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Baker re-signs with Falcons for six years

March 13th, 2013 Comments off

The Falcons announced the signing of offensive tackle Sam Baker to a six-year contract after an initial report broken by FOX Sports’ Alex Marvez late Tuesday night. Terms of Bakers’ deal were undisclosed.

It will be interesting to see where Baker’s price tag compares with recently signed free agent tackles in Jermon Bushrod, who struck a five-year, $36 million deal with the Chicago Bears early on Tuesday, and William Beatty, who re-upped with the New York Giants two weeks ago on a five-year deal worth close to $39 million.

Baker was the second player taken by new GM Thomas Dimitroff in the 2008 draft after the selection of Matt Ryan with the team’s top pick. The team moved up into the latter part of the first round to select Baker, when at the time the team had a hole at left tackle. Baker’s first season was plagued by injuries, as he platooned with Todd Weiner throughout the year. He finished the year with 5 starts in 8 total appearances. He started 14 games in 2009, once again being limited by an ankle injury midway through the season. He started all 16 games in 2010, following that up with 12 starts in 2011. After a subpar ’11 season, Baker started all 16 games in 2012 and had his best year earning his new deal.

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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 11)

March 11th, 2013 Comments off
Robert Mayer-US PRESSWIRE

Health of Darrelle Revis’s knee is important to his trade value

Last week ended well for the Falcons as they were able to kick off the legal tampering period by re-signing two free agents. One of which, in William Moore, was their biggest priority of the off-season in terms of keeping.

Things also took a positive spin on Sunday where reports indicated that Tony Gonzalez is set to return. And while Moore was their biggest priority re-signing, Gonzalez is likely the biggest difference maker they could add or retain. I honestly struggle to see how the Falcons will contend for a title with Gonzalez’s presence in the offense. His presence on the inside and virtually unstoppability on third down work in perfect conjunction with the playmaking abilities of Julio Jones and Roddy White on the outside. Remove Gonzalez from the equation, and while the Falcons would still be difficult to defend, it’s not an insurmountable feat.

Besides Gonzalez, the thing that could potentially impact the Falcons’ offense the most is improving their running game. And that would likely take a really good running back to do that given the likelihood that there won’t be major changes to the offensive line in 2013. And given the current rumors that the Falcons might be pursuing Steven Jackson as their new starter doesn’t particularly excite me in regards to any major improvements the ground attack could make this year.

Now I could question the reliability of these so-called “sources close to Gonzalez,” but given these sources are saying things that fans like myself want to hear, I won’t.

Hopefully this week the Falcons will get even more good news since Sam Baker and Brent Grimes could be the next dominoes to fall.

With all the talk about Darrelle Revis being traded from the New York Jets, some of the talk has centered around his injury. Revis tore his ACL early last season, and the questions surrounding that injury have been cited by many experts as a major hurdle to any trade. Teams won’t be willing to give up the compensation likely to be required (at least one first round pick) without being 100% certain that the knee is healthy. Now obviously, there are ways around that. Before any trade can be finalized, the player must pass a physical. And if a team acquired Revis and had misgivings about his rehab, they could fail him and recoup their traded assets. But then throw in the probability that Revis will demand to be one of if not the highest paid defender in the league will deter a lot of folks. That’s a lot of money to spend on a corner, even one as good as Revis.

It’s why I’m going to ape what many of the talking heads are saying in that I don’t believe Revis will be traded between now and the draft in late April. There will be constant talk of it; rumors about teams contacting the Jets and where Revis’s best fits may lie. But I believe they will be nothing more than rumors and media-induced hype. The Jets are in New York after all, and there’s got to be something to talk about with them for the next six months. Last spring they had Tebow, this year it will be a Revis trade.

I think once we get into training camp, that’s when potential Revis trade talks might pick up in earnest. If he shows himself to be healthy during the preseason, and then gets off to a good start in September, then I think you’ll start to hear trade speculation heat up. A contender that has some struggles in coverage may be tempted to give up that first round pick for Revis at that point as a midseason boost to get over the hump. I do believe at that point, the Falcons could become a legitimate contender. But a lot of that will depend on the status of Brent Grimes, and the play of any other corners on the Falcons roster.

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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 FA Focus: Offensive Tackle

February 8th, 2013 Comments off
Kyle Terada-US PRESSWIRE

William Beatty

A few days ago, I broke down the Falcons needs both at offensive tackle as well as along with center and guard. Well after some time to really dive deep into some tape via Game Rewind, I was able to look at many of the potential free agents that could be available this off-season for the team to sign.

The Falcons potentially have needs at both areas, principally at left tackle and at right guard. Sam Baker is a free agent, and as mentioned in that previous post he will likely be their first priority to re-sign rather than trying to add a replacement on the open market.

There certainly are better left tackles that could become free agents than Sam Baker. Jake Long (Dolphins), Ryan Clady (Broncos), and Branden Albert (Chiefs) headline that group. Clady almost certainly will be slapped with a franchise tag, so there really is no point discussing him. But the other two, Long and Albert, the possibility that they hit the open market is a little higher. Both probably will be tagged given the loads of cap space that each team is projected to have. But if not, then both present significant upgrades to Baker if the Falcons are willing to spend. The expectation is that both players will seek new deals that approach the monster eight-year, $92 million deal that Joe Thomas signed in the summer of 2011. Up until this most recent year, Long was considered along with Thomas as the top left tackle in the game. But he’s coming off a down year in Miami. Injuries have accumulated over the past few years with Long, and it started to really affect his game as well as a shift in blocking scheme under head coach Joe Philbin. Long is still a premier tackle due to his quick feet, polished technique and strength, but one wonders if the injuries will limit the remainder of his NFL career. He was limited in 2010 by a left knee injury and had shoulder surgery at the end of the year but still managed to play at a Pro Bowl level that year despite his injury issues. He was limited at the start of the 2011 with another left knee injury, and then had to deal with lower back problems late in the year. His season ended with him on the IR after suffering a torn biceps in December. He was once again limited with a minor MCL sprain in his right knee at the start of the 2012 season, and once again his season was cut short prematurely with a late-season triceps tear. Essentially, it’s going to be a tough decision for a team to be willing to commit huge dollars to a player that hasn’t made it through a season healthy in over three years. Why Long is better than Baker is because he’s much quicker and more adept in pass protection, and is a much more physical player as a run blocker. But I did notice that Long can get beat by speed rushers, because I believe he sets up too deep in the pocket which allows defenders to be able to build speed and momentum too easily. He also did not play with great power this past year, which could be directly related to all of the injuries that have accumulated on his arms and shoulders in recent years. But he’s still very athletic, and would be an excellent fit for the Falcons on the left side with their ample use of screens and a renewed emphasis on the ground attack. Late in the season, Miami moved right tackle Jonathan Martin to left tackle, and while he was capable he’s a huge downgrade from Long. But given Long’s injury history and his huge price tag, the Dolphin may opt to pass on him.

Albert is also dealing with injury concerns of his own, as his season was ended prematurely due to back problems. Back issues are notorious with offensive linemen, as they have limited the careers of players like Marcus McNeill and Jared Gaither in recent years. So it’s going to take team doctors signing off on him for another team to merit paying him a big contract. Albert is a capable run blocker that is athletic with good feet. He’s not a dominant player, but he certainly would make a significant upgrade for the Falcons in terms of his ability to get push off the left side. The Chiefs have the No. 1 pick, and many believe that the top prospect in this year’s draft is tackle Luke Joeckel out of Texas A&M. Joeckel’s contract will be considerably less than what Albert would make on the open market, so there remains questions on whether the Chiefs will left him walk.

Other left tackle prospects include Will Beatty (Giants), Jermon Bushrod (Saints), and Bryant McKinnie (Ravens). None are considerably better players than Baker and thus would be primarily a lateral move for the Falcons if signed. Beatty is coming off his best season as a Giant, after three seasons of flashing potential but never putting together a full year. He’s both a competent run blocker and pass protector, but he’s not a player that wows you. Bushrod has been an effective pass protector at times over the years in New Orleans, as he’s a gifted athlete. But he’s inconsistent, and tends to struggle when facing top-end pass rushers. McKinnie is age 33 and played well down the stretch for the Raven during their Super Bowl run, but sat out of most of the season due to questions about his conditioning during the summer and some nagging injuries. McKinnie is infamous for his less than stellar work ethic dating back to his days in Minnesota as well as his actions of the “Love Boat,” which I probably won’t go over well with the brass in Atlanta.

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Don’t Expect a Falcon Off-season Spending Spree

February 5th, 2013 1 comment
Josh D. Weiss-US PRESSWIRE

Is John Abraham in danger of being cut?

D. Orlando Ledbetter of the AJC posted the upcoming 2013 salaries for every player under contract, confirming his earlier report that the Falcons salary cap space will be tight. The Falcons are expected to be slightly less than $2 million under next year’s projected $120.6 million salary cap. The Falcons have about $120.2 million collectively due to the top 51 players on their off-season roster, and get to carry over an addition $1.3 million from last season to squeeze in at around $1.7 million under the projected 2013 salary cap.

The salary cap in 2012 was in fact $120.6 million, but there is no expectation for a significant increase for 2013. The Falcons will need to clear some cap space in order to tender a pair of restricted free agents in tight end Michael Palmer and running back Antone Smith. Based on the projected restricted free agent tenders for this year, the Falcons will have to commit to each a minimum tender of $1.323 million if they intend to keep either. That represents the original round tender. Since both Palmer and Smith were undrafted rookies, tendering them at that level would mean that the Falcons would receive no compensation if they were to sign offers with other teams. The Falcons could then have the option of tendering the pair at the second round level, worth $2.023 million. That way, the Falcons would receive a second round pick if either free agent was to sign elsewhere. Cornerback Robert McClain is not a restricted free agent, as Ledbetter’s contract information confirms he is under contract for 2013.

Given the current projections, the Falcons only have enough cap space to tender one of the two. In order to clear more space, the Falcons could renegotiate the contracts of several veteran players, and possibly release a few.

One candidate for release is running back Michael Turner, who per Ledbetter, would create $4.4 million in cap space if released. Defensive end John Abraham is also a potential candidate for release, who Ledbetter indicates could free up $6 million in next year’s cap space. Scott Carasik of Bleacher Report indicates that the Falcons could also save at least $6 million against the 2013 by releasing cornerback Dunta Robinson.

The Falcons are also expected to sign Matt Ryan to a long-term extension this off-season. Ryan carries the team’s biggest cap hit of 2013 at $12 million. That number could reduced as part of a lower first-year salary on a new multi-year deal. Last year, the five-year $100 million contract signed by New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees was able to lower his 2012 cap hit by roughly $6 million. Brees and Ryan are represented by the same agent, Tom Condon.

Other highly-paid veterans that might be asked to re-work their deals are wide receiver Roddy White ($9.125 million 2013 cap hit); guard Justin Blalock ($7.66 million); tackle Tyson Clabo ($6.05 million); cornerback Asante Samuel ($5.7 million); defensive tackles Jonathan Babineaux ($5.2 million) and Peria Jerry ($2.01 million); linebacker Stephen Nicholas ($3.5 million); and kicker Matt Bryant ($2.9625 million).

While these moves could potentially create a significant amount of space for the Falcons, much of that opened space will be used to retain the team’s own free agents. The Falcons are expected to re-sign offensive tackle Sam Baker to a long-term deal, and also will be looking to keep safety William Moore. The team may be forced to place the franchise tag on Moore if they cannot work out a long-term deal before the end of February. The franchise tender for safeties is expected to be around $6.8 million. Based off contracts signed by free agent tackles Eric Winston, Demetress Bell, and Jared Gaither last spring, a multi-year contract with Baker could average between $5 and $7 million annually. Per contract information provided by Spotrac.com, their first-year cap hits for that trio’s respective deals averaged about $3 million.

Factoring in tenders for Palmer and Smith, it suggests that the Falcons will need to create roughly $12 million in cap space just to retain those four free agents. Other players that become unrestricted free agents this off-season include: tight end Tony Gonzalez, cornerback Brent Grimes, center Todd McClure, fullback Mike Cox, cornerback Chris Owens, defensive tackle Vance Walker, offensive tackle Will Svitek, guard Garrett Reynolds, quarterback Luke McCown, linebacker Mike Peterson, and defensive Lawrence Sidbury.

Falcons Needs: Offensive Tackle

February 5th, 2013 Comments off

The big question here is going to revolve around Sam Baker and whether or not the free agent left tackle will be back in Atlanta in 2013.

Baker had a solid 2012 season, good enough to merit the team bringing him back. But it will likely only come at the right price. The team drafted Lamar Holmes in the third round of last year’s draft for a reason, mainly as insurance in case Baker struggled in 2012. Will Svitek is also a free agent and coming off his triceps injury won’t command large dollars on the open market. If Baker’s camp wants too much money, then the Falcons will have no problems turning to either Holmes and/or Svitek at the position.

But it’s probably not going to come to that. The Falcons brass showed a lot of loyalty and faith in Baker when many others did not (i.e. most of the fan base including myself), and it’s likely he’ll be amenable to whatever terms the Falcons come to. Atlanta won’t lowball him by any means, but the market could possibly dictate him making quite a bit of money if he shops himself around similar to Kevin Shaffer when he left Atlanta in 2006. While there are a number of high profile free agents that could hit the market such as Jake Long, Branden Albert, and Ryan Clady, most if not all of those guys will likely receive the franchise tag. That could potentially leave Baker among the better candidates of a diminished group of free agents, thus driving up his price tag.

Svitek won’t be a slam dunk to return as he could rejoin former Falcons offensive line coach Paul Boudreau in St. Louis, potentially earning an opportunity to start which is something he won’t get in Atlanta if Baker is re-signed. But at the end of the day, the Falcons will likely re-sign one of the pair of free agents.

If not, then Holmes becomes the likeliest candidate to open 2013 as the team’s starting left tackle. And more than likely the team will look for an insurance policy via free agency that can add depth and compete there. Tyson Clabo is locked in at right tackle, and Mike Johnson represents a capable reserve behind him, but is probably a more natural guard than tackle. That’s not the type of guy you want starting sixteen games at left tackle.

It’s doubtful the Falcons seek draft options come April due to the presence of Holmes. It would be possible early if a good tackle prospect were to fall in Round 1, but that rarely happens. They could add a backup later in the draft, but that would likely only happen if Baker walks and the team wants to move Johnson back to guard.

Moneyball 2012 – Week 20 Review

January 24th, 2013 Comments off

The Falcons offense got off to a roaring start, making the 49ers defense look silly. Frankly, the 49ers never really stopped them. Nearly all of the Falcons shortcomings and failures on offense were self-inflicted wounds.

They just didn’t take advantage of their opportunities in the second half, turning the ball over twice in 49er territory after driving down the field and were likely going to get some points.

Matt Ryan played very well. Besides his fumble on the botched snap, there is really no room to complain. He earned $19 of his total earnings in the first half. His interception was due to Roddy slipping, not because of a poor throw or read. Julio Jones went off in this game, and it’s interesting because you could tell that Jones was a little shaken up on the second series. He still managed to catch 7 more passes for 109 yards and another touchdown after his injury. The 49ers really did not have an answer for the Falcons weapons.

The offensive line did a good job protecting Ryan. Aldon Smith was able to beat Baker a couple of times, but giving up just 1 pressure and 1 hurry represents a solid performance for Baker. Their run blocking was a little mixed, but mostly it was solid relative to their performances for much of the year. I thought McClure had a good game, and if it’s his final game as a Falcon and it probably will be, then I’m glad he went out well.

Overall, a very good offensive performance from the Falcons despite the fact that they were shut out in the second half.

PLAYER
PASS
RUSH
REC
BLK
SPEC
PEN
TOTALS
Matt Ryan$24$0$0$0$0-$1$23.00
Julio Jones$0$0$15$0$0$0$15.00
Tony Gonzalez$0$0$6$0.5$0$0$6.50
Roddy White$0$0$6$0$0$0$6.00
Jacquizz Rodgers$0$5-$1$0$1$0$5.00
Tyson Clabo$0$0$0$4$0$0$4.00
Michael Turner$0$4$0$0$0$0$4.00
Todd McClure$0$0$0$3$0$0$3.00
Justin Blalock$0$0$0$2$0$0$2.00
Harry Douglas$0$0$2$0$0$0$2.00
Peter Konz$0$0$0$2$0$0$2.00
Jason Snelling$0$2$0$0$0$0$2.00
Mike Cox$0$0$0$0.5$0$0$0.50
Sam Baker$0$0$0$0$0$0$0.00

Defensively, the Falcons did not play well. They looked very good in the first quarter, but after that they really did nothing to stop the 49ers offense. You could see the disparity between a really dominant run blocking line for the 49ers and the Falcons own offensive line. Up front, our D-linemen were getting pushed around quite a bit, and guys were able to get downfield with ease and get after all three linebackers.

There were really no standout performances. I thought Babineaux had a decent game, and Corey Peters also did some very good things early on. Besides that, I can’t say anybody else had a good game. Biermann and Abraham were invisible for the most part. Linebackers had a tough day. Both Dent and Spoon struggled all game taking on and getting off blocks. Many of Nicholas troubles came in coverage, and he may have had his worst game as a Falcon.

Vernon Davis ran amok through the Falcons secondary, and continued to the Falcons problems covering tight ends. Well at least they were consistent right? But they weren’t faring much better against Crabtree and Moss. It did seem like the Falcons blew some coverages because they were overly concerned with the read-option, focusing on Kaepernick and losing sight of their assignments in coverage and against the run.

Overall, no pressure and poor run defense is not a good recipe for success.

PLAYER
DEF
SPEC
PEN
TOTALS
Matt Bosher$0$3$0$3.00
William Moore$1$0$0$1.00
Corey Peters$1$0$0$1.00
Vance Walker$1$0$0$1.00
Matt Bryant$0$1$0$1.00
Kroy Biermann$0$0$0$0.00
Thomas DeCoud$0$0$0$0.00
Akeem Dent$0$0$0$0.00
Dunta Robinson$0$0$0$0.00
Asante Samuel$0$0$0$0.00
John Abraham-$1$0$0-$1.00
Robert McClain-$1$0$0-$1.00
Sean Weatherspoon-$1$0$0-$1.00
Jonathan Babineaux-$2$0$0-$2.00
Cliff Matthews-$1$0-$2-$3.00
Stephen Nicholas-$4$0-$2-$6.00

Advanced Stats from Week 20:

Poor Throws (3): Ryan
Drops (1): Rodgers
Key Blocks (4): Clabo (2), McClure (1), Cox (0.5), Gonzalez (0.5)
Sacks Allowed (0)
Missed Blocks (1): Baker
Pressures Allowed (1): Baker

Tackles For Loss (2): Dent, Walker
QB Sacks (1): Peters
QB Pressures (0)
QB Hits (0)
Passes Defended (3): DeCoud, Moore, Peters
Blown Coverages (7): Nicholas (2), DeCoud (1), McClain (1), Moore (1), Robinson (1), Weatherspoon (1)
Missed Tackles (3): Babineaux, DeCoud, Nicholas
Key Blocked (5): Abraham, Dent, Matthews, Nicholas, Peters

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.

Offensive Line to Face Scrutiny vs. 49ers

January 19th, 2013 Comments off
Christopher Hanewinckel-US PRESSWIRE

The lights will be upon Sam Baker Sunday.

One of the big question marks about Sunday’s matchup against the San Francisco 49ers is the Falcons offensive line. A year ago, they got dominated in an embarrassing playoff loss to the New York Giants. That led to the dismissal of offensive line coach Paul Boudreau, who was replaced by former Fresno State head coach Pat Hill. After such an embarrassing finish, one expected a major shakeup to the offensive line in the off-season. The Falcons did use their two top picks on offensive linemen, drafting Peter Konz and Lamar Holmes in the second and third rounds. Also, one of their few moves in free agency was to pick up a veteran in Vince Manuwai. But by the time the 2012 season began, Manuwai had been bounced and the position battles involving Konz and Holmes resolved with incumbents Garrett Reynolds and Sam Baker, respectively, retaining their jobs. The Falcons started the same five in 2012 that finished 2011 poorly. It was an interesting statement by the team, suggesting that the major issue up front wasn’t a lack of talent, but an issue of coaching.

And now the Falcons are on the verge to face their biggest challenge of the season, the vaunted 49ers front seven. It was a dominant unit in 2011, and spearheaded their run to the NFC Championship behind Pro Bowl seasons from Justin Smith and Patrick Willis. That group’s reputation and continued production led to Aldon Smith and Navorro Bowman sharing those same honors this season. If the Falcons have their way, all four players will be appearing in next Sunday’s Pro Bowl. But that will likely require the offensive line to do their job this Sunday afternoon.

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