ESPN’s Adam Schefter was the first to report that the Atlanta Falcons will open up free agency by signing a pair of linebackers in ex-Houston Texan Brooks Reed and ex-Dallas Cowboy Justin Durant. According to NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport, Reed will sign a five-year deal worth $22 million. No terms have been released on Durant’s deal. The free-agent signing period began at 4 p.m. Eastern time this afternoon and Schefter’s tweet came down the pipe less than 10 minutes in.
Links between the Falcons and Reed first emerged over the weekend and were followed up by reports that fifth-year player was leaning towards signing with the team yesterday. Reed, 28, has served as the starting outside linebacker for the Texans the past four seasons after being a second-round pick in 2011. He saw his first action as a rookie as an injury replacement for Mario Williams, starting the final 11 games of that year and recording 44 tackles and six sacks, the latter a career-high. The following year, he managed 12 starts but missed four games due to a groin injury late in the season. His production slipped as he finished with just 27 tackles and 2.5 sacks, but did add six tackles and 1.5 sacks in two playoff appearances. He started every game in 2013, finishing the year with 56 tackles and three sacks. This past year, he started 13 of 16 games, recording 41 tackles, three sacks and his first career interception.
Reed played defensive end at Arizona, where he totaled 15 sacks. He was on the Falcons’ radar in the lead up to the 2011 draft.
The Falcons will mark the fourth NFL team for the 29 year old Durant. He was originally a second-round pick out of Hampton University by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2007. He earned eight starts as a rookie at strong-side linebacker after a season-ending injury to middle linebacker Mike Peterson forced the Jaguars to shuffle their linebackers. Durant finished the year with 46 tackles, one sack and an interception. He moved into the starting lineup permanently the following year, recording 69 tackles while starting 12 of 14 games. He moved around their defense the following year, playing both middle and outside linebacker. But he finished the season with 98 tackles, a sack and an interception while starting 13 games. He moved back to outside linebacker in his final season with the Jaguars in 2010, starting nine games and recording 55 tackles.
In 2011, he signed a free-agent contract with the Detroit Lions and started 26 games over the next two seasons at strong-side linebacker. He recorded a career-high of 103 tackles in 2012.
In 2013, he signed with the Cowboys and remained at strong-side linebacker. But his first season in Dallas was marred by injury, missing six games due to groin and hamstring injuries before finally ending the year on injured reserve. He finished with 24 tackles while starting just six of 10 games. Durant missed two games early in 2014 with a groin injury, but after bouncing back was lost for the final half of the season due to a torn biceps. He finished 2014 with 49 tackles and an interception in six total appearances.
The Falcons recently bid farewell to long-time outside linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, as reports emerged over the weekend that he would be accepting a deal to sign with the Arizona Cardinals. Presumably, Durant will fill Weatherspoon’s vacated weak-side linebacker position while Reed will play on the strong-side. However, both players bring potential versatility to the Falcons’ lineup if need be. As noted before, Durant has played multiple positions in a 4-3 defense, although he’s spent the bulk of his time on the strong side. The Texans tinkered with the idea of moving Reed to inside linebacker in the 3-4 defense the past two years, but always managed to keep him outside due to injuries sapping them there. Reed’s past experience as a defensive end also means that he could serve in that role in passing situations.
Both moves represent clear upgrades for one of the team’s weakest units in 2014.