We all know that Thomas Dimitroff will take a low-key approach in free agency. But we also know that in each of the past two off-seasons, the Falcons have made one big addition. What is unknown is how the looming status of the league’s Collective Bargaining Agreement is going to affect how the Falcons do their usual business moving forward.
Because of the specter of the uncapped year, this is probably the worst class of free agents since its exception more than fifteen years ago. Most of the quality players that are in the prime of their careers will be restricted free agents, leaving most of the unrestricted free agents thirty-year olds on the downsides of their careers.
But if Dimitroff does make a significant addition, it’s possible that it could come at cornerback. The Falcons definitely need help at this position. They have essentially ignored it the past two off-seasons, only signing Von Hutchins, and tried to develop young players like Chris Houston, Chevis Jackson, and Chris Owens to very mixed results. Perhaps it’s time that Dimitroff goes in a new direction and targets a veteran free agent to fix this position.
The first decision the Falcons will have to make is whether or not to bring back Brian Williams, who is an unrestricted free agent. Williams played well during the first five games before an ACL sidelined him for the rest of the year. Already an aging player that was slowing down, the injury to his knee isn’t likely to reinvigorate him. But Williams is a capable veteran that also offers the versatility to play safety. If anything, the Falcons would likely offer him a one-year contract for the veteran minimum to provide insurance.
If the Falcons do decide to pursue some veteran free agents, the two top targets are Leigh Bodden and Dunta Robinson.
Bodden had a very good year with the Patriots this past year. He finished the year with 55 tackles, 5 interceptions, and 18 passes defended. At 6’1″, he offers much needed size to the secondary. Bodden will turn 29 this September, so he’s still on the right side of thirty, but just barely. Bodden served as the No. 1 corner in New England and also for the Browns in past years, so going up against premier receivers is nothing new to him.
Robinson hasn’t been quite himself the past few years in Houston. Robinson entered the league as an up and coming corner back in 2004 and had three promising years. But he suffered a major knee injury midway through the 2007 season and just hasn’t been the same since. After missing a combined 12 games in the ’07 and ’08 seasons, he came back this year to start every game for the Texans, finishing with 64 tackles, but was shutout in the interception department for the first time in his career. Robinson is 5’10”, but is known for his solid ability in run support and will turn 28 in April. Another bonus is that Robinson hails from Athens, GA, which should make the Falcons more attractive to him.
Both players are likely to cash in this off-season because several teams are looking for upgrades at cornerback. The question becomes how high of a price tag is too high for the Falcons, who tend to prefer rational spending in free agency.
There is a chance that the Texans decide to tag Robinson. While his play since his injury likely hasn’t inspired them with a ton of confidence about his potential long-term, he’s still their best corner. And they might tag him just to try and move him for draft picks later. But the franchise tag for corners is around $9.5 million, which is a lot of money to extend to a player that may not be in your long-term plans. Bodden isn’t in danger of being tagged by the Patriots because they will use their tag on nose tackle Vince Wilfork. But the loss of Bodden would open a significant hole in the Patriots secondary, so they aren’t likely to let him walk without a fight.
Between the two, I think Bodden is probably the safer bet. But if the Falcons could get a hometown discount from Robinson, and he is ready to pick up where he left off in 2007 before his injury, his being a year younger makes him a better upside signing.