January 25, 2005
The 2004 football season is now officially over for the Falcons but with that ending is a new beginning, welcome to 2005. Many fans will celebrate the accomplishments of the 2004 season, as they should, but the coaches and front office will be working feverishly to make the 2005 season even better. With that said, it's time to look at a position by position review of the team and what directions the team may go in.
Quarterback (2): Michael Vick and Matt Schaub. It's quite obvious that Vick is the future of this franchise. Inked to a very long and lucrative extension in 2004, he is locked into being here through 2013. Schaub enters his second season after a rookie campaign that at least garnered valuable playing experience. The lone free agent will by Ty Detmer and chances are very good that the Falcons will look towards drafting another QB in the very late rounds or possibly signing an undrafted free agent. I highly doubt that the organization will invest a lot of money into the third QB spot.
Running Back (3): Warrick Dunn, T.J. Duckett, Jason Wright. Dunn is coming off one of his best seasons as a pro but also will carry a hefty salary cap number as well. This is a position that has many options. First, the possibility of cutting or trading Dunn would create a good amount of cap room as well as possibly garner draft picks. The problem is that with the talent available in the draft and free agency Dunn's trade value would likely not be all that high. Another option is to restructure Dunn's contract to lessen the cap burden. I'm not a huge fan of restructuring due to the problems and complications it can cause in future cap years. The third option is to trade T.J. Duckett. Duckett will be a free agent after the 2006 season and is definitely the more moveable of the two backs. The problem, again is a flooded RB market thus lessening trade value and it opens up a hole in the running game. The final option is that the team simply stays in the status quo for another year. This is the option that I perceive most likely to happen. If anything, you may see Dunn's contract re-worked to convert base salary to a roster bonus which most likely won't be seen for cap room purposes but I'd be surprised if either back got moved. Jason Wright will be an exclusive rights free agent. My guess here is that he'll be brought back to compete for the third slot, if there is one, along with a draft pick since the draft is RB heavy this year.
Fullback (5): Justin Griffith, Stanley Pritchett, Fred McCrary, George Layne, Carey Davis. Justin Griffith will be returning from a broken ankle that ended his 2004 season. This injury clearly showed why having a quality backup FB is so important. Unfortunately, this position was loaded with injuries and cause the Falcons to dig deep for replacements. Pritchett and McCrary are both free agents and may well be signed back to compete for the backup job. Layne is a restricted free agent and will probably be tendered to also compete for the backup job. Davis is an exclusive rights free agents and most likely will not return unless it is to compete for a job on the practice squad.
Tight End (4): Alge Crumpler, Eric Beverly, Dwayne Blakley. After a second consecutive Pro-Bowl season and a nice contract extension, Crump will be around for years to come. Due to injuries, Beverly was converted to become a blocking TE. The only question at this point is whether or not Beverly maintains that role or is moved back to guard, the position he was originally signed to play. Blakely will be an exclusive rights free agent and will most likely return. If the front office decides to move Beverly back to guard then look for a veteran signing or a draft pick to take over the blocker role. Other than that, no action expected.
Offensive Tackle (3): Todd Weiner, Kevin Shaffer, Jared Peck. Weiner is under contract for 2005 but will carry a hefty cap number at $4.3 million. Shaffer is a restricted free agent and will most likely be tendered an offer. Peck is an exclusive rights free agent and will most likely return to at least compete for a backup job. This is a position that requires work in my opinion. Both tackles were very inconsistent this past season. Perhaps this was due to the new offense as well as new blocking schemes but there is no question that upgrading is highly possible and likely. It is very feasible to restructure Weiner (which would require an extension if the team feels he is a fixture of the line) and it is also very feasible to release him to create cap room to go after a more prominent tackle. If they choose restructuring, chances are that Shaffer gets upgraded or at the very least gets pushed by a free agent or draft pick. Peck will most certainly be pushed out of the mix unless we carry 4 tackles which is highly unlikely.
Guard (5): Kynan Forney, Roberto Garza, Steve Herndon, Martin Bibla, Michael Moore. Forney was inked to an extension in 2004 and really elevated his play in 04. He is a fixture in the line and will garner more national acclaims as the offense developes. Garza is an unrestricted free agent. He is reportedly a favorite of Gibbs and may be the left guard or center for the future. Herndon is a free agent as well and was a serviceable backup in 04. Bibla and Moore finished 2004 on injured reserve. Moore was lost in the first game of the season. Bibla was lost at the very end of the season. Moore began the season as the starter at left guard and the team is certainly high on him. Bibla has not been in the good graces of the team when it comes to playing time, for what reasons I have no idea. Both are restricted free agents whose future is unclear at this point. I'm sure they will both be tendered to compete but this is another position that could face changes in the same manner as tackle. Many feel that a change at left guard is in order for pass blocking reasons. Gibbs may choose to import another Denver free agent, Beverly moving over to left guard, or a draft pick.
Center (2): Todd McClure and Austin King. McClure is under contract for 2005. King is an exclusive rights free agent. If the team is truly happy with McClure then he should be back. I would rather us look at upgrading this position more than any position on the line. I view this as the weakest link in the chain. McClure is smart and is very good at calling adjustments at the line of scrimmage but struggles against power rushes and most of the time requires help from a guard, thus weakening one side of the line. King isn't the answer. Here's hoping that a free agent is signed or a quality draft pick is used to improve this position.
Wide Receiver (5): Peerless Price, Dez White, Brian Finneran, Michael Jenkins, Jimmy Farris. This unit really struggled in 2004. All are under contract and scheduled to return but you can't help thinking that an upgrade could come by way of free agency. Jenkins was a high pick last season and will certainly be given a shot at developing. A bona fide #1 receiver will have to either be signed or emerge from this group in order for the offense to fully develop.
Defensive End (5): Patrick Kerney, Brady Smith, Travis Hall, Khaleed Vaughn, Karon Riley. The defensive line was a strong point for the Falcons and look for it to be even stronger in 2005. Kerney and Smith are both under contract. Hall will most likely either be asked to take a hefty paycut or outright released and then possibly signed back to vet minimum in order to create some much needed cap room. Vaughn is an exclusive rights free agent who will most likely return to compete for a backup job. Riley is an unrestricted free agent and may return to compete as well. I fully expect a draft pick to be used to bring in even more competition as well as an eventual successor to Brady Smith, whose contract expires after the 2006 season.
Defensive Tackle (4): Rod Coleman, Ed Jasper, Chad Lavalais, Antwan Lake. Coleman was obviously one of the better free agent signings of 2004 and anchors the middle of the defensive line. Jasper is contemplating retirement and I honestly think he will retire. Lavalais proved valuable as a rookie and should step up and compete immediately for Jasper's role. It is highly possible that a veteran be signed or a draft pick taken to fill the hole left by Jasper.
Outside Linebacker (5): Keith Brooking, Matt Stewart, DeMorrio Williams, Eric Johnson, Artie Ulmer. Brooking continued to play at a Pro Bowl level and emerged as a playmaker at weakside linebacker. Stewart is an unrestricted free agent and may not be re-signed. Stewart's play was solid but I really think speed needs to be added as well as pass coverage in the linebacking corp. One possibility is to re-sign Stewart and move to MLB. This would obviously open up the strongside position to a free agent or a draft pick. Williams showed his vast potential as a speed linebacker and may take over the strongside linebacker. Johnson and Ulmer both excel in special teams and are free agents. Chances are they both return to one year minimum deals to fulfill the same roles.
Middle Linebacker (2): Chris Draft and Jamie Duncan. Draft is a solid linebacker who plays smart but I definitely think would be better served as a backup or possibly strongside. Duncan was used as a stop-gap backup and was inactive for a good portion of the season. Look for a move in free agency or the draft here.
Cornerback (6): DeAngelo Hall, Jason Webster, Kevin Mathis, Aaron Beasley, Allen Rossum, Christian Morton. Hall and Webster are under contract and will return in 2005. Mathis, Beasley, and Rossum are all unrestricted free agents. Reportedly, Mathis and Rossum are currently being negotiated with and will most likely be back. Beasley was very solid but is clearly not a cover corner. If he's re-signed look for it to be as a safety. Morton is an exclusive rights free agent and will probably be brought back to compete but was exposed in the NFC Championship game. Look for role players to be signed and a draft pick to be used.
Safety (7): Cory Hall, Bryan Scott, Kevin McCadam, Siddeeq Shabazz, Etric Pruitt, Keion Carpenter, Travaris Robinson. Hall and Scott are under contract. Scott showed pass rushing skills and run stopping ability this past season and will be the strong safety. Hall is solid but is not a playmaker. McCadam is a restricted free agent is solid on special teams but has not developed as a safety. Chances are he'll be tendered to compete but he'll have to show drastic improvement. Shabazz is under contract but may be replaced. Pruitt was solid on special teams as a rookie but will need to show improvement as a safety to make the team in 2005. Carpenter and Robinson were hurt in preseason and may return to compete but that is certainly not guaranteed. Look for a free agent or a draft pick to be brought in to compete at free safety. The Falcons need a playmaker and I look for them to get one.
Kicker (1): Jay Feely. Feely is an unrestricted free agent and offers a lot on special teams with onside kicks, kickoffs and sheer effort and heart. He does tend to struggle with field goal fundamentals but may be brought back with heavy competition.
Punter (1): Chris Mohr. Mohr is a very good directional kicker but isn't getting any younger. He's under contract but very well may face competition by a draft pick or free agent.
Overall, things are looking up as a Falcon fan. A very solid front office now has a great base to work with. With 8 draft picks, depth and needs can now be filled.