Archive for February, 2012

Free Agent Focus: Cornerback

February 14th, 2012 Comments off

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Brent Grimes

This position is one of their biggest question marks entering the off-season. The Falcons will be in a position where the decisions they make here could really make or break their defensive success for years to come.

That decision is centered on whether they bring back Brent Grimes or opt to let him walk via free agency. Grimes is one of the few impact defenders on that side of the ball and based off that fact alone it should be a no-brainer to keep him. But the question isn’t that simple, as the factor of money plays a huge part in Grimes’ future in Atlanta.

Two years ago, the Falcons made Dunta Robinson one of the league’s highest paid corners by giving him a deal that averages $9.5 million a year and included $22.5 million in guaranteed money. That contract paid Robinson over $30 million in the first three years of his contract, paying him more money than what the Falcons gave to their top wideout Roddy White the previous summer.

Robinson was essentially paid to be a premier corner, the caliber of player that could take on the league’s best receivers, and not only contain them but potentially shut them down. But what has occurred in the time since is that Grimes has developed into that player. That became very obvious when he transformed into “Optimus Grimes” and contained the league’s premier receiver in Week 7′s win over Detroit.

So now the Falcons have a potential dilemma on their hands. If any player on this roster deserves to make Robinson’s salary, it is Grimes. But the Falcons don’t seem inclined to part ways with Robinson, thanks in large part to the minimal savings it would net towards this year’s salary cap. So the Falcons are essentially having to ask themselves the question: Can they afford to pay two guys that type of money?

And whether that answer is yes or no, will reflect whether or not Grimes is a Falcon in 2012.

And if the answer is no, then the Falcons defense could be in trouble. While Dominique Franks had his moments late in the season as an injury replacement for Grimes, he is still a very far cry from providing the caliber of skills that Grimes has over the past two years. And thus the Falcons are going to need to find more help at this position if they lose Grimes.

And if the Falcons are unwilling to pay a high premium for Grimes, it’s unlikely that they are going to get into bidding wars for the other top free agent corners on the market that include Cortland Finnegan, Carlos Rogers, Brandon Carr, Tracy Porter, and Terrell Thomas.

Instead, the Falcons will likely have to look at some bargain players. The chances that Kelvin Hayden returns will probably increase if Grimes departs. Players such as Kelly Jennings, Richard Marshall, Rashean Mathis, Jason Allen, and Will Allen are all available free agents that have past experience with members of this coaching staff. With the exception of Marshall, who is only 27, all of those guys are older veterans that can at least provide the team with a decent insurance policy in case Franks or Chris Owens aren’t ready to be the starter. But all would be short-term stopgaps at best, essentially no different than the team’s decision to sign Brian Williams a few years back.

Detroit’s Eric Wright, New York’s Aaron Ross, and Chicago’s Zack Bowman might also be worthwhile targets that will likely be allowed to test their markets by their respective teams.

Either way, it appears clear that the best option available remains Grimes. And while he could be one of the more expensive options, he’s a known commodity. But new DC Mike Nolan has generally shown a preference for bigger, more physical corners than Grimes, and thus might influence their decision to pass on keeping him under the expectation that he won’t be as good going forward in Nolan’s scheme as he has been in recent years under Brian VanGorder.

If the Falcons were to retain Grimes, then there would be little issue at this position. They could continue with Grimes and Robinson as the starters, and continue to develop Franks as the nickel corner with the hope that in the future he could develop into a capable starter. Re-signing Grimes makes things a lot easier on the team.

If not, then they will likely be looking for a stopgap for a year or so in the hopes that Franks takes a huge leap forward, Robinson starts to play up to his price tag, and/or buying them a year in the hopes that they can use a top pick on a corner in the 2013 draft. It’s a huge decision, and it really could color the outlook of this defense for years to come. If they keep Grimes, they should be fairly confident that it will stabilize the secondary for years to come, an area that has been a major weakness for the Falcons over the years. If not, then they are gambling that current players on their roster will step as well as hoping that they can find that stabilizing piece in future off-seasons.

As far as I see it, why roll the dice?

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Caldwell, Polk promoted

February 13th, 2012 Comments off

In lieu of the departure of director of player personnel Les Snead to take over general manager duties with the St. Louis Rams, the Falcons have promoted David Caldwell to Snead’s former position. Caldwell has spent the past four years as the team’s director of college scouting. The team also announced that pro personnel coordinator DeJuan Polk to become director of pro scouting.

Caldwell was hired by the Falcons in May 2008, after ten seasons as an area scout for the Indianapolis Colts.  Prior to joining the Colts, he spent two years as a scouting assistant with the Carolina Panthers (1996-97). He was a candidate for the Colts vacant GM position last month, which ultimately went to Ryan Grigson.

Last summer, the Falcons promoted Polk to pro personnel coordinator. Polk joined the Falcons in 2006 and worked as an area scout in 2008, and then moved back to the pro scouting department in 2009.

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Free Agent Focus: Linebacker

February 13th, 2012 Comments off
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Curtis Lofton

The Falcons primary goal this off-season at this position will be re-signing Curtis Lofton. Lofton is by all indications going to be one of the team’s highest priorities this off-season to keep, if not the highest priority among their 17 free agents. But there have been recent reports that while Lofton should be back in Atlanta in 2012, his role could change.

Those reports come from Len Pasquarelli, who indicates that the Falcons could perceive Lofton more as a two-down situational linebacker than a full-time everydown player. If that is the case, and the Falcons are successful at retaining Lofton, it could mean that they will be looking for more help at the linebacker position on the open market.

If the Falcons pull Lofton off the field in passing and nickel situations, they will need to find a player to replace him. That player could be Stephen Nicholas, but that seems unlikely since this team has over the years done their best to limit Nicholas’ role on passing downs. Unless Mike Nolan envisions something where Nicholas pass-rushing ability is added to the mix along with coverage duties. That does make some sense if the Falcons do plan to employ a mix of 3-4/4-3 looks, with Nicholas and Weatherspoon being their two best blitzing linebackers.

But the Falcons might also want to look at potentially adding an outside linebacker that can be more of a factor in coverage. The Falcons have had their issues covering the really good tight ends that populate the NFC and NFC South specifically in recent years. Collectively, Jimmy Graham, Jeremy Shockey, Greg Olsen, and Kellen Winslow combined for 33 catches for 365 yards, and 4 touchdowns this year in their combined 8 games against the Falcons. Particularly with Graham, if the Falcons can do a better job containing him, it will go a long way to trying to get over that hurdle that is beating the Saints on a consistent basis. The Falcons should be looking at options to help combat this issue. If the team opts to not keep Mike Peterson, then they will have a perfect opportunity to add another outside linebacker to the mix that can help in coverage to replace him.

A player that immediately should shoot to the top of the Falcons list is Wesley Woodyard. He played under Nolan in 2009, where he served as the Broncos nickel linebacker. He has served in a similar capacity since, until this year he started 7 games at both weakside and middle linebacker. Woodyard played safety in college, and also one of the Broncos special teams captain. He is a player that is likely to be one of their higher priorities to re-sign this off-season, but the Falcons could show enough interest to try and lure him away since there’s no guarantee that he will start in Denver.

Another name from Nolan’s past could be Manny Lawson. Lawson was a player that the 49ers used a #1 pick on in 2006 under Nolan. He never developed into the feared pass rusher while there, but did develop into a capable coverage guy due to his athleticism. When Jim Harbaugh took over and brought in a 3-4 scheme that required the outside guys to be able to bring pressure, Lawson was cast off and settled in Cincinnati, where he had a nice season. Lawson’s newfound experience in the 4-3, plus his familiarity with Nolan’s 3-4 could make him an intriguing option that like Nicholas could be used both in coverage and as a pass rusher.

Another option could be Lawson’s teammate Brandon Johnson. Johnson, is a tall, athletic linebacker that has spent time as the Bengals nickel linebacker over the past few years and has been capable in that role. He probably would not be the Falcons top option, but a decent alternative if they cannot get Woodyard or Lawson.

A player that the Falcons might be holding out to get, would be Carolina’s Thomas Davis. Davis might be cut this off-season. Davis has torn his ACL in each of the past three years, having appeared in only a total of 9 games. But a healthy Davis, who is a Georgia native, is exactly the type of player that would provide what the Falcons are looking for on the outside: a guy that can help contain this top tight ends. The Panthers may opt to cut him, and obviously the health of his knee would prove to be a major concern. But it wouldn’t hurt to take a look-see if that day comes, and if the Falcons can get him at a discount, it could be a low-risk, high-reward scenario if Davis finally proves healthy.

Obviously, the Falcons will make it their first priority to keep Lofton. Mike Peterson’s status could be up in the air, especially if the team does intend to target another player that can provide more help in coverage. But this is definitely a position worth stabilizing for the team in free agency.

Rams choose Snead as their next GM

February 11th, 2012 Comments off

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the St. Louis Rams have entered contract negotiations with Falcons director of player personnel Les Snead to take over their vacant general manager position. Subsequent reports have indicated that Snead has accepted the position. Snead was considered one of two finalists for the job, but the other candidate, George Paton opted to remain with the Minnesota Vikings.

Snead replaces Billy Devaney, a former Falcon executive that was hired by the Rams in 2008, but fired after this past season. Snead first joined the Falcons in 1998, and was promoted in 2009. Snead was also a candidate for the vacant GM positions in Indianapolis and Chicago this year. No word from the Falcons on who will replace Snead, who in his former position acted essentially as an assistant to GM Thomas Dimitroff in directing both the college and pro personnel departments. But it is likely that assistant director of player personnel Lionel Vital could get a promotion.

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Free Agent Focus: Defensive Tackle

February 7th, 2012 2 comments

Peria Jerry

Unlike a lot of positions on the Falcons roster, the defensive tackle spot is relatively settled. The Falcons are very likely to return both starters in Jonathan Babineaux and Corey Peters. Vance Walker is a restricted free agent, but is also a fairly safe bet to return under a one-year tender. The one player currently on the roster that is on the bubble is Peria Jerry.

Jerry, as a former first round pic,k is being paid highly but the Falcons have yet to really get a substantial return on their investment as far as his on-field play goes. Jerry flashed some ability early in the season but then was fairly quiet the rest of the way. According to Jeff Schultz of the AJC, Jerry carries a cap hit of close to $2 million this year. It’s not very expensive, but the Falcons could opt to part ways with him.

But I would be somewhat suprised if Jerry is released this off-season. My reasons are: 1) The cap savings would not make a huge difference, 2) Jerry got a lot of praise last summer from teammates and coaches for making some strides in camp, likely indicating the powers that be believe the needle is pointing up, and 3) The Falcons seemed to give Jamaal Anderson probably one more year than he deserved as a former first round pick, and he wasn’t even one of their selections. With Jerry, who is one of the “their guys” it’s likely he’ll get a fourth year too.

At the very least, I would expect the Falcons to bring Jerry back to camp for one more summer and have someone try to push and compete for his spot and try to improve the rotation on the back-end.

Another interesting development is with the introduction of Mike Nolan as the new defensive coordinator, would the team target a bigger physical run defender that can play a bit more of a nose-tackle role if the team does choose to employ some hybrid 4-3/3-4 looks. That player is currently missing on the roster, with Vance Walker coming the closest.

It’s unlikely the Falcons would target a big name or higher priced free agent, since it’s no safe bet that any addition would even beat out Jerry for the job. So that probably leaves guys like Paul Soliai and Aubrayo Franklin, guys that once played under Nolan in Miami and Baltimore out of the mix. Not unless either were willing to come to Atlanta cheaply. But there’s always a premium on good 3-4 nose tackles on the open market.

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Free Agent Focus: Defensive End

February 6th, 2012 Comments off
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John Abraham

Coupled with their need to improve their offensive line, one could argue that the Falcons enhancing their pass rush is their second biggest key of the off-season.

The hope is that new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan with his experience running both the 3-4 and 4-3 will be able to bring some varied and multiple fronts to try and help confuse opposing quarterbacks and add more pressure. But at the end of the day you can’t just scheme your way to a good pass rush, you need good players that can provide that pressure.

The Falcons will first have to make decisions on two of their own free agents, which are John Abraham and Kroy Biermann.

Abraham was by far the team’s top pass rusher this past year, recording 9.5 sacks. But despite a drop-off in sack total from a year ago, Abraham was able to put more pressure on the quarterback this year and had his best season since 2008. He will be 34 when next season starts, and as has been the case the past two seasons he really is only a part-time player. With his age, the Falcons can probably only realistically expect Abraham, even as a situational player, to have perhaps one or two more good years left in him. It is similar to what happened with Leonard Little in St. Louis, who over the last two years of his career was able to combine for 12.5 sacks at ages 34 and 35 before he hung it up. With Abraham, it seemingly will come down to price. The Falcons should want Abraham back, but if he wants to be paid too much money to be a situational player, the team might opt to look at younger options.

Abraham’s departure will likely increase the odds that Biermann returns. Biermann after a strong start to the 2009 season, has disappointed each of the past two years. Biermann is an adequate defensive end that plays the run well, and is a decent pass rusher. But he’s clearly shown that he’s not the type of player that can consistently beat quality starting tackles, a skill that is necessary to be a starter at this level. So while the Falcons could want him back, they aren’t likely to pay him more than the average reserve salary.

If the Falcons plan to vary up their fronts by using more zone blitzes and dropping their ends more in coverage like 3-4 linebackers, then Abraham is their best option. Abraham is the only Falcons defensive end that has shown some comfort dropping into coverage, dating from his experience with the New York Jets in their hybrid scheme back in 2005. If that is the Falcons plan, then it could affect who they might look at on the open market. While the Falcons have stated clearly they intend to stick with the 4-3 scheme, they have been somewhat ambiguous about whether they intend to move to a 3-4 down the road. It could be a strong indicator if they target certain pass rushers on the open market that offer the versatility to play in either scheme. If the Falcons do pursue a free agent on the open market it will likely be at the expense of both Abraham and Biermann.

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PFW: Falcons commitment to Turner solid in 2012

February 6th, 2012 Comments off

Over the weekend in their NFC Whispers section, Pro Football Weekly indicated that Falcons sources while acknowledging the possibility that the Falcons could part ways with Michael Turner this off-season, the team seems committed to bringing him back for at least another season.

Some team observers in Atlanta have suggested the Falcons should at least consider parting ways with RB Michael Turner this offseason, but we hear the team’s commitment to him through at least 2012 — he’s signed through 2013 — is solid.

Turner turns 30 next week and is coming off a solid where his 1,340 rushing yards ranked third in the league. He carries a $7.5 million cap hit this year and there are indicators that his performance is starting to take a substantial dip.

Categories: News Tags: Awards: Who was the Falcons MVP in 2011?

February 4th, 2012 Comments off

Every year since 2005, members of our forums vote on several awards for who represent the best and occasionally worst performance for the Falcons each year. You can vote too by visiting the Awards forum. If you’re already a member of the FalcFans Forums, just log in and vote. If not, then you can register by clicking here. Voting will end on Thursday, February 23.

Here are all of the honors that we have listed for this year’s awards: Team MVP, Offensive, Defensive, and Special Teams MVPs, Offensive and Defensive Rookies of the Year, Comeback Player of the Year, Newcomer of the Year, Most Improved Player, Assistant Coach of the Year, Mr. Falcon, Top Backup, Biggest Addition by Subtraction, and Biggest Surprises and Disappointments of the Year.

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Snead gets second interview with Rams

February 2nd, 2012 Comments off

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Falcons director of player personnel Les Snead was interviewed by the St. Louis Rams for a second time on Wednesday for their vacant GM position. It was previously reported that Snead would be interviewed by the Rams, which actually took place on January 10. His first interview took place before the Rams had decided on a head coach, which turned out to be former Tennessee Titans head man Jeff Fisher.

Snead first joined the Falcons personnel department in 1998 and was promoted to his current position in 2009. His current role is to aid GM Thomas Dimitroff in overseeing both pro and college scouting departments. Snead was also a candidate for the vacant GM spots in Indianapolis and Chicago. Ultimately the Bears job went to former Falcon director of college scouting Phil Emery, who was last with the team in 2009.

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Falcons promote Thomas, hire Danna

February 1st, 2012 Comments off

The team announced yesterday that they have completed their coaching staff by promoting offensive assistant Glenn Thomas to quarterbacks coach, and hired Joe Danna as defensive backs coach. Thomas spent the past four seasons with the team as their offensive assistant. The team hired Andrew Weidinger to replace him in that role. Danna was previously on the Falcons staff as a defensive assistant from 2008-09 before going to the Miami Dolphins, where he worked under new Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan as the assistant defensive backs coach. Weidinger spent the past four years with the Falcons as an administrative assistant to Mike Smith, after joining the team in 2007 as a scout.

Thomas replaces Bob Bratkowski, who moved onto Jacksonville alongside former offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey. Thomas joined the Falcons in 2008 after seven seasons as an assistant at Division II school Midwestern State. For the final four years he served as that team’s offensive coordinator, after working with wide receivers his first three years.

Danna takes over for Alvin Reynolds, and will team with Tim Lewis to try and improve the Falcons secondary.Danna was a college assistant before joining the Falcons, coaching defensive backs at James Madison (2007) and under former Falcons defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder at Georgia Southern (2006). Prior to that he spent four years as an assistant at Central Michigan, where he coached wide receivers, safeties, and worked as an assistant on special teams. Danna helped improve the Dolphins secondary in 2010, which improved from 24th ranked against the pass in 2009 to 8th ranked a year later.

Prior to joining the Falcons in 2007, Weidinger spent several years in various positions at the University of Arizona.

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