With all four preseason games in the books, the Atlanta Falcons are set to make their final moves by this Saturday’s 4 p.m. Eastern deadline to get down to the league-mandated limit of 53 players. A day later, they will be able to sign 10 players to their practice squad.
Before training camp kicked off over a month ago, I made my first attempt at
guessing predicting the Falcons final roster. There were several changes from then to now.
As I did before, I also want to make note of the players that are eligible for the practice squad. The practice squad consists of 10 players, with eight determined by the “standard” rules, but two more spots determined by different rules. For the players that are eligible for the first eight spots, I denoted them with a single asterisk (*). Players eligible for the final two spots were noted with two asterisks (**).
I should also first explain that I’m assuming linebacker Brooks Reed will go on the short-term I.R. to start the season due to his groin injury that is expected to keep him out six weeks. However as far as I know, that move cannot be made until Tuesday, September 8. So that means that the Falcons will probably cut someone before Saturday with the planned intent to bring them back on the roster by Wednesday ahead of their Week One game. For the time being, I suspect that player will be Terron Ward. But I also considered Malliciah Goodman, Tyler Starr and Kevin White to be that player. So while I’m projecting Ward to make the roster, I think there’s a decent chance he’s actually cut this weekend.
Starter: Matt Ryan
Backups: Rex Grossman, Sean Renfree**
Cut: T.J. Yates
Earlier this summer, I projected Yates to be the team’s lone backup. But he was outplayed by Renfree consistently this summer. Grossman was signed by the team late in the summer as a referendum on Renfree that despite outplaying Yates, didn’t play quite well enough to be trusted with the backup spot. But since Grossman looked rusty and out of shape in the preseason finale against the Baltimore Ravens, I doubt the Falcons jump feet first either of them as the backup. So they’ll stash Renfree on the roster for a year, especially since Grossman looks more and more like a one-year stopgap. The hope will be that since Renfree didn’t make that leap to become the No. 2 quarterback this year, he could in 2016.
Starters: Devonta Freeman**, Collin Mooney
Backups: Tevin Coleman*, Antone Smith, Terron Ward*
Cuts: Jerome Smith*, Patrick DiMarco
I think there’s a strong possibility that Ward gets cut in the initial cut down but is re-signed once the Falcons put Reed on short-term I.R. next week. But he might be brought back before Week One because I think the coaching staff really like him a lot. He had a stronger performance against the Ravens to better justify that positive regard, but his too many missed assignments in pass protection make him a bit more expendable that I believe the Falcons will be more willing to expose him to waivers.
The battle between Mooney and DiMarco is close, and it’s probably still down to a coin flip. But Mooney made a couple more plays and thus gets the nod after I picked DiMarco at the start of the summer.
Starters: Julio Jones, Roddy White
Backups: Leonard Hankerson, Justin Hardy*, Devin Hester, Eric Weems
Practice Squad: Nick Williams*
Cuts: Carlton Mitchell*
No changes from the beginning of the summer and thus there should be no surprises here. The major difference is that Williams makes the practice squad instead of Bernard Reedy. I’m not sure how serious Devin Hester’s turf toe is, but it’s notable since that’s an injury that has a tendency to linger over long time. Williams is the best candidate to be Hester’s replacement on returns, but I think if the latter is close to 90 percent to start the year, Williams probably will be stashed on the practice squad.
Weems sticks because he’s simply too valuable on special-teams coverage units to be cut loose.
Starter: Jacob Tamme
Backups: Tony Moeaki, Levine Toilolo**
Practice Squad: D.J. Tialavea*
No surprises here, except that Tialavea’s special teams play and blocking over the final two preseason games should net him a spot on the practice squad. Besides Moeaki, the Falcons really don’t have a great blocking tight end on the roster since both Tamme and Toilolo are fairly hit-and-miss. Tialavea could become a decent developmental option for 2016 if Moeaki isn’t re-signed.
Starters: Jake Matthews**, Mike Person, Joe Hawley, Chris Chester, Ryan Schraeder
Backups: Tyler Polumbus, Jake Rodgers*, James Stone**
Practice Squad: Pierce Burton*, Adam Replogle**, Jared Smith*
Cuts: Eric Lefeld*
Traded: Jon Asamoah
Despite the team’s public statement to the contrary about not dealing Asamoah, given that I’m the originator of the idea that the Falcons are gearing up to trade Asamoah, I’ll simply double-down on my pet theory. Despite Asamoah’s absence on Thursday night being explained by a hip injury, it’s hard for me to see the Falcons guaranteeing a backup like Asamoah a $4.2 million cap hit this year. Every player that is on a 53-man roster for Week One automatically has their base salary guaranteed for the entire season, which in Asamoah’s case equals $2.5 million, leading to a $4.2 million cap hit. Based off the Falcons’ deployment of their blockers, it’s likely that Stone and Polumbus will be their top reserves on gamedays, leaving Asamoah as an inactive player. A very expensive inactive player.
Certainly the struggles of the blocking this summer makes Asamoah potentially a very good insurance policy to keep around in case Person, Stone, Hawley and/or Chester struggle or regress early in the regular season. But Asamoah is simply too expensive to be just insurance. I think the Falcons opt to move Asamoah to shore up another position (outside linebacker and backup safety being two prime candidates) and get back a late-round draft pick in 2016, after losing one this offseason. If the Falcons simply want depth, they can get someone for a quarter of the price that Asamoah is set to cost them this year that potentially has versatility to play more than one position.
As for the rest of the roster, there shouldn’t be too many surprises. For now, I’m projecting Person and Hawley to start at left guard and center, respectively, to start the season but that could easily change. Burton, Replogle and Smith all had relatively good summers enough to merit spots on the practice squad. Of those three, Replogle is probably the most expendable.
I suspect there could be significant turnover as the Falcons look at the waiver wire this weekend. For now, Polumbus is probably their swing tackle yet I’m not sure they entirely trust him in that role. If they can find a better option, I think he might get cut loose instead of Rodgers. But Polumbus’ potential to also play guard probably boosts his stock in the meantime. If they do part ways with Asamoah, I think they’ll also look for another veteran with starting experience off the waiver wire (Lemuel Jeanpierre?) that can provide depth inside at guard and/or center.
Starters: Tyson Jackson, Paul Soliai, Ra’Shede Hageman**, Vic Beasley*
Backups: Jonathan Babineaux, Adrian Clayborn, Malliciah Goodman**, Grady Jarrett*, Stansly Maponga**
Practice Squad: Joey Mbu*
Cuts: Cliff Matthews
I gave a great amount of consideration to the possibility that the Falcons might cut Goodman as their stopgap measure before Reed goes on I.R., but ultimately the chances that he clears waivers seem slim. So I think the Falcons wind up keeping him and plugging him in behind Jackson on the depth chart.
The probability that Biermann moves to play more linebacker this season in Reed’s absence also means that Maponga sneaks onto the roster given the need to have another edge-rusher behind Beasley and Schofield. Mbu lands on the practice squad, something I predicted to start the summer.
Starters: Kroy Biermann, Paul Worrilow**, Justin Durant
Backups: Joplo Bartu**, Allen Bradford, O’Brien Schofield, Tyler Starr*
Practice Squad: Derek Akunne*
Short-term I.R.: Brooks Reed
Cuts: Terrell Manning**, Nate Stupar**
As mentioned before, I think Reed will be initially part of the 53-man roster for a few days until the Falcons are compelled to put him on short-term I.R., forcing him to miss the first eight weeks of the season. I suspect Biermann will log the majority of reps in his absence at strong-side linebacker, but he’s not anywhere close to the athlete that Reed is, making the latter’s absence a significant blow to the defense. Schofield might also get looks if Biermann isn’t up to snuff, but I think for time being the Falcons want him to concentrate on being a situational pass-rusher rather than an every-down linebacker.
Starr was another player that I contemplated cutting loose initially with the expectation that he’d be re-signed to the roster once Reed is on I.R. But I think his play the past two weeks would make it difficult for him to clear waivers. The Falcons at this point can’t afford to let him slip away since he’ll be either Biermann or Schofield’s primary backup.
Akunne’s play should get him onto the practice squad. It’ll be tough to say bye to Stupar given his ability on special teams, which exceeds that of Starr currently. But right now, the Falcons need bodies at strong-side linebacker and if Stupar doesn’t get scooped up by another team looking for linebacker depth, he might be re-signed by the Falcons at a later date.
Starters: Desmond Trufant**, Robert Alford**
Backups: Phillip Adams, Jalen Collins*, Kevin White*
Practice Squad: Travis Howard*, Dezmen Southward**
Cut: Akeem King*
It’s tough to put King, a seventh-round pick, down as a cut, but it looks like Howard leapfrogged both him and Southward relatively quickly upon his arrival in Atlanta in late August. I think Southward’s formerly high draft status will likely give him an edge in earning a practice-squad spot and he made enough plays against the Ravens to justify it to an extent.
After predicting Jonathon Mincy to make the roster as the fifth corner before camp, I’ve now switched back to White, a player that I initially projected to stick immediately after the draft. But I wouldn’t be shocked if the Falcons scour the waiver wire for another option at fifth corner with the intention of White supplanting Howard on the practice squad. That will likely be someone that can play the slot.
Starters: Ricardo Allen*, William Moore
Backups: Kemal Ishmael**, Robenson Therezie*
Cuts: Sean Baker**, Charles Godfrey
I think the team likes Therezie enough that he’ll stick. But in all honesty, I would be very surprised if the Falcons didn’t try and make a move to get a better backup safety off the waiver wire instead of keeping Therezie to start the year. I don’t think the Falcons trust him, Baker or Godfrey to log serious reps at free safety should Allen get hurt. If that happens, expect Therezie to go on the practice squad, potentially bumping Howard off.
I probably would’ve pegged Baker as a potential practice-squad player if not for the blocked punt he allowed in the Ravens game.
Starters: Matt Bryant, Matt Bosher, Josh Harris
Are you surprised?