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Takeaways from Last Week – May 6

May 6th, 2013 Comments off
Icon SMI

John Abraham

This weekend the Falcons conducted their first rookie mini-cap. Forty-eight players participated, including 24 undrafted free agents that signed contracts with the team and 17 that did not and are only in Flowery Branch for a tryout. There’s also the six 2012 rookies that were carried on last year’s practice squad and Brian Banks.

It’s going to be interesting to see if any of the tryout players earn a spot. I expect at least one will. Last season, three players were signed following their tryout. I have not seen really any of them, but I did like a bit of what I saw of Marcus Sales in a few Syracuse games I watched.

The site has grown fairly quiet since the draft, and I apologize. I have been traveling heavily for my job, and just don’t spend as much time maintaining the site on the road. That travel should end after this upcoming week, and I fully intend on making up for it. I still am going to post scouting reports on the six remaining Falcons draft picks. You can also expect several new podcast episodes in the coming weeks, hopefully to stem the “doldrums” that exist in the NFL calendar between the draft and the openings of training camps.

I also intend to write several articles looking at many of the up and coming young players on the Falcons roster, as well as veteran players that could play key roles in 2013.

As for the remainder of this column, I will in fact use it to give some of my own takeaways and commentary on many of last week’s NFL events and revelations.

The Jaguars reportedly used advanced statistics to help them with their decision to select an offensive tackle with their top pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. I think it’s a promising revelation for the league going forward. Advanced statistics are relatively in their infancy as far as the NFL is concerned in comparison to baseball (which is approaching middle age) and basketball (adolescence). But as the years progress and the techniques evolve, I think we’ll see advanced stats become more commonplace on the professional football landscape. Maybe we will reach a point, where we could effectively calculate the “PER” of a left guard. PER refers to Player Efficiency Rating, which is supposedly the all-in-one stat for basketball.

I don’t think advanced stats will ever reach the point they do in baseball and basketball. Football features 11 players, and it’s very difficult to calculate how each one of those players relate to one another. It’s much easier to calculate the efficiency of units rather than individuals.

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FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 26 “IHateDuntaRobinson.com”

March 30th, 2013 Comments off

On this week’s episode, I am joined by Allen Strk and Tom Melton to recap the Falcons free agent moves as well as look forward to what the team could do in April’s draft. You’ll hear our thoughts on the acquisitions of Osi Umenyiora and Steven Jackson, as well as the team re-signing players like Sam Baker and William Moore. You’ll also hear our opinions on what are the chances that Brent Grimes and John Abraham suit up for the team in 2013. As we venture into the draft, you’ll hear opinions on whether the Falcons should prioritize improving the pass rush or their coverage on the back-end. You’re hear opinions on a couple of first round targets such as Datone Jones, Desmond Trufant, and Johnthan Banks. The conversation then returns back to the Falcons, and whether players like Tyson Clabo, Jonathan Babineaux, and Stephen Nicholas’s days as Falcons might be numbered. We debate whether Peria Jerry or Jamaal Anderson proved to be a better pick. Thoughts about what options the Falcons may have at improving their linebacker and wide receiver play will also be discussed. We pine over the memories of Eric Weems, and shed no tears for the departed Dunta Robinson.

Ep. 26: IHateDuntaRobinson.com [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 14 minutes

Allen writes for TJRSports.com as well as the Bleacher Report. His twitter handle is: @Allen_Strk.

Tom Melton writes for his own blog at Tom Melton Scouting, as well as NFL Draft Monsters and the newly formed DraftFalcons.com. You can find him on twitter: @TMeltonScouting

 

If you have any questions and comments, you can hit us up on Twitter, post in the forums in the podcast thread, or drop an e-mail at: pudge@falcfans.com.

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. You can also subscribe directly to our feed at the following URL: http://feeds.feedburner.com/falcfans/LXSt

Falcons Gearing Up to Take Pass Rusher Atop Draft

March 15th, 2013 Comments off
Mitch Stringer-US PRESSWIRE

Bjoern Werner

The Falcons primary needs heading into this offseason were upgrading their running game, replacing/retaining Tony Gonzalez at tight end, securing the cornerback spot opposite Asante Samuel, and improving the pass rush. While there were certainly other areas of the roster that could be improved, those four spots seemed to be the primary needs where the Falcons couldn’t afford to stand pat upon.

Well after the first few days of the off-season, it seems that the Falcons have already addressed the majority of them except for the pass rush.

Steven Jackson was added to replace Michael Turner as the starting running back. While Jackson won’t fix the Falcons running ailments, he certainly should provide a short-term boost. He’ll also give the team another year to evaluate Jacquizz Rodgers to determine if he will have a say in the Falcons long-term answers at the position.

Tony Gonzalez was retained for at least one more year. While the Falcons certainly could be in the market for drafting his heir apparent this April, Gonzalez’s presence means it ceases to be a priority.

While the cornerback spot remains open, the market has been flooded with so many good veteran corners such as Antoine Winfield and Nnamdi Asomugha to join free agents like Brent Grimes, Mike Jenkins, Tracy Porter, etc. that it seems impossible at this point that the Falcons won’t find someone competent to man the starting spot at least short-term. Worst-case scenario is the Falcons find a veteran seat warmer that at least prevents the Falcons need to use a very high pick looking for an immediate starter.

That just leaves the pass rush, which hasn’t been addressed yet following the release of John Abraham, by far the team’s best player in that category last season. And the market as of this writing doesn’t appear to be as favorable as the Falcons potential options in the secondary.

At this point, the best case scenario for the Falcons may be a lateral move in replacing Abraham with a similarly aged veteran like Dwight Freeney or Osi Umenyiora. The Falcons could also choose to address their pass rush with a quick, interior presence but aren’t likely to find much help on the open market. Quality pass rushers like Henry Melton, Jason Jones, Desmond Bryant, Chris Canty, and Cullen Jenkins have already worked out deals elsewhere.

Given Thomas Dimitroff’s proclivities for needs-based drafting, it would seem likely that the Falcons’ off-season is setting them up to address that key need with their top pick. Whether that happens to be an edge rusher or interior disruptor remains to be seen, but it would be a major upset at this point if the Falcons top pick six weeks from now won’t be playing a position that makes it living chasing down quarterbacks.

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FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 25 “Free Agency Preview” Parts 2 & 3

March 12th, 2013 Comments off

Click here to listen to Part 1.

Part 2:

Allen Strk joins me to discuss the upcoming free agent market. We look at some possible signings the Falcons could make including pass rushers like Dwight Freeney, Osi Umenyiora, Cliff Avril, and Michael Bennett. We also look at possible running back options such as Steven Jackson and Ahmad Bradshaw, and whether improving the running game should be a priority. You’ll also hear ourr thoughts on Matt Ryan’s looming monster contract, as well as our opinions of some other Falcon players like Jacquizz Rodgers, Peria Jerry, and Vance Walker.

Ep. 25: Free Agency Preview Part 2 [Download]

Duration: 35 minutes

Part 3:

Allen and I finish our discussion of free agency, by looking at some of the defensive tackles and tight ends the Falcons could be looking at both in March and April. We’ll break down what we see are the off-season’s priorities, as well as look ahead to 2013 to see what competition the Falcons will face and whether it culminates with a Lombardi Trophy in Flowery Branch.

Ep. 25: Free Agency Preview Part 3 [Download]

Duration: 29 minutes

Allen writes for TJRSports.com as well as the Bleacher Report. His twitter handle is: @Allen_Strk.

 

If you have any questions and comments, you can hit us up on Twitter, post in the forums in the podcast thread, or drop an e-mail at: pudge@falcfans.com.

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. You can also subscribe directly to our feed at the following URL: http://feeds.feedburner.com/falcfans/LXSt

FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 25 “Free Agency Preview” Part 1

March 11th, 2013 1 comment

I am joined once again by Allen Strk, to preview and discuss free agency. In this first of three-part episode, we discussed the Falcons free agent moves made on Saturday with the re-signings of William Moore and Garrett Reynolds. We also discuss the cuts the Falcons made a week ago by parting ways with Dunta Robinson, Michael Turner, and John Abraham. There is also discussion of impending free agents Sam Baker, Brent Grimes, among other Falcons that are set to hit the market.

Ep. 25: Free Agency Preview Part 1 [Download]

Duration: 30 minutes

Click here to listen to Parts 2 and 3.

Allen writes for TJRSports.com as well as the Bleacher Report. His twitter handle is: @Allen_Strk.

 

If you have any questions and comments, you can hit us up on Twitter, post in the forums in the podcast thread, or drop an e-mail at: pudge@falcfans.com.

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. You can also subscribe directly to our feed at the following URL: http://feeds.feedburner.com/falcfans/LXSt

Takeaways from Last Week – March 4

March 4th, 2013 Comments off
Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

I don’t think Flacco needs to be too concerned over car payments now.

With much of the details of Joe Flacco’s new record-breaking $120.6 million contract being released on Sunday night, we now have a blueprint for what Matt Ryan’s new deal will look like. The only real question is at what point does Ryan sign on the dotted line.

I wrote earlier that I figured that Ryan would be signed sometime this summer because I did not expect Flacco’s deal to get done so quickly. Kudos to Ozzie Newsome & Co. for speeding up the process. The Ravens have a number of good free agents that they need to re-sign this off-season, and avoiding the monster $20 million franchise tag that Flacco would have incurred should allow them to keep many of them. Now, Flacco’s cap hit in 2013 is reportedly around $6.8 million, essentially freeing up $13 million in cap space.

When the Ryan deal gets done, it’s likely that the Falcons will also reap cap benefits, although I’m not sure as much. Ryan is set to count $12 million against this year’s salary cap, but I would expect the first year cap hit of his new deal to be in the ballpark of Flacco, which probably means somewhere around $5-6 million savings.

The interesting things about Flacco’s deal are the payouts in Year 1 ($30 million), Year 2 ($51 million) and Year 3 ($62 million). The latter two figures exceed that of Drew Brees, although Brees was paid $40 million in the first year of his new deal. $52 million of Flacco’s contract is guaranteed, while the number was reportedly $60 million for Brees. Remember, Brees is represented by Tom Condon, who also represents Matt Ryan. It’s in Condon’s best interest to try and reclaim the biggest contract awarded to a quarterback, although that clearly may not be in the Falcons’ best interest. So likely a middle ground will need to be reached. And that could take time. Which makes me believe that we will see Ryan comes to terms later rather than sooner. It may not last until July at this point, but I’m not optimistic that a deal will get done before March 12, when those cap savings could be very beneficial to the Falcons as they shop for new players.

As of Friday, reports were that the Falcons had yet to engage in serious talks with Ryan.

The other news that the Falcons made on Friday was the release of three veterans in John Abraham, Dunta Robinson, and Michael Turner. The Turner move was expected, and was a long time coming. I was not convinced the Falcons would dump Dunta, as it leaves a pretty large hole at cornerback. Instead, I expected the Falcons to restructure Dunta’s deal to have him return in 2013 at a more cap-friendly price. Abraham was the surprise move, as it had been hinted at but I don’t think anybody expected the Falcons to actually part ways with him. Abraham was the team’s entire pass rush practically, and the team has already proclaimed that improving there will be an off-season priority. So on Friday, the Falcons essentially took a step back in order to take several steps forward.

I really don’t know what the Falcons “plan’ is going forward. I suspect they will be targeting pass rushers early in the draft, but does it mean that they will also be looking for free agents to sign?

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Falcons let go of Turner, Robinson, and Abraham

March 1st, 2013 Comments off

Josh D. Weiss-US PRESSWIRE

Falcons part ways with John Abraham

Adam Schefter of ESPN tweeted early Friday morning that the Falcons are expected to make three bold moves today by releasing running back Michael Turner, cornerback Dunta Robinson, and defensive end John Abraham. The move has since been confirmed by the team’s official site. The move to cut Turner has long been expected after a lackluster 2012 season for the veteran runner. Robinson’s status seemed iffy, although the value of his play on the field didn’t appear to match the value that would be reaped in cap savings if cut loose. Abraham’s future seemed to be a bit less tenuous given he led the team in 2012 with 10 sacks. Per D. Orlando Ledbetter of the AJC, the Falcons have now saved roughly $16 million in cap space for 2013. Brian McIntyre of NFL.com puts the cap savings higher, approaching $19 million.

Turner is coming off a year where he led the Falcons in rushing, but only had 800 yards on 222 carries (3.6 avg) and 10 touchdowns. For his career, Turner played five seasons with the Falcons, rushing for 6,081 yards and 60 touchdowns, placing him second all-time on the team’s rushing yards list, and first on rushing touchdowns. Turner was the Falcons first major move of the Dimitroff-Smith Era back in 2008, being signed by the team at the start of free agency. He proved to be the foundation of the Falcons offense for the next three years, but with the continued growth of Matt Ryan and the Falcons passing game began to take a backseat on offense in 2011. That ultimately culminated with a 2012 season where many believed that his backup, Jacquizz Rodgers was the better option in the starting lineup. The Falcons freed up about $6 million in cap space by cutting Turner.

Robinson had a bit of a resurgent year in 2012 after struggling in 2011. But he still had issues in coverage, despite being able to make more plays vs. the run and as a blitzer off the edge. Robinson was signed by the Falcons in 2010 to one of the biggest contracts given to a corner. He was expected to be a No. 1 corner for the team, helping solve the issues that plagued a porous secondary in recent years. But in 2010, Brent Grimes emerged as the team’s de facto top corner, and Robinson had mediocre production. Grimes is now a free agent, and the potential of his return is possibly helped by Robinson’s release. Previous reports indicated that the Falcons would free up roughly $6 million by releasing Robinson, although Ledbetter indicates that number is closer to $4 million.

Abraham first joined the Falcons in 2006, when the team parted ways with their No. 1 pick to acquire him from the New York Jets. His first year in Atlanta was an injury-plagued season where he only played in 8 games. He rebounded the following year, and led the team in sacks both in 2007 (10 sacks) and 2008 (16.5). He had a down 2009 season where he only had 5.5 sacks, but bounced back in 2010 with a 13-sack season, once again being the leader on the team. He has led the team in each of the past two seasons. Over seven years in Atlanta, Abraham has collected a total of 68.5 sacks, which ranks only behind Claude Humphrey on the team’s all-time list. Ledbetter indicates the Falcons freed up nearly $6 million in cap space by cutting Abraham.

It’s possible that the Falcons could re-sign any of the trio back to much cheaper deals. Although one could expect all three players will test the market in order to see where their statuses lie. Given his recent production, it would seem likely Abraham probably stands the best odds to sign a lucrative deal elsewhere. The Falcons have been linked to a number of potential free agents that could be replacements for either.

Rams running back Steven Jackson has been rumored to be on the Falcons radar. Pass rushers like former Colts end Dwight Freeney has also been connected to the Falcons.

Falcons FA Focus: Defensive End

February 16th, 2013 2 comments

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Can Paul Kruger succeed without Suggs?

The expectation is that the Falcons will be looking to upgrade their pass rush this off-season. John Abraham had a productive year, but did not quite blossom under Mike Nolan in the second half of the season when he basically worked exclusively as a stand-up edge rusher. Kroy Biermann was able to carve out an important role in the nickel package, with his versatility to rush the quarterback and drop into coverage to help the Falcons disguise their blitzes and coverages. Jonathan Massaquoi and Cliff Matthews are expected to carve out bigger roles. Massaquoi will have most of the attention, as he has good athleticism and burst to be an effective pass rusher off the edge and could push for time behind either starter.

There is talk that the Falcons could opt to part ways with Abraham who turns 35 in May. If so, then they will have to definitely replace him with another player that can anchor the pass rush. The Falcons would then like to replace something old with something new, more than likely leading them to find Abe’s replacement in the draft. But they could have potential options in free agency. But cutting Abraham seems unlikely given his status on the team as the best pass rusher. If anything, he might be asked to take a paycut and will be expected to serve primarily as a third down pass rusher this year in the nickel subpackage. That will mean that the Falcons may seek to find someone that can also play on run downs, rather than someone that is purely a pass rusher.

The first decision the Falcons will have to make at this position in regards to free agency is whether or not to re-sign Lawrence Sidbury. Sidbury has flashed nice pass rushing skills, and arguably is only behind Abe in terms of who are the best rushers on the team currently. But Sidbury is not great at defending the run and has a minimal impact on special teams, which has made it harder for the team to justify him being active on Sundays. The Falcons have so few good pass rushers, it’d be hard to let Sidbury walk. But it probably comes down to price tag. If he’s willing to accept a modest deal in line with backup ends, then the chances he returns to Atlanta are higher. In that case, we’d be talking something along the lines of deals for one or two seasons that average less than $3 million per year. But if he’s looking for something that matches or exceeds the roughly $9 million that Kroy Biermann got over three years, then he’s likely gone.

There are a number of good pass rushers that should be available this off-season, although not sure if there are any great ones. Several big names will jump to the top of the list. Dwight Freeney (Colts) and Osi Umenyiora (Giants) are both free agents. Neither player is the dominant pass rusher they once were, but still effective at getting after the quarterback with good speed. But both players, like Abraham, at this point in their careers probably need to be protected in terms of reps. Neither player seem to project well into the hybrid defense that Nolan employs. Freeney played in a similar scheme last year in Indianapolis, and didn’t take quite well to it. But Freeney’s spin move is still one of the most deadly moves in the league which means if the Falcons were going to opt for a more traditional 4-3 look, he’d be an option. Umenyiora essentially became a situational rusher for the Giants last year with Jason Pierre-Paul taking over the full-time starting spot at right end. He’s still quick speed rusher, but has never been known for his enthusiasm for playing the run, nor is he versed into dropping into coverage. If the Falcons try to do with him what they did with Abraham last year, it’s likely going to be a very rocky relationship.

Some names that might become available if their respective teams opt to cut them are Justin Tuck (Giants), Jason Babin (Jaguars), and Will Smith (Saints). Tuck isn’t the same player he was a few years ago. He still has something left in the tank, but he’s no longer an impact pass rusher that you can rely on making multiple plays per game. Babin could have been an option for the Falcons late in the year. He’s still a competent speed rusher, and unlike the others has experience playing in the 3-4 so he wouldn’t be a true square peg in Nolan’s scheme. But Babin isn’t known for his great locker room presence, which probably prompted the Falcons to pass on him initially. And he did little in Jacksonville to suggest that decision was a mistake. Smith has had good performances against the Falcons over the years going up against Sam Baker, but overall is just nothing special as a pass rusher. He too would probably be miscast in a Nolan scheme.

The problem with many of the names I’ve mentioned already is age. Even if the Falcons could get production from some of them, all are on the wrong side of 30, and would essentially be lateral moves in regards to replacing/complementing Abraham. If the Falcons are going to go after free agent pass rushers, it makes much more sense to target players with much more youth.

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Falcons Needs: Defensive End

February 6th, 2013 Comments off

Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

Falcons may have big plans for Jonathan Massaquoi in 2013

Normally I would have followed up my needs assessment of the offensive line with a look at several of the offensive linemen that the Falcons could target. But due to the sheer amount of linemen I need to watch on film, I’m just going to skip ahead to other position needs and get to those free agents at a later date. So now it’s time to start to take a look at the Falcons needs on defense, beginning with the defensive ends.

The Falcons have their starters for next year already on the roster in John Abraham and Kroy Biermann. Abraham did not take to his new role in Mike Nolan’s defense as cleanly as hoped, but it would be an shock if he’s not retained. He is the Falcons best pass rusher by far. Biermann proved to be a valuable commodity in the team’s nickel subpackage that for much of the year became predominantly their base package due to his versatility. But the Falcons certainly need to upgrade their pass rush, as it was rarely affected the outcomes of games in 2012.

Both starters are signed through 2014, but the team probably will want an heir apparent under fold before then to succeed Abraham. Thus the Falcons will be looking for developmental talent in the draft more than likely. The ideal situation will be finding a young pass rusher in the draft that can make Abraham more of a part-time player and split reps with both ends. Due to the versatility of Nolan’s scheme, that will likely be a player that is comfortable playing both with his hand on the ground and off it. Abraham primarily played as a stand-up end with his hand off the ground. Biermann did both, but as a pass rusher mainly put his hand on the ground. When he stood up, Nolan often asked him to drop into coverage. The ideal player for the Falcons is someone that can do all three: rush like a linebacker, rush like an end, and also be fairly effective dropping into coverage. The prototype for this type of player would be Von Miller. An obviously, there are very few Von Millers that exist in the world, so the Falcons will probably be looking to settle for “Von Miller Lite.” A big part of the Falcons plan moving forward may rest in hoping that Jonathan Massaquoi develops into this type of player. But if they come across another player early in the draft that also fits this description, they should definitely pull the trigger.

The Falcons may seek free agent options as there will be a few that could come in and become immediately valuable starters. But given the failure that was Ray Edwards, the Falcons may be a bit hesitant to dive headlong into the free agent waters.

Another decision the Falcons will have to make is whether to re-sign Lawrence Sidbury, who will be an unrestricted free agent. Sidbury has flashed potential as a pass rusher, but his struggles against the run and his inability to perform on special teams have caused him to be inactive more often than not in his four-year Falcon career. While the Falcons do have nice backup options in Cliff Matthews and Massaquoi eagerly waiting for extended reps in 2013, it may be hard for the Falcons to justify letting a good pass rusher like Sidbury walk given their issues in that area. It may all boil down to price tag. If Sidbury is willing to accept a short-term deal that commits a minimal amount of guaranteed money, then the Falcons probably will be willing to keep him. If not, then he’ll likely be able to find greener pastures elsewhere.

Given the likelihood that the Falcons will add a pass rusher early in the draft, it means that they may not ultimately miss Sidbury as five ends certainly should suffice. Especially if the Falcons continue to rotate defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux at left end as they often did in the latter half of 2012.

Takeaways from Championship Weekend

January 23rd, 2013 2 comments

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Ryan deserves a new deal.

I was late in posting the recap of the Falcons-49er game partially because of my attendance at the game didn’t really give me access to a computer afterwards. That was followed up by my car breaking down Monday on my return trip to North Carolina, which consumed all my energy then and the following day. All in all, it was not a great weekend for me.

But I really needed some time and energy to digest the loss. I was never distraught over it, but it was highly disappointing. While some may label the Falcons as chokers, I don’t see it that way. Did they blow the game? Yes. They had a lead, didn’t hold it, but they had an opportunity at the end of the game to win it. They just didn’t. I’m not going to sit here like many have done over the past 72 hours and try and find a scapegoat. The 49ers were widely considered to be a better team than the Falcons, and thus their win over the Falcons is not a surprise. The Broncos were 10-point favorites over the Ravens. Their loss was a chokejob especially given the outright impossibility of the now infamous Rahim Moore blown coverage. The Broncos played uncharacteristic in that game. Peyton Manning looked a little gun shy, Champ Bailey looked old, and they even got a pair of special teams touchdowns, which had never happened in a playoff game. Teams with a pair of special teams touchdowns since 1970 are 31-7 in games. That was a chokejob.

With the Falcons being the underdogs in the game, I don’t think they choked. They had ample opportunities to win the game, they did not.

It’s more disappointing because of what I wrote about in mid-November. This was likely the Falcons best chance to be in the Super Bowl in the foreseeable future. I still believe that. Matt Ryan played the best football we’ve seen him play. What’s interesting to me is that after posting that piece, I think we started to see a significant decline in Ryan’s game, and he sort of “reverted” back to his older self as opposed to playing at the MVP level he was for the first half of 2012. I think that reversion began with his 5-interception performance against the Cardinals. Now don’t get me wrong, a “reverted” Matt Ryan is still a Top 10 quarterback, so if you hear or see any Falcon fans complaining about Matt Ryan, then my suggestion is to punch them in the face. Matt Ryan may not be as good as Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, or Tom Brady, but anybody that is unsatisfied with his performance over the past five years or this past season is a lunatic. Anybody that is still questioning Ryan’s ability to win in January, should only look at those four quarterbacks and their recent playoff success (or lack thereof). Even the great ones play poorly in January, and Ryan certainly outperformed those elite guys this past January.

Ryan certainly deserves to get a big-time extension this off-season. And my expectation is that it will make him one of the five highest-paid quarterbacks in the league. That likely will exceed $16 million per year, and possibly approach $18 or $19 million per year, which would put him just behind Drew Brees ($20M/yr.) and Peyton Manning ($19.2M/yr.) (per Spotrac) as the highest paid QBs in the league. His guaranteed money will probably be in the $40 to $50 million range. It’s a very high premium, but when you think about the stability it potentially provides the Falcons for the next 5-7 years it is well worth it in my opinion. And it actually should help alleviate cap space for the Falcons as Ryan’s cap hit of $10 million in 2013 could potentially be cut in half if the Falcons structure the new deal appropriately.

The downside of such a deal means that the Falcons cap space will be limited in future years, and thus they will have to recommit to the draft which they have not done in recent years. They have traded a first or second round pick in each of the past three drafts. That can’t happen, as the Falcons won’t be able to spend as much on the open market in future years due to the high price that will be annually paid to Ryan. But that is not too much of a downside, because I think that’s exactly how Thomas Dimitroff likes it. It just means that the margin for error grows even smaller, and the Falcons can’t have any more Peria Jerry picks.

As for what the Falcons do in the off-season, nothing really has changed in terms of assessing how the year ended. We’ve known all year long that the Falcons need to become a more balanced offense by improving the ground attack. Michael Turner is likely gone. The Falcons should look to replace him with some fresh legs in the draft. The offensive line held up better down the stretch than I certainly expected after a fairly lackluster regular season. So the Falcons don’t need to make sweeping changes there. They should look to get a new right guard, as I still think Peter Konz is better suited to playing center. Maybe they can find someone in free agency, such as Buffalo’s Andy Levitre. They need to find a young replacement for Tony Gonzalez, which we’ve known for several years was a move that was inevitable.

Defensively, the Falcons need to upgrade their pass rush. Their inability to cover tight ends probably also means they need to look into getting a good coverage linebacker. Stephen Nicholas did an admirable job, but similar to Curtis Lofton he’s just not cut out to be an everydown player. But ever since Darren Sproles made Sean Weatherspoon look silly, we’ve known we needed upgrades there. And the Falcons will need to make a decision about the relative futures of Dunta Robinson and Brent Grimes. Grimes is a free agent and Robinson is due a high $8 million salary, $3 million of which becomes guaranteed if he’s on the team as of the fifth day of the new league year (approximiately March 16). Do the Falcons want to keep either one or go in a new direction with another young corner? I think Robert McClain had a good season, but I don’t think the Falcons should turn over a starting position to him just yet. Considering that Asante Samuel is also up there in age, I think McClain instead should be groomed as his long-term replacement. McClain is a restricted free agent following 2013, and dependent on his performance this upcoming season will determine if he’s in the long-term plans of the team. Again, given Samuel’s age, probably the smart strategy is try to get younger. The free agent market isn’t overly strong, so it probably behooves the Falcons to look for a corner on either the first or second day of the draft come April.

Of their own free agents, William Moore and Sam Baker are the two guys that they probably cannot afford to let walk. Alongside Spoon, Moore is the only impact player on the defensive side of the ball that is in the prime of his career. Baker has played well enough to earn a new contract. I’m not 100% sold that he won’t revert back to his subpar pre-2012 form, but I think his play certainly merits a new deal. And the Falcons can still develop Lamar Holmes as an insurance policy, and give him the much-needed time I believe he needs before he’s ready to be a starter.

Those are basically the needs the Falcons need to address this off-season. Will they be able to solve all of those problems this off-season? Probably not. I personally would prioritize upgrading the offensive line at right guard, but it would not surprise me if the Falcons instead opt to make additions at running back and tight end bigger priorities offensively given they could probably live with a combination of Konz, Hawley, and/or Mike Johnson at center and right guard next year. Defensively, their priority is going to be upgrading the pass rush which could be either by adding a young edge rusher as the heir apparent to John Abraham, or an interior presence to succeed Jonathan Babineaux. Babineaux and Corey Peters are both entering the final years of their contracts, while both Abraham and Biermann have two years left. So don’t be surprised if the Falcons are more interested in defensive tackles this spring in the pre-draft process than edge rushers.