By D. Orlando Ledbetter
The Falcons have a plan for free agency.
It’s just not real sexy, but it’s a plan.
By clearing salary-cap space, the team is $20 million under their adjusted cap of $124.3, according to NFLPA documents.
The Falcons, who were 10 yards away from the Super Bowl, now can try to re-sign left tackle Sam Baker and safety William Moore to keep them from hitting the open market March 12. Teams can start negotiating with agents Saturday.
There’s also the matter of cornerback Brent Grimes and tight end Tony Gonzalez as the team prepares for the long-term.
It now knows the parameters of what quarterback Matt Ryan’s contract extension will look like in light of the six-year, $120.6 million deal that quarterback Joe Flacco has agreed to with the Baltimore Ravens.
“It’s a priority for us when the time is right, and we’re not too worried about it, because we’re confident it’s going to get done,” Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said. “Our feeling is that Matt’s going to be with us for many years to come, and he’s our franchise guy.”
While they have some room now, there’s not enough cap space to pursue any big-ticket unrestricted free agents and lends additional credence to Dimitroff repeatedly stating that the team will rely on the draft.
Baker has played out the original five-year, $11.71 million contract that he signed in 2008. He is coming off his best season, but has yet to make a Pro Bowl. He should command a modest contract.
Denver placed their franchise tag on All-Pro left tackle Ryan Clady. He’ll receive $9.8 million next season. While Clady, who’s been to three Pro Bowls, can demand a huge deal, Baker’s offer likely will be more in line with the five-year, $38.75 contract that Giants left tackle Will Beatty signed Wednesday.
Moore, who went to his first Pro Bowl after last season, has played out his original four-year, $3.4 million deal. It’s payday time for him, too.
Buffalo placed their franchise tag on safety Jarius Byrd, a second-round pick in 2009, who has been to two Pro Bowls. He’s set to make $6.916 million next season, the average of the five highest-paid players at his position.
Byrd was taken 42nd overall in 2009, and Moore was picked 55th that year.
The Falcons have not decided to use the tag on Moore and want to reach a long-term deal that would be more cap-friendly.
Last season, the Falcons re-signed free safety Thomas DeCoud to a five-year, $17.5 million contract. Moore’s contract should fall in the range of five years and $25 to $30 million. He’s considered a top-tier free agent by former team executive Bill Polian.
“Moore is not a spectacular player, but he could start for most teams in the league,” Polian recently wrote on NFL.com “He’s a good all-around type, solid in all phases of the game.”
By releasing Dunta Robinson, the Falcons are thin at cornerback. Brent Grimes, who suffered an Achilles injury that required surgery, will not be ready until June, according to coach Mike Smith, who said that Grimes’ injury required a nine-month recovery period. If Grimes fully recovers, his contract situation must be addressed. He played last season under the franchise tag and made $10.2 million for one game.
Polian also considers Grimes a top-tier cornerback.
“Solid young player, but injury concern (Achilles) might reduce his value,” Polian said. “He’s a starting-caliber corner if he answers his health question.”
As far as outside free agents, it appears that Steven Jackson, who reportedly will void his contract with the Rams, will be the top target in light of the release of running back Michael Turner. The reason for his release was a failed physical, according to the NFL’s transactions list.
Turner aggravated an ankle injury in the NFC Championship game. He limped off the field in the third quarter and did not return. The team did not announce any additional information about the injury or if he required offseason surgery.
Jackson could split duties with Jacquizz Rodgers, who had a strong second season. Jackson is an adept pass catcher out of the backfield and fits the scheme.
Former All-Pro defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Osi Umenyiora also are potential targets. Freeney had 13.5 sacks over the past two season and Umenyiora had 15. Freeney turned 33 on Feb. 19 and Umenyiora is 31.
But as Dimitroff said, there are a lot of moving parts in free agency.
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