he revealed that he’s off crutches in the midst of his rehab from a torn Achilles tendon. Earlier this month, it was reported that Peters was still in a walking boot when he was re-signed by the team.
Former Falcons defensive tackle Vance Walker discusses “political” reasons that drove him out of Atlanta a year ago. Here’s an interesting quote:
I’d say, it wasn’t necessarily the scheme; it was probably a little more political from the Falcons to the Raiders. The Falcons had a decent roster of D tackles, and even though I was showing and proving that I could rush the passer, I never really got the opportunity. That’s what they promised I would be able to do out in Oakland. It kind of freed me up and let me show my abilities. Obviously, I know I would be a lot better, I could still be a lot better and learn from my mistakes and learn from others. I think (it was just) a personnel type of thing, with me being younger, with the Falcons; I guess they weren’t ready to give me that role just yet.
Malliciah Goodman has reportedly packed on some muscle this offseason in advance of his expected role as a defensive end in the 3-man front the Falcons are likely to feature more this season.
D. Orlando Ledbetter of the AJC writes that the Atlanta Falcons plan to keep both defensive ends Osi Umenyiora and Kroy Biermann on the team this year with no restructuring of their current contracts.
Both Umenyiora and Biermann are entering the final years of their contracts and coming off disappointing seasons. Despite leading the team with 7.5 sacks, Umenyiora’s performance by some accounts was underwhelming in 2013. Biermann managed to miss most of the season with a torn Achilles suffered in September.
Per Over the Cap, Umenyiora is set to count $4.75 million against the Falcons’ 2014 salary cap, with Biermann coming in at slightly over $4 million. The Falcons could potentially save over $3 million in cap space in both cases if either were released. Earlier rumors indicated that the team had already inquired Umenyiora about cutting his salary, although it never seemed likely that the team would part ways.
Both players could wind up having prominent roles in the Falcons nickel defense this year. Umenyiora finished this past season with a significant decrease in playing time due to playing mainly as part of the nickel sub-package in passing situations. According to Pro Football Focus, a premium website, Umenyiora averaged 21.3 defensive snaps over the final three games of the season after averaging 52.3 over the first 13 games.
Biermann was already a critical piece of the new-look Mike Nolan defense in 2012, serving a variety of roles as a pass-rusher, run-stopper and in coverage. The team had seemingly morphed his role into more of a linebacker last season before his injury.
The Atlanta Falcons announced late Friday night that fullback Bradie Ewing had been released. Ewing was originally drafted by the team in the fifth round in 2012, but spent two injury-marred seasons in Atlanta.
Ewing landed on the injured reserve during his rookie season after tearing his ACL in the team’s preseason opener. Ewing missed a good chunk of preseason with an unspecified injury but then returned to win the starting position. But he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in the Falcons’ Week 2 win over the St. Louis Rams.
In Ewing’s absence, the Falcons have gotten good production from his replacements in Mike Cox in 2012 and Patrick DiMarco last season. In two career appearances, Ewing finished with two receptions for 29 yards. DiMarco currently remains the lone fullback on the Falcons roster currently.
Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that the Atlanta Falcons have agreed to a three-year contract with former Chicago Bears return specialist Devin Hester. Hester’s signing comes on the heels of the Falcons adding another return threat in cornerback Javier Arenas, although it’s fully expected that Hester will be the primary returner for the Falcons moving forward.
Hester, 31, comes to the Falcons after eight seasons with the Bears where he went to the Pro Bowl three times for his return prowess. He is the league’s active all-time leader in punt returns(264), yards (3,241) and touchdowns (13). That latter mark also stands as the best of any punt returner in NFL history. His career average of 12.3 yards per return is seventh on the all-time list as well.
Hester has also achieved success as a kickoff returner with five scores there, the eighth most all-time. His 19 non-offensive touchdowns are tied for the most of any player in NFL history alongside former Falcon great Deion Sanders.
Hester began his career as a cornerback, thus why he sports the No. 23 on his uniform. But he was quickly moved to wide receiver during his second season with the Bears. His production on offense has been erratic, but he’s seen significant playing time the past five seasons with 46 starts in that span. He’s caught 217 passes for 2,807 yards (12.9 avg) and 14 touchdowns. His best season came in 2009, when he had career highs of 57 catches and 757 yards, along with three touchdowns.
Originally Hester was a second-round pick by the Bears out of Miami in 2006.
Adam Caplan of ESPN first reported what was later confirmed by the team, in that the Atlanta Falcons have re-signed defensvie tackle Peria Jerry. Jerry was an unrestricted free agent that was not expected to be re-signed by the team, but apparently plans changed.
Jerry, 29, is formerly a first-round pick by the Falcons in 2009. He suffered a major knee injury early during his rookie season and never returned to form. The past few years he has carved out a role as a reserve, culminating in starting 14 games for the Falcons in 2013. He finished the year with career-highs of 33 tackles and 3.5 sacks. In four previous seasons, Jerry combined for 34 tackles and two sacks in 48 games with 15 starts.
He played predominantly a defensive end role with the Falcons in their hybrid 4-3/3-4 fronts this past season. And given the likelihood of the team’s desire to shift towards a 3-4 base defense, Jerry will likely be asked to play end once again.