I think the defensive tackle may be going under the radar in terms of need for the Falcons because we used a high pick on Peria Jerry. But the Falcons have been suspiciously mum about the extent of Jerry’s injury. To the point that I think Jerry’s injury could be much more severe than they are letting on (we still don’t know which if any ligaments he messed up in his knee), to the point that the Falcons could be addressing that position again this off-season.
Now I don’t think the Falcons would use another high pick on a defensive tackle since they’ve already invested in Jerry. So instead it seems prudent to try and shore up the position in the short-term (until Jerry can come back) with a veteran player.
With most expecting the Patriots and 49ers to tag their nose tackles Vince Wilfork and Aubrayo Franklin, that does leave the cupboard a bit more bare.
While Casey Hampton would be an intriguing option (if the Steelers don’t tag him as well), I’m not sure the Falcons will target a widebody anyway. They tend to prefer a more penetrating style, and since there is no strict delineation between under tackle and nose tackle in the scheme, the Falcons tend to prefer guys that can play either spot.
Some names to keep an eye on are: Justin Bannan (Ravens), Tank Johnson (Bengals), Jimmy Kennedy (Vikings), and Fred Robbins (Giants).
Bannan is the most versatile of the group, playing as a reserve at all three spots in the Ravens front three. That doesn’t preclude him from playing in a 4-3 however, having backed up the likes of Sam Adams and Pat Williams during his early days in Buffalo, when I should note some guy named Mularkey coached the team.
Johnson was a player that I wanted the team to sign last year. More famous for his off-field antics of a few years ago, Johnson has kept his nose clean the past three years. He’s an undersized nose tackle, but is the penetrating type that works well in a rotation.
Kennedy had a resurgent year replacing Pat Williams on passing downs for the Vikings. He’s had past issues with work ethic and character issues, but one hopes those things are behind him. He appears to be in the best shape of his career.
Robbins is a veteran and might be slowing down. But he’s been a good pass rush specialist for the Giants over the past several years. He had three-straight years of 5.5 sacks before a disappointing 2-sack effort this past year. The Falcons would have to determine how much is left in the tank with him. He did play under Tim Lewis, so he should be somewhat familiar.
Another player to keep our eyes on is Rob Meier, who was just cut from the Jacksonville Jaguars. Meier was a solid rotational tackle and end during his shared days with Mike Smith there. But he’s 32 years old and is coming off a shoulder injury, so his health is a concern. Meier was overmatched in 2008 as a starter, and is best served as a backup off the bench. But he knows the defense, the coaches, and if he was healthy could make a nice stopgap.
There are also some restricted free agents, that their respective teams might be willing to part with: Barry Cofield (Giants), Johnny Jolly (Packers), and Travis Johnson (Chargers).
I don’t think this would happen, but a darkhorse candidate might be Marcus Stroud of the Buffalo Bills. The Bills are moving to a 3-4 defense, and Stroud isn’t an ideal fit at either end or nose tackle, and the Bills could try to move him for the right price. Stroud played well in Jacksonville when Smith was there. And even with him on the verge of being 32 in June, he probably still has a few more years left in the tank. But a move like that would probably indicate that Jerry’s injury is even more severe and drastic than I’m imagining. The Bills acquired Stroud for third and fifth round picks, and I’d imagine any compensation on our part would have to be similar.
But regardless, I won’t be surprised if the Falcons made a move for a veteran defensive tackle to be a stopgap for this year and bolster the rotation in case Jerry’s recovery is not as swift. I think Bannan is probably the best option because of his versatility. But a healthy Meier, resurgent Robbins, and hungry Kennedy or Johnson wouldn’t be bad secondary options.