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Franchise tag unlikely option for Kerney

January 31st, 2007 Comments off

property of Atlanta Falcons.com
The NFL Players Association recently released what the franchise tenders will be for the upcoming 2007 free agency period.

The deadline for when teams can designate who will be their franchise and transition players is on February 22. The free agency signing period does not begin until March 2. There is really only one Falcon free agent that has any potential of being designated as such, and that is defensive end Patrick Kerney.

Kerney is clearly the highest profile unrestricted free agent the Falcons have. Morten Andersen, Justin Griffith, and Ashley Lelie are also key Falcons that will be able to test the free agent waters come March, but none are expected to be as enticing to other teams as Kerney will be.

The franchise tender for defensive ends will be $8.644 million this year, which is the average salary of the top five defensive ends. But because Kerney counted roughly $8.84 million against the Falcons 2006 cap, his franchise tender will be higher. The rules stipulate that a player’s tender will be either the designated one which is the average salary for the top five players at his position, or 120% of his previous year’s salary, whichever is higher. Since Kerney’s 2006 salary (in this case, referring to his entire cap hit) exceeded the normal franchise tender, it means that if the Falcons choose to place the franchise tag on Kerney, it will result in approximately a $10.6 million cap charge.

That seems a hefty price to pay for a 30-year old free agent that is recently coming off an injury-marred season. The Falcons have already begun contract discussions with Kerney and his agent, beginning in December. But it is unknown if the dismissal of head coach Jim Mora and defensive line coach Bill Johnson will ultimately play a factor in Kerney’s decision to stay in Atlanta. Mora is now an assistant in Seattle, while Johnson is in Denver. Recent articles from the News Tribune and Denver Post suggest that both teams will be likely suitors for Kerney’s services this off-season.

AsktheCommish.com reports that the Falcons are set to be approximately $11.5 million under the 2007 salary cap of $109 million. Meaning if the Falcons were to tag Kerney, it would essentially nullify much of their cap space.

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Evaluating the Falcons: Receivers

January 29th, 2007 1 comment

So now it’s time to talk about receivers. I could be very negative here, but I think I’m going to practice selective memory when it comes to thinking about our receiving corps performance in 2006.

No doubt the Falcons had one of the worst groups of receivers in the league last year. One might argue they were the worst, which would be a hard argument for me to rebuke since after all we were the 32nd ranked passing offense.

But there were moments from this group, and the hope is that Paul Petrino and Hue Jackson can work their magic on these guys in 2007.

Lelie is a free agent, and I don’t expect him back. I never did, even when we originally made the trade, one that I will say I never agreed with. He was a stopgap that didn’t pay his dividends. Sure, this team could use Lelie this year, but why pay the money he’s likely to garner on the open market for a guy that has no guarantee of being higher than fourth on the depth chart?

We have Finneran returning, and with White and Jenkins will form the corps of our receivers. No one is sure whether Finneran will be his old self, but even if he’s only halfway back, he’ll still be effective. The big key will be if White and/or Jenkins can take their game to the next level. They flashed big play potential, and Jenkins was and is clearly our best receiver. Their hands are suspect, which I believe are due to poor mental concentration as opposed to just having bad hands. Hopefully the coaches can help fix that.

Since we’ll be running Petrino’s offense, we will likely be using a lot of four and five receiver sets. That could mean a lot of PT for Adam Jennings. He’s a guy I’m not that impressed with, but considering that smaller quick WRs like Deion Branch and Arnold Jackson had the greatest success at Louisville under Petrino, makes me believe there is a sliver of hope.

If need be the Falcons can use a middle round pick on a receiver. A player I personally like is Ohio State’s Anthony Gonzalez, who I liken to a Ricky Proehl with his ability in the slot. But it’s not a necessary move. The Falcons could simply go out and sign some cheap speed in free agency. Someone like Andre’ Davis, Quincy Morgan, or Shaun McDonald would do fine.

I don’t expect Jenkins or White to suddenly blossom into Pro Bowl receivers in this new offense. But I do expect some improvement. Maybe one or both will manage to break the 50-catch mark this season, something neither has done yet in their NFL careers.

As for tight end, Crumpler isn’t going anywhere, and should do fine in Petrino’s offense. The question at this position is who is going to be the second tight end. Eric Beverly has filled that role the past three years, and is a solid blocker, but do the Falcons want a solid blocker that can actually catch? Perhaps. If that’s the case then there is always of blockers available each year in free agency. The Falcons could save some money by cutting Beverly and then picking up another veteran at a miminum salary.

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Mutual interest between Falcons and Okoye

January 25th, 2007 Comments off

Draft Daddy.com reported in their Senior Bowl draft blog on Monday evenning that the Falcons talked to Louisville defensive tackle Amobi Okoye. Okoye at age 19, is the youngest player to ever play in the Senior Bowl.

Not surprisingly, Okoye conversed with his former head coach and new Falcons head man Bobby Petrino during Monday’s practices. In his draft diary on AL.com, he noted that he took notice of many of his former coaches from his collegiate days at the Senior Bowl practices, now members of the Falcons coaching staff. In that diary, he noted joining the Falcons would be a good fit due to the presence of Kevin Wolthausen, his former position coach and now the Falcons defensive line coach.

Okoye is an interesting story, since upon relocating to this country from Nigeria, he skipped middle and entered high school at age twelve. He enrolled at Louisville at age sixteen and earned his degree in psychology in three and a half years.

Okoye measured in at the Senior Bowl at 6’2″ 287, significantly less than his listed playing weight of 317 pounds. With the significant drop in weight, Okoye has been better able to showcase the quickness that allowed him to record 8 sacks this past season.

Okoye is widely considered to be the second best defensive tackle prospect available in this draft, and is the most highly touted prospect that various draft sources have indicated the Falcons have looked and spoken to midway through Senior Bowl week. Some experts project him to be a top ten draft pick, which would make him a legitimate target of the Falcons in the first round this year, considering they hold the tenth overall draft pick.

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Evaluating the Falcons: Running Backs

January 25th, 2007 Comments off

Okay, now I’m moving onto the running backs. McKay has already gone on record and said that the Falcons will bring Warrick Dunn back. They said this a few years ago, and followed up on their word, so there’s little reason to doubt McKay this time around.

But I will say this, I think that if the Falcons were to snag a top runner in the first two rounds of the draft, such as an Adrian Peterson or Michael Bush, you might see Warrick get the “Jamal Anderson treatment.” Meaning, that when the Falcons signed Dunn originally back in ’02, they planned on bringing back Jamal as well to complement him. Things changed when they drafted T.J. Duckett, and Jamal was thus released a few months later in June.

And on the subject of rookie running backs, that is what I’m most hopeful the Falcons will do in early in the draft. I like Norwood, but I’m not sure he can be a No. 1 running back in any non-Alex Gibbs-led blocking system. In his first year, he proved that he wasn’t very durable, and I have no reason to believe that with his chicken legs, he’ll be anymore if given the ball more in 2007. There was only 1 game all season long that Norwood had more than 10 carries. He deserves more playing time, but I don’t think he’s going to get it unless his pass blocking improves.

But I do like the duo of Dunn and Norwood coming back. Their speed and hands should make them effective weapons both out of the backfield, and also possibly lining up in the slot at wide receiver. Perhaps Bobby Petrino has heard of something that was completely foreign to Greg Knapp, and it’s called a screen pass.

But as I said, I really hope the Falcons get a top notch runner this coming April. I firmly believe that the best medicine for Michael Vick and the ho-hum Falcon offense is to have another player in the backfield that can be a consistent weapon, thus taking pressure off Vick to have to play at a high level every week, a feat I just don’t think will occur with him.

In my eyes, Adrian Peterson is perfect. But Marshawn Lynch, the consensus #2 running back, is not far behind. I’m sure people are seeing obvious links between Michael Bush and Atlanta, and Bush has already said in an interview that he would love to play for the Falcons, I’m just not sure the Falcons will be in a position to draft him.

Okay, moving on to the fullback position. I’m not sure what to do with Justin Griffith. I really like Griffith, because he’s a jack of all trades player, that blocks, runs, and catches the ball well. But if the Falcons retain both Dunn and Norwood, and draft a promising rookie, he’ll be buried on the depth chart. Not to mention that Petrino’s offense likes to spread the field out, so Griffith’s role as a lead blocker will be marginalized. And despite flashing potential as a runner, Griffith simply fumbles way too much to be a serious consideration to share the load with Dunn & Norwood next year. In 168 career touches, Griffith has fumbled four times. Comparatively, Dunn touched the ball 310 times and fumbled only once.

I’m not sure if Fred McCary will be back. I think the Falcons should try to have one blocking back on the roster for obvious short-yardage and goalline situation. McCrary fits the bill, but the team might be interested in developing someone like Corey McIntyre. I’m hopeful the Saints pass on re-signing Kevin Dudley for next year, because I’d like to see him get a real chance to compete.

Marlion Jackson was not re-signed, and I don’t think he’ll be missed.

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Falcon eye punter at Senior Bowl

January 24th, 2007 Comments off

Daniel Sepulveda, property of Baylor Bears.comThe NFL Experts at Scout.com, reported that the Falcons showed interest in Baylor punter Daniel Sepulveda, interviewing him during Tuesday’s practices at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, AL.

Sepulveda won the Ray Guy Award this past season, awarded to the nation’s best punter, making him the only two-time winner ever after winning the award in 2004 as well. Sepulveda tore the ACL in his non-kicking knee in April prior to the season, making his accomplishment all the more significant. He had originally suffered a partial tear of the ligament in his knee in 2004, but it was not caught on the MRI at the time.

Sepulveda is widely considered to be this year’s top punter in the draft, and is considered a potential late round pick. Many reports out of Mobile have remarked on his impressive 6’2″ 228 physique and that he is built like a linebacker. Notably, Sepulveda contemplated a position change to that position earlier in his career at Baylor.

If the Falcons are seriously interested in drafting Sepulveda, it might indicate that the team is prepared to try punter Michael Koenen again at kicker in 2007, instead of re-signing Morten Andersen.

Koenen began 2006 as in the dual role as both punter and kicker, but struggled in the latter duties, only making 3 of 9 field goal attempts in the first two games. The team then signed Andersen, who made 20 of his 23 attempts. Andersen is currently set to become an unrestricted free agent on March 2.

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Falcons deny trade rumors

January 23rd, 2007 Comments off

Not surprisingly, the Falcons released a statement on Tuesday denying any possible rumors of trading starting quarterback Michael Vick.

In the report by WXIA-TV, a spokeswoman for the Falcons said, “There are no plans to cut or trade Vick. Michael is our quarterback. He has a new head coach who is anxious to start working with him this season. Everyone has high expectations for Michael, including Michael.”

The statement was released likely in contrast to recent internet rumors that the Oakland Raiders are preparing to make the Falcons an offer for their recently maligned quarterback. No such press releases or statements have been heard from the Raiders, whose recent attention has been centered on their new coaching hire, Lane Kiffin.

The Falcons own new coach, Bobby Petrino, gave Vick a vote of confidence during his introductory press conference, declaring that Michael Vick was currently the team’s starter.

Vick’s first meeting with Petrino occurred this weekend, following his infamous incident in Miami International Airport.

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Vick traded to Raiders?

January 23rd, 2007 Comments off

Foxsports.com’s Ben Maller first reported in the NFL Rumors section of the website on Monday that the Oakland Raiders are interested in trading for Michael Vick. According to that report, the Raiders would part ways with receivers Randy Moss and Jerry Porter along with the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft in order to acquire Vick.

The timing of this rumor is interested in the sense that it comes shortly after it was first reported that Vick would be exonerated of any wrongdoing in his infamous incident at Miami International Airport, in which he was accused of carrying a concealment device in a water bottle. And it also comes shortly before the Raiders announced that USC offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin would take over the team as the NFL’s youngest head coach at age 31. Any such move, would likely involve the Raiders new coach being on board.

Trading Vick would invoke an approximate cap hit of over $20 million in dead money for the Falcons if such a deal would be made.

Also, the Falcons had an opportunity to acquire Moss back in 2005 when he first landed in Oakland. Falcons owner Arthur Blank indicated personally to Moss that his proclivity for negative attention from the media would cause the Falcons to not pursue him.

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Evaluating the Falcons: Quarterbacks

January 23rd, 2007 Comments off

So now that Vick has been exonerated, I guess it becomes a non issue. And for those that think those that have been critical of Vick should apologize, I don’t agree. Exoneration does not necessarily indicate innocence, but more than likely in this case indicates the Dade County police and District Attorney’s offense lacking desire to make an arrest and/or press charges.

Not to mention my issues with Vick started well before this incident. He can apologize to me with his play on the field, as Mark Bradley so eloquently states.

But anyway, it’s time to move on. Vick isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. We all know that. Even though I lack the confidence in Vick for him to achieve what Bradley desires, I understand that he has the ability to do so and will have the opportunity at least in 2007.

Now I’d like to move on to a point where I do my own evaluation of the Falcons of 2006, and what should happen or I’d like to happen in 2007. And let’s start with the quarterback position…

Well the biggest concern the Falcons must face this off-season will be what to do with Matt Schaub. One assumes that because the Falcons have a new coach in Bobby Petrino, it means that both Vick and Schaub will return in 2007, because he will want a chance to fully evaluate both players.

There is a chance the Falcons could trade Schaub, but only if a team offered a No. 1 pick. In my eyes, that is extremely doubtful, considering that Schaub is no better than the fourth best available passer this off-season behind rookies JaMarcus Russell, Brady Quinn, and Byron Leftwich, if the Jaguars do as many believe they will, and try to move him.

So although if I was the Falcons GM, I’d be willing to move Schaub for a 2nd round pick, I know the real Falcons GM will not agree.

One option at potentially replacing Schaub would be to sign Mark Brunell. But since Brunell is coming off shoulder surgery, such a move makes less sense. Brunell played under Petrino and Musgrave during his Jacksonville career, so he knows our coaching staff pretty well. The shoulder injury that Brunell suffered is the same that Drew Brees had last off-season. But unlike Brees, Brunell is not in the prime of his playing career (and hasn’t been since Petrino was in Jacksonville), so I wouldn’t expect him to come back from the injury as well as Brees did in 2006.

So all this means that the Falcons will likely have the same three quarterbacks in 2007 as they did in 2006. We’ll probably add a fourth passer at some point this off-season to come in and push D.J. Shockley for the third spot.

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Falcons check out prospects at Senior Bowl

January 23rd, 2007 Comments off

property of Rivals.comNFLExperts.com reports in their daily coverage of the Senior Bowl this week, the Falcons showed interest in the following prospects during Monday’s practices: Miami defensive tackle Kareem Brown, N.C. State cornerback A.J. Davis, Arkansas offensive tackle Tony Ugoh, Pittsburgh middle linebacker H.B. Blades, and Wake Forest safety Josh Gattis.

The Senior Bowl is an annual all-star game featuring many of the top seniors from college football, and is often considered the first major event in the scouting process leading up to the NFL Draft in April. A week’s worth of practices will be followed by a game between the North and South squads on Saturday, January 27. But for several reasons, the week’s worth of practices are more important to teams and scouts than the game itself. It gives teams a chance to interact with players, and study their work habits and ethic.

All the prospects the Falcons were reportedly eyeing are considered potential first day picks. ESPN’s Mel Kiper has Ugoh ranked 16th on his board of the Top 25 prospects in this upcoming draft.

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Falcons hire 3 more assistants

January 22nd, 2007 Comments off

The Falcons announced that they have had added three more assistant coaches. Jerry Rosburg, formerly of the Cleveland Browns, will helm the Falcons special teams. The Falcons also named two assistant strength coaches in David Puloka and Billy “White Shoes” Johnson.

Rosburg comes to the Falcons after six seasons as the Browns special teams coordinator. He will assume the duties left by Joe DeCamillis, who left to join the Jacksonville Jaguars coaching staff a week ago. Prior to joining the Browns, Rosburg coached for 20 years on the collegiate level, with stints at Notre Dame (1999-2000), Boston College (1997-98), Minnesota (1996), Cincinnati (1992-95), Western Michigan (1987-91), and Northern Michigan (1981-86). Most of his collegiate experience came as an assistant coach of defensive backs or linebackers, although he was in charge of special teams at both Notre Dame and Western Michigan.

Puloka, 28, comes to the Falcons from the University of Virginia, where he worked with new Falcons strength coach Evan Marcus in 2006. Puloka has a history in both track and football, excelling in both sports at Holy Cross. He had 19 career sacks during his career at Holy Cross, and also holds a school record in both indoor and outdoor shot put along with the discus.

Johnson is the fourth coach retained from Jim Mora’s staff. 2006 marked his first year as an assistant strength coach with the Falcons. But he had spent twelve years prior in charge of player programs and development in the Falcons organization. Johnson was a standout receiver and returner during his playing days. He played for the Falcons between 1982 and 1987, and also was a member of the Houston Oilers (1974-80) and Washington Redskins (1988). Over the course of 14 seasons in the NFL, Johnson made 3 Pro Bowls, caught 337 passes, and scored 33 touchdowns as a receiver and returner. He currently ranks 16 all-time among Falcons in receiving yards and second in punt return yards.

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