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Walker heads west to Oakland

March 18th, 2013 Comments off

The Oakland Raiders announced today that they have signed former Falcons defensive tackle Vance Walker. Walker was an unrestricted free agent. Terms of his new deal have not be disclosed.

Walker is coming off his best season since being drafted by the Falcons in the seventh round of the 2009 NFL Draft. In 2012, Walker had career highs of 3 sacks and 32 tackles while starting 9 games largely as a replacement for an injured Corey Peters. The Falcons will likely be counting on larger contributions from 2012 seventh rounder Travian Robertson and undrafted free agent Micanor Regis, both in their second years, to replace Walker in the rotation.

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Takeaways From Last Week – March 18

March 18th, 2013 Comments off
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Steven Jackson

My initial reaction to the moves the Falcons made this week weren’t overly positive. I thought the team overpaid Sam Baker and wasn’t a huge believer that running back Steven Jackson would help that much. After a few more days to mull it over, I’m singing a different tune about Jackson but still don’t love the Baker signing.

I believed re-signing Baker was the smart move for the Falcons. Baker is coming off his best season, and his solid performance in the NFC Championship Game proved that he was worth investing into. I just wish the Falcons had invested a little less. While Baker signed a six-year deal worth slightly more than $41 million with $18.25 million guaranteed, the deal really translates to be a three-year, $22.75 million contract. That is because after the third year, the contract is structured to a level where the team could potentially cut Baker. It’s not something I root for, but it’s hard to justify paying an offensive linemen $8.05 million (Baker’s 2016 cap hit) unless he’s a Pro Bowl player. Baker probably won’t be that due to his physical limitations: lack of strength and short arms. What we saw from him in 2012 is probably the best we can hope for and that wasn’t a Pro Bowl-caliber performance.

Baker got market value for his deal, as his three-year payout is comparable to those of Jermon Bushrod ($22.5 million) and William Beatty ($24 million). I didn’t think the Falcons made the right call when they gave Justin Blalock a six-year, $38 million deal following the lockout. Similarly, that was a market value at the time. I just wish the Falcons had only made a more modest two-year commitment to Baker. Blalock’s contract is structured similarly, and come 2015 he is set to count roughly $7.9 million against the Falcons cap. It will be hard to justify bringing a competent guard like Blalock back at that level unless he plays better in 2013 and 2014. It would have been a bit more congruous in my mind if both Baker and Blalock could have potentially been pushed out the door in the same year. I’ve never really thought the left side of the Falcons offensive line was a strength of theirs, and thus committing that sort of money to it doesn’t make great sense.

While I’m not sure Jackson is really going to be an impact runner as a lead back, I do think he will help the Falcons out as a situational back. The Falcons were terrible last year in short-yardage and goalline situations, and Jackson should be an upgrade there. He hits the hole a lot quicker and harder than Michael Turner did. The downside of Jackson is that he’s probably not going to be that valuable outside those situations. He can better help keep the Falcons offense on schedule by giving them far less 2nd & 8 situations that seemed to be the staple with Turner as the lead back. But he doesn’t quite have the skillset to make defenses pay for focusing too much of their attention on the Falcons receivers. He won’t generate big runs on the second level, which I believe could be extremely valuable for the Falcons offense as they continue to try and become more explosive. But if Jackson can be more effective at wearing down defenses between the tackles, that could open up greater opportunities for Jacquizz Rodgers as a change of pace runner. Quizz doesn’t possess great speed to run away from defenders, but his exceptional quickness can be dangerous when he gets outside. Jackson certainly will bring needed toughness to the Falcons offense.

Neither re-signing Baker nor adding Jackson were bad moves by any means, they just weren’t perfect.
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Svitek joins the Patriots

March 17th, 2013 Comments off

Field Yates of ESPN Boston tweets that Falcons free agent offensive tackle Will Svitek has signed a deal with the New England Patriots. Terms of his contract were not disclosed.

Svitek missed all of hte 2012 season due to a triceps injury suffered during training camp. He started 10 games for the Falcons at left tackle in 2011, as a replacement for an underachieving Sam Baker. Svitek first joined the Falcons in 2009, and has primarily served as the team’s swing tackle but has logged 12 starts over the years as an injury replacement at left tackle. Prior to joining the Falcons, he spent three seasons as a reserve with the Kansas City Chiefs after being a sixth round pick in 2005. Svitek likely will act as insurance in case the Patriots are unable to re-sign right tackle Sebastian Vollmer. Svitek’s role in Atlanta as swing tackle is expected to be assumed by Lamar Holmes. Mike Johnson performed the role for much of the 2012 season in Svitek’s absence, but Johnson’s immediate future may lie at right guard as competition to recently re-signed free agent Garrett Reynolds.

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Falcons Pro Day Round-Up 3/17

March 17th, 2013 Comments off

The Falcons were confirmed to be at seven different pro days last week, starting with Penn State on Monday, Lehigh on Tuesday, Colorado State and Alabama on Wednesday, with Arkansas State, Georgia Tech, and Oregon on Thursday.

Per Rob Rang of CBS Sports, defensive tackle Jordan Hill was able to improve upon his Combine numbers, clocking a 4.97 second 40 time at the pro day, down from 5.23 seconds he ran in Indianapolis. Linebacker Gerald Hodges was able to record a 35.5-inch vertical jump, while cornerback Stephon Morris blazed a 4.35 second 40 time. At 5-8, 168 pounds, he’s undersized but showed impressive athleticism with a 35-inch vertical and 10-foot broad jump.

While the Falcons were not listed among the official attendees at California (PA)’s pro day on Monday, they are expected to hold a private workout for center Eric Kush per Damond Talbot of NFL Draft Zone.

Wideout Ryan Spadola was the star of Lehigh’s pro day per Gil Brandt of NFL.com. He measured in just under 6-2 and 204 pounds. He recorded a 37-inch vertical and did not drop a pass during positional drills. Linebacker Billy Boyko clocked a 4.5-second 40 time, with 15 bench reps of 225 pounds and a 37.5-inch vertical jump.

Among the attendees at Colorado State’s pro day, was former CSU Ram long snapper Scott Albritton, who briefly played for the Falcons in the 2012 off-season. Albritton is looking for a chance to get back into the NFL. One of CSU’s top 2013 draft propsects is offensive lineman Joe Caprioglio, who measured in at 6-6, 315 pounds and did 27 bench reps of 225 on Wednesday.

Every NFL team attended the pro day of the national champs, Alabama. Not all of the former Crimson Tide prospects opted to work out this past week, as they will have two more opportunities in April. Linebacker Nico Johnson measured in at 6-2, 250 pounds and clocked a 4.74 second 40 time. He also had a 30-inch vertical jump and 9-foot-2-inch broad jump. Safety Robert Lester was able to improve on some of his times from the Combine, with a 4.60 40 time, improving from 4.66. He was able to add half an inch to his 33.5-inch vertical leap from the Combine, and five inches on his 9-foot-8-inch broad jump.

Safety Don Jones was the star of Arkansas State’s pro day, clocking a 4.40 second 40 time with a 42-inch vertical jump and 10-foot-7-inch broad jump. Jones measured in at 5-11, 191 pounds, and also did 17 bench reps.

Falcons head coach Mike Smith was among attendees at Georgia Tech’s pro day. Cornerback Rod Sweeting is their top prospect and worked out at last month’s Combine. He did positional drills and also looked to improve in other areas, including a 7.09-second three-cone drill.

Oregon sent a strong contingent of athletes to last month’s scouting combine. One player that was not invited was linebacker Michael Clay, who measured in at 5-11, 230 pounds on Thursday. He ran a 4.76 second 40 time with a 31.5-inch vertical jump, 9-foot-6-inch broad jump, and a 6.73 second three-cone drill. He also benched 225 pounds 23 times.

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Falcons Gearing Up to Take Pass Rusher Atop Draft

March 15th, 2013 Comments off
Mitch Stringer-US PRESSWIRE

Bjoern Werner

The Falcons primary needs heading into this offseason were upgrading their running game, replacing/retaining Tony Gonzalez at tight end, securing the cornerback spot opposite Asante Samuel, and improving the pass rush. While there were certainly other areas of the roster that could be improved, those four spots seemed to be the primary needs where the Falcons couldn’t afford to stand pat upon.

Well after the first few days of the off-season, it seems that the Falcons have already addressed the majority of them except for the pass rush.

Steven Jackson was added to replace Michael Turner as the starting running back. While Jackson won’t fix the Falcons running ailments, he certainly should provide a short-term boost. He’ll also give the team another year to evaluate Jacquizz Rodgers to determine if he will have a say in the Falcons long-term answers at the position.

Tony Gonzalez was retained for at least one more year. While the Falcons certainly could be in the market for drafting his heir apparent this April, Gonzalez’s presence means it ceases to be a priority.

While the cornerback spot remains open, the market has been flooded with so many good veteran corners such as Antoine Winfield and Nnamdi Asomugha to join free agents like Brent Grimes, Mike Jenkins, Tracy Porter, etc. that it seems impossible at this point that the Falcons won’t find someone competent to man the starting spot at least short-term. Worst-case scenario is the Falcons find a veteran seat warmer that at least prevents the Falcons need to use a very high pick looking for an immediate starter.

That just leaves the pass rush, which hasn’t been addressed yet following the release of John Abraham, by far the team’s best player in that category last season. And the market as of this writing doesn’t appear to be as favorable as the Falcons potential options in the secondary.

At this point, the best case scenario for the Falcons may be a lateral move in replacing Abraham with a similarly aged veteran like Dwight Freeney or Osi Umenyiora. The Falcons could also choose to address their pass rush with a quick, interior presence but aren’t likely to find much help on the open market. Quality pass rushers like Henry Melton, Jason Jones, Desmond Bryant, Chris Canty, and Cullen Jenkins have already worked out deals elsewhere.

Given Thomas Dimitroff’s proclivities for needs-based drafting, it would seem likely that the Falcons’ off-season is setting them up to address that key need with their top pick. Whether that happens to be an edge rusher or interior disruptor remains to be seen, but it would be a major upset at this point if the Falcons top pick six weeks from now won’t be playing a position that makes it living chasing down quarterbacks.

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Steven Jackson joins Falcons

March 14th, 2013 Comments off
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Steven Jackson

Adam Schefter of ESPN first reported that the Falcons have agreed to terms with former St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson, which has been confirmed by the team to be a three-year deal. Jackson becomes the first new player to join the Falcons in the 2013 off-season. He will likely supplant Michael Turner as the Falcons’ new starting running back.

Jackson is coming off his eighth consecutive 1000-yard season, rushing for 1,042 yards and 4 touchdowns last year with the Rams. Jackson is one of eight NFL players to rush for 1000 yards in at least 8 of his first 9 seasons. Five of those players are current Hall of Famers, and two more (not counting Jackson) in Jerome Bettis and LaDainian Tomlinson are likely to get inducted in due time. Jackson has been voted to the Pro Bowl three times in his career, most recently in 2010.

Jackson was the Rams top pick in the 2004 draft out of Oregon State, where he spent a year as the understudy to Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk before taking over duties in his second season. He has missed a total of just 11 games over the subsequent eight seasons, showing good durability for a player at his position. Known for his toughness and strong character, Jackson was looking to join a winning team. The Rams made the playoffs during Jackson’s rookie season, but have failed to finish above .500 in any subsequent year with him as the lead back. Jackson is also a significant factor in the passing game with 407 career receptions and 3324 yards, which leads all active running backs in the NFL.

UPDATE: D. Orlando Ledbetter of the AJC reports the deal with Jackson is worth $12 million over three years with $4 million guaranteed.

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Palmer doesn’t get tendered

March 13th, 2013 Comments off

On the league’s official list of free agents published Tuesday afternoon by the Associated Press, Falcons tight end Michael Palmer’s name was listed among the restricted free agents who were not tendered offers from their respective clubs. That makes Palmer an unrestricted free agent, free to sign with any team. As a restricted free agent, if the Falcons had tendered him, they would have received the right of first refusal, the ability to match any offer that Palmer may have signed with another team. That ability to match would have extended to a 7-day period. If the Falcons did not match the deal, they would be entitled to draft pick compensation based on the original round that the player was drafted. Since Palmer was an undrafted free agent in 2010, the Falcons would have needed to tender him at the second round level. Then they potentially would have received a second round in the unlikely event that another team tried to sign him.

Palmer’s lack of a tender doesn’t preclude his return to the Falcons in 2013. But he’ll likely have to accept a near-minium deal that pays him substantially less than the $1.323 million he would have received had he been tendered.

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McClure set to retire

March 13th, 2013 Comments off
Geoff Burke-US PRESSWIRE

Todd McClure

Long-time Falcons center Todd McClure is set to retire on Thursday per an AJC report, following a tweet from former Falcon receiver Brian Finneran yesterday of McClure’s intention. McClure will hold a press conference and file his retirement papers according to the AJC.

McClure is the longest-tenured Falcon currently on the team, first joining the team as a seventh round draft pick in 1999. He would miss his rookie season with an injury, going down with an ACL tear on the opening day of training camp. But he would return and land the starting center job midway through his second season and never relinquish it. Over the course of the next 13 seasons, he would log 195 starts, missing only 4 starts from 2001-12. Before missing time at the start of the 2011 season, McClure had made 144 consecutive starts without missing a game. His 198 total appearances are fourth most in team history, and his 195 starts are the third-highest.

Consistently undersized as far as NFL centers go, McClure learned to be effective with leverage and intelligence. He anchored offensive lines that for three consecutive seasons (2004-06) finished atop the league in rushing yards, and ranked fourth in 2002. During the time when the Falcons were quarterbacked by Michael Vick, McClure routinely called out the team’s protections. That intelligence and experience helped a young Matt Ryan, who has since become the 9th-least sacked quarterback in NFL history.

The Falcons will likely employ a competition between Peter Konz and Joe Hawley at center to replace him in 2013. Hawley started three games in 2011 as a replacement for McClure.

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Baker re-signs with Falcons for six years

March 13th, 2013 Comments off

The Falcons announced the signing of offensive tackle Sam Baker to a six-year contract after an initial report broken by FOX Sports’ Alex Marvez late Tuesday night. Terms of Bakers’ deal were undisclosed.

It will be interesting to see where Baker’s price tag compares with recently signed free agent tackles in Jermon Bushrod, who struck a five-year, $36 million deal with the Chicago Bears early on Tuesday, and William Beatty, who re-upped with the New York Giants two weeks ago on a five-year deal worth close to $39 million.

Baker was the second player taken by new GM Thomas Dimitroff in the 2008 draft after the selection of Matt Ryan with the team’s top pick. The team moved up into the latter part of the first round to select Baker, when at the time the team had a hole at left tackle. Baker’s first season was plagued by injuries, as he platooned with Todd Weiner throughout the year. He finished the year with 5 starts in 8 total appearances. He started 14 games in 2009, once again being limited by an ankle injury midway through the season. He started all 16 games in 2010, following that up with 12 starts in 2011. After a subpar ’11 season, Baker started all 16 games in 2012 and had his best year earning his new deal.

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Gonzalez set to return

March 12th, 2013 Comments off
Tony Gonzalez

Tony Gonzalez

Jay Glazer of FOX Sports reports that Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez has informed him that he is set to return to the Falcons, informing his agent to begin talking contract with the team.

“After discussing it with my family and really, truly struggling with this decision I informed the Falcons I would like to return for one more shot. Considering how this season ended, I wanted to give it another run with Matt (Ryan), Smitty (head coach Mike Smith) and the guys we have in there. It was the first time I had won a playoff game and hopefully coming back once more we can take it one step further. I was done, I thought I had my mind made up. This whole year I knew it would be my last but the way our final game ended and talking to all the guys in the locker room, in the end it was too difficult of a way for me to step away from the game. It’s not often in a career you’re around a group like we have down in Atlanta.”

Word broke over the weekend that Gonzalez was likely to return to Atlanta for one more season if certain conditions were met, such as an increase in pay and the ability to skip training camp. Per Glazer, Gonzalez will work with the team in order to keep commitments he made with his family to stay at home with his family in California during the off-season.

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