Archive

Archive for February, 2013

Takeaways From Last Week – February 25

February 25th, 2013 Comments off
Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

The next “franchise” quarterback?

You hear the rhetoric often about how the NFL is a passing league. That is certainly true, because there is no denying the correlation between winning games and throwing the football well. But what often gets lost in that statement is the value that running the football has.

No, you can’t win championships by running the football. But you can get out of the basement by running the ball. The Falcons certainly proved this. Their quick turnaround in 2008 is often attributed to Matt Ryan’s presence on the team, but it was really Michael Turner that made the difference that year. I’m not saying Ryan didn’t have a major impact on that team and the stability and leadership he offered at quarterback was extremely important. But the Falcons won most of their football games off the back and thighs of Michael Turner.

I think the Minnesota Vikings also illustrate this. They have had subpar quarterback play in five of the last six seasons (excluding 2009 with Brett Favre). Yet in three out of those five years they have finished .500 or above, and made the playoffs in two of those years, largely due to the stabilizing presence of Adrian Peterson.

In order to compete at the highest level, that is the level that entails winning Super Bowls or coming awfully close, they are going to need Christian Ponder to play a lot better than he currently is. But they are at least not in the cellar. I know Vikings fans are among the more tortured fanbases in the league, so I can’t sit here and pretend that they are groovy with their current state of affairs. But I’m fairly confident that they are much more content being 8-8 every year than being 3-13 every other year.

So if you’re running a team, that is at least something to shoot for. It’s much more likely to keep you employed, and if you’re an owner to keep some butts in the seats. And if you’re not in an immediate position to be hoisting Lombardi Trophies, your initial goal should be to get to a point where you are a playoff contender year in and year out.

And I think where this manifests is in the draft. Teams know that they need a good quarterback to win a championship, and thus get so desperate that they take guys like Ponder a round earlier than they should. And teams wind up drafting any guy rather than the right guy.

Read more…

Categories: Features Tags: ,

FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 24 “Playoff Recap and Offseason Preview”

February 20th, 2013 1 comment

Another episode in which I’m joined by Allen Strk to recap the Atlanta Falcons postseason efforts as well as preview some potential moves the Falcons could make this off-season. Allen and I last spoke at the end of the regular season, and scheduling conflicts prevented us from getting a recap up earlier this month. But we’re back again to go deep into the San Francisco 49ers loss and Seattle Seahawks win, including our thoughts on Michael Turner, Thomas DeCoud, Julio Jones, Stephen Nicholas, Harry Douglas, Richard Sherman, and the offensive line. Both of us give our insights into what are some of the Falcons biggest off-season needs with much of the focus on the defensive line and the secondary. We discuss some potential free agents that could help the team including Cliff Avril, Michael Johnson, Michael Bennett, and even Darrelle Revis. You’ll also hear us discuss the play of Kroy Biermann and the futures of Jonathan Babineaux, Dunta Robinson, and Brent Grimes.

Ep. 24: Playoff Recap and Offseason Preview [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 20 minutes

Allen writes for TJRSports.com as well as the Bleacher Report. His twitter handle is: @Allen_Strk.

 

If you have any questions and comments, you can hit us up on Twitter, post in the forums in the podcast thread, or drop an e-mail at: pudge@falcfans.com.

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. You can also subscribe directly to our feed at the following URL: http://feeds.feedburner.com/falcfans/LXSt

Matt Ryan’s new deal will be tied to Flacco

February 18th, 2013 Comments off
Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Joe Flacco

I think it’s a foregone conclusion that at some point in the next six or seventh months the Falcons will sign a long-term extension with quarterback Matt Ryan that makes him one of the highest paid signal callers in the NFL.

If the Falcons can get a deal done with Ryan prior to the start of free agency on March 12, it could free up much needed cap space. Ryan is set to count $12 million against the Falcons cap this year. Given the nature of large contracts that are heavily backloaded, it likely means that cap figure will decrease dramatically in the first year of Ryan’s deal. We’re talking about perhaps $6 million the Falcons could reap immediately. Given how tight the Falcons cap situation is, that $6 million could really come in handy when it come to re-signing their own free agents or signing guys from other teams.

Ryan will likely be joined by Super Bowl MVP and impending free agent Joe Flacco of the Baltimore Ravens and Tony Romo of the Dallas Cowboys in terms of getting brand new contracts this off-season. What is interesting is that Ryan and Romo share the same agent, Tom Condon.

Flacco’s agent Joe Linta made headlines a year ago discussing that he believed his client was then a Top 5 quarterback, which most laughed at. Well a year later now his client is sporting some serious bling, and he certainly has the last laugh. It is now expected that Linta will seek to make his client the highest paid quarterback in the league.

The player who currently holds that title is another Condon client by the name of Drew Brees. Brees signed a five-year deal that averaged $20 million last year with $60 million guaranteed, including $40 million paid at the outset.

When the Falcons drafted Ryan in the final years of the whopping rookie contracts, they gave him a deal that averaged $12 million a year with roughly $35 million guaranteed, then the highest ever given to a quarterback. The following year, No. 1 overall pick Sam Bradford got $50 million guaranteed on a deal that average $13 million a year. That was followed up in 2010 by Matt Stafford’s contract that averaged about $12 million and had $42 million guaranteed, but also included an additonal $17 million option bonus paid in the second year which was not technically guaranteed, but about as close as you can get. By the way, Condon also represents both players.

Another Condon client, Peyton Manning signed a five-year deal with the Broncos last March that averaged $19 million per year with guarantees that will reach $60 million assuming Manning doesn’t fail a physical between now and March.

I’m trying to illustrate the landscape in which Ryan comes in for his future contract negotiations. Ryan has more regular season wins than any other quarterback in the last five seasons with 56. In fact, that is the most ever for any quarterback in NFL history in his first five seasons. That is certainly going to be a point that Condon makes during negotiations. Flacco isn’t far behind him with 54 regular season wins, but throw in his 9 postseason wins, it pushes him to 63 total over the past five years, the most in the league.

But Ryan isn’t far behind when you factor in postseason success, tying with Aaron Rodgers for 57 total. That outpaces Brees (56 total), Tom Brady (53), Ben Roethlisberger (53), Eli Manning (52), and Peyton Manning (51). Again, these are going to be key points for Condon in negotiations.

Brees was 33 when he signed his deal, and Manning was 36. Ryan will be 27 or 28 when he signs his deal. His current success coupled with his age that assumes continued success in the future is going to cause Condon to seek deals that exceed those of his two previous clients.

So it all brings us back to the question of whether this will help the Falcons get a deal done with Ryan sooner rather than later in order to reap the immediate cap benefits.

Read more…

Takeaways before the Combine

February 18th, 2013 Comments off
Photo by Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

Players like Rams WR Brandon Gibson don’t fare well at Combine

If you haven’t heard, the league is adding a new aptitude test that will supplement the Wonderlic, rather than replace it at this week’s Scouting Combine that begins Wednesday in Indianapolis. You can go here to get a bit more details, but I found it interesting that Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff may have played a key role in getting this adopted according to a report.

I’ve never taken the Wonderlic, but I have taken the samples that you can find around the internet at times. And from my perspective, the Wonderlic is your standard run of the mill IQ test. For years people have criticized the Wonderlic largely because it doesn’t reflect football-centric intelligence. From the description of this new unnamed test, it does seem like it will have a bit more applications towards football. I’m not sure it’ll ask football-specific questions, but it’ll probably not feature a lot of the rote math or language questions that presumably the Wonderlic asked. It’ll be interesting to see what comes of it in the future. It probably is not going to replace the Wonderlic since apparently the Combine is unwilling to eliminate tests.

I know few put little stock in the Wonderlic, but I do think it is noteworthy when a player scores low, particularly quarterbacks. Generally, the consensus on the minimum a quarterback should score is at least 20. In one sense because it’s a timed test, it does sort of give you a ballpark answer on how quickly a guy can process information. But a very high score doesn’t necessarily indicate that a guy is processing information quickly. Or at least, it may not be the same sort of information that applies to reading a defense. I’m no quarterback, but I imagine that is more intuitive than academic, the latter of which seems to be what the Wonderlic is measuring.

I also think that the Wonderlic stands out in terms of its usage when you find a player that scores in the single digits. It by no means is a strong indicator that someone will be a bad pro (Roddy White scored a 4). But I know if I was a GM I would generally avoid players that scored in the single digits unless I was really impressed with their ability and upside. For example, Patrick Peterson and Chris Culliver both reportedly scored 9 on their Wonderlic tests in 2011. Peterson is of a caliber that I would “roll the dice” on him, while Culliver I might be lukewarm to take. I wouldn’t consider that the right way, just a matter of personal preference that I don’t want a locker room full of dummies. So I think in that sense, the Wonderlic can still retain some value even if this new test completely overshadows it.

I think it’s also nice that there will be a new wrinkle to the Combine this year. I think the Combine has lost some of its luster due to the sheer amount of preparation that goes into it for players. Prospects spend 4 to 6 weeks leading up to it, prepping for all the drills and tests. I think it inflates some of the numbers.

And I know GMs, coaches, scouts, and draft experts constantly talk about how it doesn’t affect things, that is straight B.S. They constantly talk about how tape from the season is what really matters, the proof is in the pudding. And the simple fact is that guys’ draft stock is largely determined by their performances at All-Star games like the Senior Bowl and East-West Shrine Game, as well as the Combine and pro days.

For example, you have a player like Texas wideout Marquise Goodwin. I saw a pair earlier games from Goodwin this year (versus Oklahoma State and West Virginia), and my assessment of him was that he was a borderline seventh round pick due to his special teams potential. He was targeted 10 times combined in those games and caught all 10 passes thrown his way for 52 yards. Factor in the 28 yards after the catch he had, you realize that those 10 targets traveled a combined 24 yards in the air. Essentially all 10 of his passes came on screens, quick outs, or comebacks, the types of routes that don’t require a ton of skill to execute. He may have only had 1 or 2 targets that required him to run a route more than 5 yards downfield in that pair of games. What I saw from him in those games was good straight-line speed that made me believe he had good upside on special teams. But his short stature (5-9/180) probably would limit how effective he would be as a vertical threat at the next level. But what also hurt him in my eyes was that he wasn’t that productive after the catch. Had he gone for 78 yards instead of 28 yards after the catch, then I’d be more willing to buy his dynamic potential. For me, Goodwin was a speedy slot type that may not be a reliable everydown option.

But Goodwin went to Mobile and killed at the Senior Bowl. And now he’s a potential Top 15 receiver prospect that is projected to go on the second day of the draft.

Read more…

Categories: Features Tags: , , , ,

Falcons FA Focus: Defensive Tackle

February 16th, 2013 1 comment
Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

Randy Starks

One could argue that the Falcons need at defensive tackle exceeds that of their need at defensive end. That argument hinges on the fact that John Abraham is still productive, coupled with the presences of Kroy Biermann and Jonathan Massaquoi gives the team two decent if not good options for the future. At defensive tackle, Jonathan Babineaux is entering the final year of his contract. Corey Peters has not developed into much of a pass rusher. Vance Walker is a free agent, and Peria Jerry is a bust. Right now, the only player that is a good bet to be on the Falcons roster come 2014 at defensive tackle is Travian Robertson, since Jerry and Peters are also entering contract years like Babs.

This of course could mean that the Falcons top pick this April could be an interior defensive lineman. But if they wish to explore their options in free agency prior to that point, they could find some upgrades.

The big question for the Falcons is going to be exactly what are they looking for at this position. Their run defense was porous in 2012, leading one to believe that their priority will be getting a widebody that can help there. But they also need help with the pass rush, and getting some better pressure up the middle certainly can help there. At this point, Babineaux is the only reliable guy that can get pressure up the middle, and he’s slowing down. Improving the run probably is more of a short-term goal that doesn’t require a significant investment, while improving the pass rush probably has much greater long-term value. And due to the premium teams put on quality pass rushers, it might require either a big investment in free agency or a high pick in the draft.

There really aren’t any signature free agents. Henry Melton (Bears) probably tops the list coming off a 6-sack season. Melton is an athletic player that played both running back and defensive end at Texas before moving inside for the Chicago Bears. He has flashed the ability to be a game-changer as an interior pass rusher. But I’m not sure if Melton is the next big thing in terms of interior pass rushers, as he didn’t wow me on tape. I think part of Melton’s success could do with the talent around him on the Bears front, which gives him a lot of one-on-one situations against inferior blockers. He has good quickness and is comfortable moving around the line. He played in some 3-man fronts at Texas, but has made his home as more of a 3-technique in the Bears defense. He’d have a chance to be a long-term replacement of Babineaux in the middle, as the two possess similar traits. But I’m not sure he’s the ideal candidate to be the “lead guy” on a unit, which are similar concerns I had about Ray Edwards two years ago.

Other notable names might have to come as teams begin to cut more players. Chris Canty (Giants) and Richard Seymour (Raiders) have already been given their walking papers. Canty was an effective pass rusher as primarily a nickel specialist for the Giants. He has experience in both the 3-4 and 4-3, making him a nice fit under Mike Nolan. But he turns 31 in November, making him just a year younger than Babineaux. That means he’s probably only a short-term solution that won’t be a dominant force in the middle (3 sacks in 2012). Seymour was once a dominant 3-4 end for the Patriots that was traded to the Raiders in 2009. While he provided good veteran leadership in their locker room and a physical presence against the run on the field, his skills have declined enough that he’s more of a backup at this point in his career than a starter. His ability as a pass rusher is fairly limited. He could help improve the Falcons run defense to a degree, but unless he’s willing to play on the cheap for one year, is probably not worth the time.

Read more…

Falcons FA Focus: Defensive End

February 16th, 2013 2 comments

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Can Paul Kruger succeed without Suggs?

The expectation is that the Falcons will be looking to upgrade their pass rush this off-season. John Abraham had a productive year, but did not quite blossom under Mike Nolan in the second half of the season when he basically worked exclusively as a stand-up edge rusher. Kroy Biermann was able to carve out an important role in the nickel package, with his versatility to rush the quarterback and drop into coverage to help the Falcons disguise their blitzes and coverages. Jonathan Massaquoi and Cliff Matthews are expected to carve out bigger roles. Massaquoi will have most of the attention, as he has good athleticism and burst to be an effective pass rusher off the edge and could push for time behind either starter.

There is talk that the Falcons could opt to part ways with Abraham who turns 35 in May. If so, then they will have to definitely replace him with another player that can anchor the pass rush. The Falcons would then like to replace something old with something new, more than likely leading them to find Abe’s replacement in the draft. But they could have potential options in free agency. But cutting Abraham seems unlikely given his status on the team as the best pass rusher. If anything, he might be asked to take a paycut and will be expected to serve primarily as a third down pass rusher this year in the nickel subpackage. That will mean that the Falcons may seek to find someone that can also play on run downs, rather than someone that is purely a pass rusher.

The first decision the Falcons will have to make at this position in regards to free agency is whether or not to re-sign Lawrence Sidbury. Sidbury has flashed nice pass rushing skills, and arguably is only behind Abe in terms of who are the best rushers on the team currently. But Sidbury is not great at defending the run and has a minimal impact on special teams, which has made it harder for the team to justify him being active on Sundays. The Falcons have so few good pass rushers, it’d be hard to let Sidbury walk. But it probably comes down to price tag. If he’s willing to accept a modest deal in line with backup ends, then the chances he returns to Atlanta are higher. In that case, we’d be talking something along the lines of deals for one or two seasons that average less than $3 million per year. But if he’s looking for something that matches or exceeds the roughly $9 million that Kroy Biermann got over three years, then he’s likely gone.

There are a number of good pass rushers that should be available this off-season, although not sure if there are any great ones. Several big names will jump to the top of the list. Dwight Freeney (Colts) and Osi Umenyiora (Giants) are both free agents. Neither player is the dominant pass rusher they once were, but still effective at getting after the quarterback with good speed. But both players, like Abraham, at this point in their careers probably need to be protected in terms of reps. Neither player seem to project well into the hybrid defense that Nolan employs. Freeney played in a similar scheme last year in Indianapolis, and didn’t take quite well to it. But Freeney’s spin move is still one of the most deadly moves in the league which means if the Falcons were going to opt for a more traditional 4-3 look, he’d be an option. Umenyiora essentially became a situational rusher for the Giants last year with Jason Pierre-Paul taking over the full-time starting spot at right end. He’s still quick speed rusher, but has never been known for his enthusiasm for playing the run, nor is he versed into dropping into coverage. If the Falcons try to do with him what they did with Abraham last year, it’s likely going to be a very rocky relationship.

Some names that might become available if their respective teams opt to cut them are Justin Tuck (Giants), Jason Babin (Jaguars), and Will Smith (Saints). Tuck isn’t the same player he was a few years ago. He still has something left in the tank, but he’s no longer an impact pass rusher that you can rely on making multiple plays per game. Babin could have been an option for the Falcons late in the year. He’s still a competent speed rusher, and unlike the others has experience playing in the 3-4 so he wouldn’t be a true square peg in Nolan’s scheme. But Babin isn’t known for his great locker room presence, which probably prompted the Falcons to pass on him initially. And he did little in Jacksonville to suggest that decision was a mistake. Smith has had good performances against the Falcons over the years going up against Sam Baker, but overall is just nothing special as a pass rusher. He too would probably be miscast in a Nolan scheme.

The problem with many of the names I’ve mentioned already is age. Even if the Falcons could get production from some of them, all are on the wrong side of 30, and would essentially be lateral moves in regards to replacing/complementing Abraham. If the Falcons are going to go after free agent pass rushers, it makes much more sense to target players with much more youth.

Read more…

Falcons Needs: Special Teams

February 14th, 2013 Comments off

The Falcons won’t be making many major changes here. Their primary goal, if any, at this position group will be upgrading their ability in the return game. The team lost Eric Weems last off-season, and their in-house replacements for him did not suffice.

Jacquizz Rodgers was a competent kickoff returner at times, but if he is going to carve a larger role on offense, they should have another player that can play here. If the Falcons do add a wide receiver or cornerback this off-season, it would make a lot of sense to find one that can also return kicks.

Dominique Franks struggled throughout the year to make any impact as the team’s punt returner. He was replaced late in the year by Harry Douglas, who did very little in his brief time. At this point, finding a competent punt returner would appear to be the biggest priority.

The Falcons probably will let players like Tim Toone and James Rodgers get opportunities to win either job next summer. But it makes sense to bring in more competition if possible via a free agent signing, a mid or late round draft pick, or do what the Falcons did a year ago and target a number of undrafted players that have return and special teams experience.

As for the other specialist positions, besides bringing another camp body there is no need there. Kicker Matt Bryant still seems to be going strong. His leg strength isn’t what it once was, but inside the Georgia Dome he’s about as good a kicker as they come. Punter Matt Bosher showed improvement in his sophomore season. Bosher’s big leg has the potential to really affect field position. He’s also a very good kickoff specialist.

Long snapper Josh Harris had a couple of miscues during his rookie season, but for the most part was solid to good. If any one of the three specialist deserve competition, it would be him, but it’s not really necessary. Other than that, the Falcons might want to kick the tires on an undrafted kicker just to get a look-see at the young talent that is out there given Bryant’s increasing age. Bryant turns 38 in May and has two more years left on his contract.

The teams’ coverage units took a step back in 2012 due to the absences of Weems and Akeem Dent, who were the team’s best cover guys in 2011. Dent got more work on coverage towards the end of the year. The team still has solid performers with players like Kroy Biermann, Jason Snelling, Antone Smith, Drew Davis, Robert James, and Chris Owens. Healthy seasons from players such as Bradie Ewing, Kerry Meier, and/or Shann Schillinger could also improve the unit. Jonathan Massaquoi and Cliff Matthews flashed ability as well late in the year, and the team needs to get a greater contribution from Charles Mitchell, who will be replacing Chris Hope in all likelihood as the top reserve at safety. Overall, the Falcons coverage was more than capable last year. If the Falcons target reserves at wide receiver, linebacker, or in the secondary this off-season, you can be sure they will be expected to contribute in this arena as well.

Scheme Change Unnecessary for Falcons Defense

February 13th, 2013 Comments off
Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

Mike Nolan

There appears to be a movement among the Falcons fan base to push for the team to move towards a 3-4 defense. While I think ultimately the Falcons could benefit from a shift to a 3-4 base defense down the road, any changeover should be gradual. The Falcons just don’t currently good 3-4 personnel.

It is clear that Mike Nolan is a 3-4 coach. While he may suggest that he is a practioner of the 4-3, for seven straight years prior to joining the Falcons he coached 3-4 units. And he quickly incorporated 3-4 principles so that for a large chunk of the 2012 season, the Falcons defense had more of a 3-4 flavor than a 4-3 one.

So it makes sense to opt for the defensive scheme that the defensive coordinator prefers. But again, the Falcons shouldn’t rush headlong into a switch. Very few of their current players would benefit from such a change.

The main argument against an immediate switch to the 3-4 is it hurts your best defensive player: Sean Weatherspoon. It’s not a coincidence that Weatherspoon’s production dropped significantly in 2012 with the shift to Nolan’s scheme versus that of Brian VanGorder’s. Under Nolan, Weatherspoon was asked more often to read and react, and have to take on and shed blockers. That is not where he is best at. Weatherspoon is a guy that needs to play in space and run around to make plays. Now, that’s not to say that Spoon can’t be good in a 3-4. Arizona’s Daryl Washington possesses a similar skillset but was one of the league’s best defensive players in 2012. But Washington benefits from having a nice group of linemen up front to help allow him to flow to the ball.

At the nose tackle position, he has Dan Williams. Williams is by no means a superstar, but is an effective nose tackle that can help shield blockers off the inside linebackers like Washington. I think Corey Peters has enough ability to have similar value as Williams, but it’s by no means a slam dunk. To ensure Spoon excels in a 3-4, they must find a suitable nose tackle.

The Cardinals also benefit from having a pair of good ends in Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell. While Jonathan Babineaux and Dockett are similar players and could provide similar roles as penetrating ends, the Falcons do not possess a player like Campbell that has the capacity to dominate one-on-one matchups and draw double teams both versus the run and pass. That needs to be acquired, and as suggested before is the key to any really successful 3-4 defense.

Read more…

Categories: Features Tags: , ,

Falcons FA Focus: Linebacker

February 12th, 2013 Comments off
Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

Jon Beason

I know I skipped over the defensive line positions in terms of looking at prospective free agents that could help the Falcons, but there are a lot of players to watch to drink it all in. So I’ll just instead skip ahead to the linebacker position won’t take a huge amount of effort to break down.

The Falcons need at linebacker centers around their desire to get better in coverage. It arguably cost them a chance at the Super Bowl after tight end Vernon Davis carved up the Falcon defense in the NFC Championship Game, following a year where tight ends seemed to do the same every week.

The Falcons are expected to challenge Stephen Nicholas for his role in the team’s nickel subpackage. The primary challenger probably will be middle linebacker Akeem Dent, but with Mike Peterson hitting free agency and unlikely to return, there is a definite void that could be filled this off-season. And it makes the most sense if that is a player that also can help out in coverage.

It makes sense if the Falcons wait until the draft to address this position. One of the many issues with the Falcons’ coverage at the linebacker position is a lack of speed. While Sean Weatherspoon, the unit’s best player does not lack in that arena, he too struggled at times to match up. Particularly with New Orleans Saints running back Darren Sproles, who worked him over in Week 13 last year. Upgrading in that area makes a lot of sense to try and give the team a linebacker that can deal with Sproles. That way, the Falcons can utilize Weatherspoon more effectively to cover tight end Jimmy Graham in those Saints matchups, which may prove ultimately more fruitful than previous attempts.

The simple fact is that linebackers in the draft are going to be younger, sprier, and ultimately more explosive than any veterans that have already accumulated wear and tear in the league. If the Falcons want someone with speed that can potentially match up with Sproles, their best options likely lie in the draft.

But that doesn’t mean that the Falcons can’t find veterans worth signing. With Peterson likely departing, the Falcons have a need for depth. Currently their backups are Robert James and Pat Schiller due to the release of Matt Hansen over the weekend.

Read more…

Falcons Needs: Safety

February 12th, 2013 Comments off
Josh D. Weiss-US PRESSWIRE

DeCoud congratulates Moore

The Falcons do have some questions at safety, most of which linger around the looming free agent status of strong safety William Moore.

Moore is probably the team’s most likely candidate to land the franchise tag if it comes to that. That will carry a cap hit of roughly $6.8 million. Recent reports suggest that Moore probably won’t be too pleased to receive such a tag as it would conflict with his desire to test the market. For the sake of both the Falcons and Moore, it will work best if they can come to an agreement before the deadline of March 5, after which teams can no longer tag players.

Moore is one of the better players on the Falcons defense. Along with former college teammate Sean Weatherspoon, he represents the young core of the Falcons defense that is expected to succeed players like John Abraham, Asante Samuel, and Jonathan Babineaux as regular playmakers. Moore is an opportunistic run-defending safety that managed to make a lot of plays in coverage this past year. He seemed to really find a home in Mike Nolan’s defense. The two major weaknesses of Moore’s game are his struggles when facing quality tight ends and his lack of durability. Saints TE Jimmy Graham abused him so badly in the Week 10 loss this past year, that Nolan made concerted efforts to avoid that matchup in the Falcons in Week 13 win over the Saints. Moore has missed a quarter of the games in each of the past two years with thigh and hamstring injuries. He also sat out his rookie year in 2009 with a hamstring injury, and was often nicked up throughout college. Moore’s physical playing style contributes to his injuries coupled with the fact that players at his position tend to have the shortest careers of all defenders. I doubt that is a big enough issue to make the Falcons let Moore walk, but it may become an issue that may prolong contract negotiations. The Falcons may not want to pay top dollar to a player that already has a long injury history and may only be effective for just another three or four years given the nature of his position.

The Falcons drafted Charles Mitchell last year in the sixth round, probably with the mindset of having him add depth at the position but also to provide an insurance policy in case Moore walked. Well, it doesn’t seem likely that the Falcons will roll the dice with Mitchell as a starter going forward after a lackluster rookie season. But he’ll likely be expected to supplant free agent Chris Hope for the No. 3 safety position. Shann Schillinger is returning from sitting out the year with an injury and will be expected to contribute on special teams. But don’t be surprised if the Falcons look at more options in the draft or free agency to solidify their depth. Again, safety is the most injury prone position on defense, thus it pays to have good depth there. That’s what prompted the team to sign Hope last summer before camp. Hope had his moments filling in for Moore late in the year, but he wasn’t a great fit in Nolan’s scheme and probably won’t be back next year. The Falcons have featured a revolving door in terms of veteran backups the past three years, starting with Erik Coleman in 2010, James Sanders in 2011, to Hope last season. It’ll be interesting to see if the Falcons go for a fourth, although again it’s more likely that they will give Mitchell every opportunity to take over that spot.

When the Falcons signed Thomas DeCoud to a five-year deal last spring, the deal was structured in a way that suggested that the Falcons weren’t completely satisfied with him at free safety. The first two years of his deal had modest cap hits (both under $2.5 million), with a jump to nearly $5 million in 2014. If DeCoud is on the roster on the fifth day of the league year in 2014, $2.25 of his $4.2 million base salary will become guaranteed. The Falcons could potentially reap savings of $3 million against their 2014 cap if they were to cut him at before that point.

But DeCoud is coming off a Pro Bowl appearance, and it’s increasingly less likely that the Falcons will explore other options at the position in the near future. DeCoud would have to have a very underwhelming 2013 season in order for this upcoming year to be his last in Atlanta.

Like Moore, DeCoud really took to Nolan’s scheme. Already blessed with very good speed and range, he was much more disciplined in coverage this year allowing him to make more plays there. He’s still underwhelming in run support due to his lack of size, which will always be an issue. But he often can make up for it with his closing speed. Despite his 2012 accolades, he’ll probably never be considered one of the best safeties in the league but he can be a productive and effective starter moving forward.

The further solidify depth, the team could tinker with Dominique Franks playing here. It certainly was something they tried late in the year as they mixed in more of their dime subpackage. Franks may struggle to make the roster next year as a cornerback. He’s the biggest of the team’s corners. The Falcons may tinker with the notion of featuring more dime next year, especially as they face teams like New Orleans and New England that present matchup challenges for the Falcons personnel. Similar to Franks, that player might be styled as a big corner that can play the run effectively.