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FalcFans Weekly – April 20, 2014

April 20th, 2014 Comments off

On this fine Easter Sunday, let’s recap some of the news and stories surrounding the Atlanta Falcons over the past week:

The subject of fifth-year options for 2011 first-round picks became a popular subject this week. The Falcons have yet to exercise their option on wide receiver Julio Jones, and have until May 3 to do so.

The fifth-year option will be equivalent to the top 10 salaries for his position group in 2015, which according to ESPN’s Vaughn McClure will give Jones a salary of $10.176 million next year. That money will be guaranteed, but for injury only.

It is very likely that the Falcons will exercise that option. The only reason not to is because they want to sign Jones to an extension before the start of the 2014 regular season. That certainly is a possibility, but unless progress on talks are pretty far along, it really doesn’t hurt the team to still exercise the option in the meantime.

Jones has a cap hit of roughly $5.15 million in 2014, which means that if the option is exercised, he will make around $15.3 million over the next two years, with roughly-two thirds of it guaranteed.

Comparatively, Mike Wallace signed a five-year contract worth $60 million last offseason, with a $27 million payout in his first two seasons, all of which was guaranteed (according to Spotrac.com). It’s certainly possible that Jones could receive substantially more money in his eventual extension from the Falcons. Through the first five games of the 2013 season before his season-ending foot injury, Jones was leading the league in receptions (41) and second in yards (580) behind only tight end Jimmy Graham (593).

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What if Falcons Focused on Offense in 2014 Draft?

April 17th, 2014 1 comment

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Greg Robinson (73) and Tre Mason could form the cornerstones of the Falcons 2014 draft class

What if the Atlanta Falcons decided to devote the bulk of their early-round 2014 NFL Draft picks to improving and solidifying the offense rather than the defense?

I should have prefaced that question by stating this is more of a thought exercise than any sort of formal proposal.

But one reason why the Falcons might decide to focus on offense because relative to the defense, it seems a lot closer to being elite.

The Falcons defense needs help at all three levels. While the pass rush is the most glaring issue on that side of the ball, the team also needs to shore up depth at several positions including linebacker and safety. And it’s not as if one pass-rusher is going fix the area, as any top-level pass rush has multiple playmakers that can consistently get pressure on the quarterback.

On offense the Falcons already made a big improvement to their offensive line by signing guard Jon Asamoah in free agency. They also added speedster Devin Hester to help at wide receiver and on special teams. But they could use more help.

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FalcFans Weekly – April 6, 2014

April 6th, 2014 Comments off
F. Medina-US PRESSWIRE

William Moore

Potential Atlanta Falcons newcomer and safety Rafael Bush appears very keen on joining the team. The Falcons signed Bush to an offer sheet this week as a restricted free agent, giving his former team, the New Orleans Saints until April 8 to match or let him become a Falcon. Bush is still friends with Falcons safety William Moore, from their days with the team back in 2010-11, and is the strongest candidate should he join the Falcons to replace Thomas DeCoud at free safety.

Blogging Dirty’s Jake Bennett has a nice write-up about how Bush’s addition can benefit the Falcons.

And speaking of Moore, he apparently now has a chip on his shoulder in regards to the contract the Saints gave Jairus Byrd this offseason.

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Vaughn McClure of ESPN has an excellent piece on how defensive tackle Paul Soliai’s contract came to be in Atlanta with a  candid discussion with his agent David Canter.

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McClure also shares insights into center Peter Konz, who has been working hard to improve this offseason. Konz has added some muscle and took to heart the final words of tight end Tony Gonzalez, when he addressed the team before the regular season finale against the Carolina Panthers.

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Breaking Down Joe Hawley and His Contract

March 14th, 2014 Comments off
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Joe Hawley

ESPN’s Vaughn McClure already posted the numbers of the new deal that center Joe Hawley signed with the Atlanta Falcons on Tuesday. However, I’m going to talk about what those numbers really mean from a roster standpoint.

Here’s a basic overview of what Hawley got from the Falcons:

Contract: two years, $6 million with an additional $500,000 available through incentives
Guarantees: $3 million ($2 million signing bonus and $1 million base salary in 2014)

Cap Hits:

2014: $2 million ($1 million base salary + $1 million bonus proration)
2015: $4 million ($3 million base salary + $1 million bonus proration)

Pay close attention to those cap hits, particularly Hawley’s 2015 number. That’s a fairly high number for a center. Comparing that to Todd McClure, who in the final year (2011) of his extension signed in 2006 counted just $2.3 million against the cap. It’s also worth noting that the 2015 cap hit for Hawley is currently tied with Jason Kelce for the 10th highest at the position. Kelce just signed a lucrative six-year contract extension.

The point is that Hawley won’t be allowed to make that sort of money as a backup or even an underwhelming starter. Hawley not only will need to win the starting center spot in any potential competition with Peter Konz this summer, but he’ll have to play at a level in 2014 where there is zero doubt that he deserves the same role in 2015.

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Takeaways from Last Week – March 10, 2014

March 10th, 2014 Comments off
Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Jon Asamoah

This weekend the NFL instituted it’s second “legal tampering” signing period, allowing free agents to begin negotiating with prospective teams before the official free agency period starts on Tuesday afternoon, March 11.

Already the Atlanta Falcons have been linked to a number of potential free agents, including guard Jon Asamoah, safety Mike Mitchell, and cornerback Champ Bailey.

But the Asamoah linkage seems strongest with multiple outside sources indicating that the Falcons interest in Asamoah is high.

While I like Asamoah quite a bit as a player, I’m not sure that he is a good fit in Atlanta. But apparently it seems like I’m in the minority in that regards.

As for Caplan’s assessment, I would have to respectfully disagree. Asamoah is a player that ideally fits in a zone-heavy blocking scheme because he’s very athletic, but not overly powerful.

The Falcons have incorporated more zone-blocking into their ground attack under offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter the past two years, but still primarily a man-blocking team.

The Falcons have made an effort to emphasize size with their line acquisitions in recent years, evidenced by additions like Terren Jones, Lamar Holmes, Phillipkeith Manley and Peter Konz the past few years since Koetter joined the team. If you’re trying to be an offense that features a lot of zone-blocking, targeting plus-sized linemen, many of whom weigh in excess of 330 pounds is largely counterintuitive.

And the lines that Mike Tice and Wade Harman coached in Chicago and Baltimore respectively emphasized size and/or man-blocking.

Could the team’s interest in Asamoah suggest a shift in their blocking? Perhaps, but more than likely the answer is no.

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Falcons Announce Extensions for McKay, Dimitroff, and Smith

January 27th, 2014 1 comment

The Atlanta Falcons today announced that they have reached contract extensions with the three principal figures within the organization: team president Rich McKay, general manager Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Mike Smith. McKay’s deal adds four years to his contract, while both Dimitroff and Smith add another year to their deals. McKay’s deal now runs through 2019 while the latter two are signed through 2015.

McKay last received an extension at the end of the 2009 season. He joined the Falcons in 2003 as the team’s general manager but was relieved of those duties following the team’s disastrous 2007 season. He was then replaced by Dimitroff, and assumed duties solely as team president. In those duties, he has been instrumental in the team’s attempts to build a new stadium, and his extension likely is indicative that owner Arthur Blank intends him to continue those duties through the construction of the stadium. Ground has yet to be broken on the stadium, which is projected to cost in excess of $1 billion, but it is expected to open in 2017.

Dimitroff and Smith appear joined at the hip, and Blank made comments earlier this month that indicate that expectations are for the team to get back on track and have a winning season and playoff berth after a disappointing 4-12 campaign by the Falcons in 2013. Both Dimitroff and Smith received contract extensions following the 2010 season, extending their deals through 2014.

Smith’s extension is pivotal as concerns over his lame duck status have been an underwritten subject this offseason.

Takeaways from Week 14

December 9th, 2013 Comments off

Gary Kubiak fired by Houston Texans

Despite solid play, Steven Jackson remains expendable

Another week gone by and another loss by the Atlanta Falcons.

I’ve grown numb to it over the course of this season, as the Falcons dropping another game to a very mediocre Green Bay Packers team on Sunday barely affected me.

After feeling some small elation a week ago following Atlanta’s win over the Buffalo Bills, it’s back to the same old bitterness of defeat this week. It’s a feeling and situation very reminiscent of past Falcon teams, especially the Mora Era teams that never could ever really seem to build sustaining momentum.

I could sit here and sound like a broken record, but I’ll continue to stress that we saw another week where the Falcons were conservative offensively with their willingness to take shots downfield, and we saw another week where the Falcons offense struggled to move the ball and score points.

It just can’t be a coincidence that the Falcons put forth one of their best offensive games of the season a week ago against the Bills in a game where Matt Ryan took more deep shots than he did in the previous three outings combined.

And this week, they revert back to that dink and dunk offense with Ryan only taking one deep shot in the first 52 minutes of the game. The Falcons offense subsequently generated just seven points up to then if you don’t count the pick-six and the gift touchdown off a turnover that required them to move only 13 yards before they reached pay dirt.

Someone might retort that the wintry conditions prevented the Falcons from being more aggressive, which I don’t quite buy. In the game between the Miami Dolphins and Pittsburgh Steelers, with similar conditions, both teams threw the deep four times in the first 52 minutes of that game.

I just think that maybe if the Falcons had taken two or three more shots downfield, they could have completed at least one of them, and that could have helped put at least three more points on the board, making the outcome potentially different.

But enough about the timidity of the offense, let’s move onto something a bit more interesting, which is the 2014 season.

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Takeaways from Week 8

October 28th, 2013 2 comments
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

How Much Change Will Arthur Blank Demand in 2014?

The big question last week was whether or not Atlanta’s win over Tampa Bay was because they caught a bad team on the verge of collapse or because the Falcons were finally showing signs of life after a disappointing start to their 2013 season.

Well, judging from their performance on Sunday in their 27-13 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, it certainly doesn’t appear to be the latter.

The Falcons season appears to be done as the team now falls to 2-5 and with upcoming matchups against better teams than Arizona in Carolina, Seattle, and New Orleans over the next four games, they will be hard-pressed to get back to .500. While anything is possible on any given Sunday, the Falcons would need so many things to go their way to pull victories over those teams. And very little has gone the Falcons way this year.

Time for the Youth Movement

We’ve reached the point in the year where the main focus is going to be evaluating much of the young talent on the roster. But thanks to the plethora of injuries the Falcons have suffered this year, they already are evaluating a lot of their younger players. Players like Jonathan Massaquoi, Joplo Bartu, Paul Worrilow, Desmond Trufant, and Robert Alford are now logging serious reps on defense. And the Falcons are going to get long looks at their young receivers such as Drew Davis, Darius Johnson, and Levine Toilolo going forward. The positive is that the experience gained by these players should make them better NFL players. Unfortunately for the Falcons, that likely won’t really pay off until 2014 and beyond.

But the Falcons will need to start mixing in other young players more. I’d like to see Ryan Schraeder get mixed into the lineups on game day. He shouldn’t supplant any starter, but he should be given a couple of series here and there. Let’s face it, Jeremy Trueblood is not a long-term option for the Falcons. As explained two weeks ago, due to price tag and draft status, the Falcons have a vested interest in Sam Baker and Lamar Holmes, respectively, seeing the field. But that is not the case with Trueblood even though he hasn’t been the weakest link among the Falcons starting five, he is the most expendable of the group. The Falcons should try to give Schraeder a couple of series in the coming weeks, and see how he handles going up against players like Charles Johnson, Chris Clemons, and Cameron Jordan as an important evaluation tool on his future.

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Takeaways from Week 6

October 14th, 2013 Comments off
(AP Photo/Dave Martin)

Mike Smith (AP Photo)

I’ve heard a lot made about Mike Smith’s poor game management decisions over the past week in light of the Falcons disappointing 30-28 loss to the New York Jets last Monday.

I personally believe it’s overblown, although I’ve found that few agree with me as people have already made up their minds that Smitty is poor at managing the Falcons on gameday even when there is compelling evidence staring them in the face that says otherwise.

Sure, you can criticize Smitty for not taking the points at the end of the first half against the Jets, deciding to go for the touchdown. But Smitty’s decision is more than defensible, and arguably the right call. At least if you believe in things like Advanced NFL Stats’ Win Probability metric. Using their calculator, the numbers suggest that as long as the Falcons believed there was a 33-percent chance of converting on 4th-and-1 from the Jets’ 1-yard line, they were right to roll the dice and go for it. The numbers suggested that the average NFL team should convert 68-percent of the time, more than double the allowable percentage and the Falcons had already converted on 50-percent of their 1-yard-to-go situations up that point in the game. Throw in the factor that the Falcons had been plagued by red zone inefficiency this season where they were unable to convert touchdowns, it made perfect sense why Smitty would elect to be aggressive in that scenario rather than settle for three points (again). Complaining about Smitty being overly aggressive is really a matter of philosophy, not science. Really no different than the belief that an offensive tackle that stands 6’3″ versus 6’5″ is incapable of being successful in the NFL.

And I would find it troubling if someone had unkind words to say about Smitty’s decision to go for it on 4th-and-1 at the Jets’ 18-yard line in the fourth quarter down six points with about four minutes to go in the game. Again using ANS’ 4th down calculator, had the Falcons failed on that attempt, they would have still increased their chances of winning than settling for three points. Which makes perfect sense when you consider a turnover on downs would have given the Jets the ball at the 18 instead of the likely scenario that would have given them the ball at the 20 after a field goal and touchback on the kickoff. Regardless the same scenario comes about where in order for the Falcons to get another chance to take the lead (or tie it post-field goal), the Falcons need a defensive stop. A touchdown is much better than a field goal, and the Falcons aren’t going to have a better chance to score a touchdown than they had deep in Jets’ territory at that point. Let’s say they kick the field goal, kick off to the Jets and get a three-and-out and force a 40-yard punt, you’re taking over around your own 30-yard line likely with the two-minute warning nearing. According to ANS, the chances you make a field goal and tying the game on a drive starting at your own 30 are about 11-percent, while you wind up with a 49-percent chance of scoring a touchdown if you convert on fourth down at their 17-yard line.

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Why Trading for Josh Gordon Is a Smart Move for the Atlanta Falcons

October 9th, 2013 2 comments
Ron Schwane-USA TODAY Sports

Josh Gordon

The Falcons are in a dire predicament in light of the news that Julio Jones is likely out for the season. Their offense is now without a No. 1 receiver, at least until Roddy White and his ankle and hamstring are fully healed. In the meantime the Falcons will have to be reliant on Tony Gonzalez to carry the offense from the tight end position. Not too dissimilar from the days under Michael Vick when Alge Crumpler was the de facto top option in the Falcons passing offense.

Can the team win that way? Perhaps, but it will be extremely difficult. In those days, the Falcons were able to get away with that style of play because it was buoyed by having one of the league’s premier rushing attack. Currently, the Falcons rank 25th in rushing yards per game and 17th in yards per carry. Much closer to average than back in 2004-06 where they led the league in both categories in each of those seasons.

Crumpler was also a much more effective vertical threat than Gonzalez currently is. In 69 games played with the Falcons thus far, Gonzalez has 23 receptions of 20 or more yards. In his final 62 games in a Falcon uniform, Crumpler had 50. That ability to provide big plays makes a dramatic difference in whether or not a receiver can carry an offense.

Even with the healthy returns of Roddy White and Steven Jackson, the best-case scenario for the Falcons offense over the remainder of the 2013 season will be reminiscent of the 2010 Falcons offense. It’s certainly possible, but given the state of the Falcons offensive line, that is more wishful thinking than anything. That 2010 rushing attack was dominant against some opposing fronts (4 games of 150+ rushing yards that season), but effective against most (12 games of 85+ yards). The Falcons have eclipsed 85 yards only twice this year: in the season opener against the New Orleans Saints, thanks largely to a 50-yard run by ackson, and against the Miami Dolphins. A healthier Jackson isn’t going to suddenly morph Garrett Reynolds and Jeremy Trueblood into Harvey Dahl and Tyson Clabo in their primes.

If the Falcons have any chance of turning their season around and making a late push towards a wild card slot, they need to rely on the arm of Matt Ryan. But that arm will be limited if the Falcons do not have a vertical threat in the offense that can affect how opponents play the Falcons. Julio Jones’ mere presence of the field makes defenses play the Falcons differently. They have to respect the deep ball on all plays because of Jones. Jones forced defenses to bracket him with safety help over the top, because he is capable of running past every corner in the NFL.

In recent weeks, NFL teams have devised a new way of playing the Falcons which is by doubling Gonzalez as well. Coupled with the bracketing of Jones, defenses are forcing a beat up White, Harry Douglas, and the rest of the Falcons unproven receivers to beat them. And it clearly has worked against the Falcons. Without Jones to help keep defenses honest, it will only get worse.

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