Allen and I are back to discuss some of the most intriguing moves made in free agency by the other 31 NFL teams not named the Atlanta Falcons. But before we dive deep into DeSean Jackson’s future and the horror that is the Oakland Raiders offseason, we invited the Falcoholic Dave Choate to share his thoughts on the Falcons offseason moves. Dave and I discuss whether the Falcons pass rush will be improved with the moves so far, as well as what the Falcons can do in the upcoming 2014 NFL Draft to fix that problem. We also invite Macon-area Falcon fan Dylan Hoyt to describe an interesting week that saw him embroiled with a controversy on Twitter involving wide receiver Roddy White.
Episode 62: What’s Gonna Happen with the Pass Rush? [Download]
The Atlanta Falcons had a pretty quiet week with no signings or real moves to speak of in free agency. The only move that came down the pipe was that cornerback Robert McClain re-signed with the team.
Losing McClain to restricted free agency was unlikely to happen, but the fact that he got his name on the dotted line is a positive for the Falcons.
McClain is the incumbent nickel cornerback, but could face stiff competition from incoming free agent Javier Arenas. Both McClain and Arenas lack the size to play outside and thus have specialized at playing in the slot. Both are essentially under one-year deals with the likelihood that the player that emerges by year’s end as the preferred option inside will get a long-term deal in 2015. And the player that does not, may be asked to seek opportunities elsewhere.
It’s potentially a make or break year for McClain. However, I personally believe that McClain staying at nickel cornerback may not be in his or the team’s best interests moving forward. McClain is a player that I think could make a successful conversion to free safety if the Falcons were so inclined to give him that opportunity.
McClain lacks ideal size for a safety, but has a thicker frame than your typical cornerback as he weighs 195 pounds on a 5’9″ frame. He would be among the smallest starting safeties in the league, but not too much smaller in size than others including Seattle’s Earl Thomas (5’10″ 202), New Orleans’ Jairus Byrd (5’10″ 203) and New England’s Devin McCourty (5’10″ 195). In fact, both Byrd and McCourty predominantly played cornerback in college. McCourty started his career at cornerback with great promise as a rookie in 2010, but struggled in his sophomore season. He then began playing more safety in 2012 before fully converting to the position in 2013.
McClain’s career in Atlanta has followed a similar path in which he was on the rise after a breakout 2012 campaign as the nickel corner, but followed it up with a lackluster effort in 2013. If McClain were allowed to bulk up this offseason, potentially adding 8-10 pounds, there would be little difference in size between him and some of the better safeties in the league like Thomas, Byrd and McCourty.
D. Orlando Ledbetter writes that in speaking with Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith, the Falcons will not be shifting strictly to a 3-4 defense as many suspected based off their offseason moves. However, the Falcons will instead opt to retain the “multiple” defense that employs both 3-4 and 4-3 looks as they have done consistently under defensive coordinator Mike Nolan since 2012. ESPN’s Vaughn McClure follows up that regardless of a shift in the defensive scheme, improvement on that side of the ball will be a key factor in the team improving upon their 4-12 record from 2013.
ESPN’s Vaughn McClure reports that the Atlanta Falcons are taking a look at a pair of draft prospects this week: Iowa tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz and Minnesota defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman.
Fiedorowicz showcased athleticism at his Scouting Combine workout in February. He measured in at 6’5″ and weighed 265 pounds. He clocked a 4.76-second 40-yard dash time, 25 bench reps of 225 pounds, with a 7.10-second three-cone drill. He is coming off a career-high six touchdowns this past year while catching 30 passes for 299 yards (10.0 avg). As a junior, he caught 45 passes for 433 yards (9.6 avg) and just one touchdown. He was coached by the Falcons during the Senior Bowl, where he got to know them better. He is being projected as a middle-round pick.
Hageman is another physical specimen due to his sheer size at 6’6″ and 310 pounds. He had 32 bench reps and ran a 5.02-second 40 time at the Combine. This past season he had a career-high 13 tackles for loss, but only a pair of sacks. He had six sacks as a junior with 7.5 tackles for loss. Hageman is considered a potential late first-round pick, meaning the Falcons are likely hoping he falls to them in the early second-round if they are to pick him.
Oregon all-purpose specialist De’Anthony Thomas had a private workout with the Falcons on Saturday according to Aaron Wilson of the National Football Post. Thomas played a multitude of roles for the Ducks over the years, playing both running back and receiver while also returning kicks. At Oregon, Thomas scored 41 offensive touchdowns and 5 on special teams over three seasons. The undersized, but explosive Thomas measured in at 5’9″, 174 pounds at February’s Combine. He ran a 4.34-second 40 time at his pro day earlier this month.
The Falcons could be looking at Thomas to bolster their special teams, where the team has already invested in free agent signees Devin Hester and Javier Arenas.
Aaron Wilson of National Football Post reports that the Atlanta Falcons have re-signed cornerback Robert McClain, who was a restricted free agent. The team tendered him at the original level, meaning he signed a one-year deal worth $1.431 million.
As an original tender restricted free agent, McClain was eligible to sign an offer sheet with opposing teams with the Falcons retaining “right of first refusal.” That means that the Falcons would have seven days to match any potential offer made to McClain by another team. If not, then the Falcons would receive compensation in the form of the original round in which McClain was drafted. Since McClain was a seventh-round pick of the Carolina Panthers in 2010, he would net the Falcons a seventh-round pick in 2014.
By signing his tender, McClain is no longer on the market to be signed to an offer sheet and will remain a Falcon in 2014.
After the 2014 season, McClain will then become an unrestricted free agent where he would be free to sign with any team. McClain first joined the Falcons in 2012 and played very well as the team’s nickel cornerback that year. His production and play fell off a bit in 2013, although he remains the incumbent nickel cornerback. He will likely compete with incoming free agent signee Javier Arenas for that role.
The National Football League announced 32 compensatory selections awarded to teams for this year’s upcoming draft in May, and the Atlanta Falcons received three such picks. Compensatory picks are awarded to teams for losing veteran free agents in the previous year’s offseason. The Falcons received a fourth-round selection along with a pair of seventh-round selections. The three additional picks give the Falcons a total of 10.
The fourth-round pick comes due to the team losing cornerback Brent Grimes, who signed with the Miami Dolphins last year. It will be the penultimate pick of the fourth round, selection No. 139. The two seventh-round picks also come at the end of that round, with the Falcons now holding picks No. 253 and 255. The latter is in fact the second-to-last selection in the entire draft, with Houston receiving the final pick that will become Mr. Irrelevant.
Compensatory picks cannot be traded under league rules.
Barring future trades, the Falcons entire draft order consists of:
If I’m being honest, I like the idea of Devin Hester in an Atlanta Falcons uniform moreso than the reality.
The idea of Hester donning the black and red is giving the Falcons a legitimate playmaker on special teams, something it has lacked since the heyday of Allen Rossum nearly a decade ago. Yes, Eric Weems was my guy but his abilities as a returner was analogous to a chain-moving wide receiver as opposed to an explosive playmaker.
Hester is not quite as explosive on kickoffs as he is on punts. But anything he can contribute in the former area will be an upgrade over what the Falcons have featured the past few years. Between Weems and Jacquizz Rodgers, the Falcons have just two kickoff returns of 40 or more yards the past three seasons. Hester has nine such big-play returns in that span.
But it’s really the punts where Hester is going to impact. Partially because there’s the potential that a new rule change could further marginalize kickoffs, but also because the Falcons have had a dearth of playmaking ability on punt returns.
Weems had a single punt return of 40 or more yards in both 2010 and 2011. Those represent the only two such big punt returns since Rossum left the team after 2006. That year also coincides with the start of Hester’s NFL career with the Chicago Bears, and he’s had 19 such 40-plus yard punt returns over the past eight seasons. He’s had 11 over the past four years.
The only real issue is that the Falcons are catching Hester on the downward slope of his career. He was able to see his production rebound last year in 2013 by concentrating fully on his duties as a returner as opposed to also moonlighting as a wide receiver. But he’s a far cry from the player that he was just a few years back when he had a combined five punt return touchdowns over the 2010-11 seasons.
But as I’ve illustrated, he still represents a clear upgrade over what the Falcons have featured in recent years.
The other aspect of the idea of Hester that I like is his potential impact on offense. He’s probably not going to be a major element of the Falcons passing attack, but I do think he does represent a potential upgrade over Harry Douglas as the team’s third option.
Allen and I are joined by FalcFans forum member Ryan Lounsbury, to talk about the Falcons offseason moves. Ryan has a bit more positive outlook on the additions of Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson to the roster than us. We give our takes on the Falcons’ latest moves of signing Javier Arenas and Devin Hester, re-signing Peria Jerry and cutting Bradie Ewing. We discuss Scott Pioli’s takeover of the front office, whether overpaying for free agents is a necessary evil of the offseason, if the Falcons’ interest in another free agent blocker means they lack an overall vision for the future, if the team should trade up for Jadeveon Clowney, Taylor Lewan’s fit in Atlanta and the recent news made involving DeSean Jackson, Michael Vick and Matt Schaub.
Episode 61: You Know They’re Gonna Draft Another Fullback Right? [Download]
Defensive tackle Corey Peters appeared on Sirius XM NFL Radio on Saturday afternoon, and Pro Football Talk has a pretty good summary of what was said with quotes. In it, he revealed that he’s off crutches in the midst of his rehab from a torn Achilles tendon. Earlier this month, it was reported that Peters was still in a walking boot when he was re-signed by the team.
Former Falcons defensive tackle Vance Walker discusses “political” reasons that drove him out of Atlanta a year ago. Here’s an interesting quote:
I’d say, it wasn’t necessarily the scheme; it was probably a little more political from the Falcons to the Raiders. The Falcons had a decent roster of D tackles, and even though I was showing and proving that I could rush the passer, I never really got the opportunity. That’s what they promised I would be able to do out in Oakland. It kind of freed me up and let me show my abilities. Obviously, I know I would be a lot better, I could still be a lot better and learn from my mistakes and learn from others. I think (it was just) a personnel type of thing, with me being younger, with the Falcons; I guess they weren’t ready to give me that role just yet.
Malliciah Goodman has reportedly packed on some muscle this offseason in advance of his expected role as a defensive end in the 3-man front the Falcons are likely to feature more this season.
D. Orlando Ledbetter of the AJC writes that the Atlanta Falcons plan to keep both defensive ends Osi Umenyiora and Kroy Biermann on the team this year with no restructuring of their current contracts.
Both Umenyiora and Biermann are entering the final years of their contracts and coming off disappointing seasons. Despite leading the team with 7.5 sacks, Umenyiora’s performance by some accounts was underwhelming in 2013. Biermann managed to miss most of the season with a torn Achilles suffered in September.
Per Over the Cap, Umenyiora is set to count $4.75 million against the Falcons’ 2014 salary cap, with Biermann coming in at slightly over $4 million. The Falcons could potentially save over $3 million in cap space in both cases if either were released. Earlier rumors indicated that the team had already inquired Umenyiora about cutting his salary, although it never seemed likely that the team would part ways.
Both players could wind up having prominent roles in the Falcons nickel defense this year. Umenyiora finished this past season with a significant decrease in playing time due to playing mainly as part of the nickel sub-package in passing situations. According to Pro Football Focus, a premium website, Umenyiora averaged 21.3 defensive snaps over the final three games of the season after averaging 52.3 over the first 13 games.
Biermann was already a critical piece of the new-look Mike Nolan defense in 2012, serving a variety of roles as a pass-rusher, run-stopper and in coverage. The team had seemingly morphed his role into more of a linebacker last season before his injury.