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Quizz Gets Golden Opportunity From Jackson’s Injury

September 26th, 2013 Comments off
Josh D. Weiss-USA TODAY Sports

Jacquizz Rodgers

Jacquizz Rodgers has a golden opportunity due to a report this week that running back Steven Jackson may miss nearly a month due to his hamstring injury.

Jackson will miss his second consecutive game this week, matching his total number of missed games from the past four seasons. Jackson was noted for his durability and longevity over the near-decade he spent playing for the St. Louis Rams before joining the Falcons this off-season. But now he may be sidelined for the time being, opening the door for his backups in Rodgers and Jason Snelling.

Earlier this summer, I discussed the potential outlook for Rodgers this season as he tried to deal with Jackson’s added presence on the team. Then, it did not look promising with the Falcons likely centering their offense around Jackson. That looked to be the case in the team’s season-opening loss to the Saints as Jackson received 11 carries and Rodgers only saw a pair of them. But once Jackson was injured after scoring on Falcons opening drive the following week against his former team, the Falcons turned to Quizz. He did not make the most of that opportunity, gaining a paltry 17 yards on 11 carries. But he bounced back last week against the Dolphins, with an impressive 86 yards on 18 carries.

What was so impressive about was how consistent Rodgers was, something that has not been a hallmark of his short career in a Falcons uniform. That was displayed by his success rate on the ground. Success rate basically categorizes runs as a success or failure based on down and distance. Typically, gained 45-percent of the needed yardage on first down, 60-percent on second down, and converting for a first down regardless of distance on third and fourth down are considered successful runs.

For Rodgers, 12 of his 18 runs proved to be success, for a very impressive 67-percent. That helps keep the Falcons offense on schedule with manageable third downs. Rodgers was successful on 5 of his 11 first down runs but more impressively was perfect on all six of his second down runs and lone third down attempt. The Falcons have rarely seen that sort of rushing success in recent seasons, particularly on first down.

They will hope it continues in the coming weeks with Jackson absent. It will obviously be critical for the Falcons short-term success as they try to get out of their 1-2 rut. But it will also affect Rodgers’ long-term future as his contract will be up sooner rather than later following the 2014 season. Thus far in his short career his production hasn’t been great, with 182 attempts and 669 yards for a subpar 3.7 yards per carry. His value has mainly been in the passing game with 81 catches and where his 628 receiving yards nearly match his rushing total.

While Rodgers will continue to share the load with teammate Jason Snelling, it is really the former that is in prime position to show his value as a runner, not just as a third down specialist. Snelling turns 30 this December and while his contract is also up at the end of the 2014 season, his age will likely prevent him from receiving anything beyond a one or two-year deal from the Falcons. Rodgers will have just turned 25 by the time he hits free agency in March 2015, which opens the possibility for a long-term deal. Potentially one that pays him a salary compatible with a starting running back. That is a ways off, but it starts this season with how well Rodgers can fill the shoes of Jackson in the coming weeks. If he continues to be a productive back that can be successful while getting 15-20 carries per game, then the Falcons may begin to see him as more than just a role player and third down specialist. He may be able to sneak his way into their sights as a potential option to replace Jackson as the starting tailback a year or two down the line when the veteran is ready to hang up his cleats.

Takeaways from Last Week – September 2

September 2nd, 2013 Comments off

ICON SMI

Peria Jerry

The Falcons finalized their roster over the weekend and there were a few interesting moves. If you’ve ready any of my lengthy reaction reviews following the Falcons preseason games, you probably know my opinion on many of the players that made the roster. I want to devote this week’s column to discussing many of the players that were small surprises.

For the record, I would say that I was off on eight players making the roster when I did my initial prediction at the start of training camp. Forty-five out of fifty-three ain’t bad at all. Just to recap, the players I wrongly projected to make the team were: I had Sean Renfree as the third-string quarterback, instead the Falcons kept Josh Vaughan as their fifth tailback. Renfree went on injured reserve, as it’s obviously impossible to predict injuries. Marcus Jackson was on my 53-man roster instead of Kevin Cone as the fifth wide receiver. I picked Phillipkeith Manley as the backup guard, instead it was Harland Gunn. Manley was added to the practice squad. Micanor Regis was my pick for backup defensive lineman, but the Falcons instead opted to keep Peria Jerry. Pat Schiller and Brian Banks were my picks for the team’s backup linebackers, but Joplo Bartu and Paul Worrilow made it instead. Charles Mitchell and Terrence Johnson were the backup defensive backs, instead Shann Schillinger and Dominique Franks preempted them. Yes, I did pick Ryan Schraeder to make the roster, along with all the teams’ rookie draft picks.

This isn’t meant to toot my own horn (well, maybe just a little) but just as a vector to discuss some of the decisions the Falcons made with their roster. I should preface this by saying that I’m often critical of how the Falcons have managed their roster over the years. I think one of the larger deficiencies of this team is their struggles to develop players, especially undrafted players and guys at the back-end of their roster. When the Falcons kept Brett Romberg as a third center on their roster in 2011, it made little sense to me. What team needs three centers? Todd McClure and Joe Hawley were already on the team and had both proven they could ably play the spot. That same year the Falcons picked up Kirk Chambers at midseason to replace an injured Mike Johnson on the roster. But despite Joe Hawley’s struggles at guard that year, the Falcons never once considered plugging in Chambers there. In my eyes that’s a poor use of a roster spot. Instead the Falcons could have been smart to replace him with a player that they could develop for next year such as Shawn Andrews, Vince Manuwai, or  Leonard Davis. Essentially if a player is not contributing in some capacity by being active every Sunday, or isn’t a player that the team wants to develop for its long-term future, then that player is basically taking up unnecessary space. That might be overly harsh, but I always feel like there is room for improvement as you could replace that players’ spot on the team with someone who does fulfill those requirements.

Take for instance a player like Stansly Maponga, who made the roster as the sixth defensive end, but in truth because the Falcons will use a variety of 3-4 and 4-3 looks this year, he’s essentially eighth on the depth chart. Osi Umenyiora, Kroy Biermann, and Jonathan Massaquoi will earn the majority of the reps at end in the Falcons 4-3 looks. But the Falcons also can play Malliciah Goodman and Cliff Matthews there if need be. And in their 3-4 looks, alongside Goodman and Matthews, Peria Jerry and Jonathan Babineaux will get reps at end. And they will get those reps at times when the Falcons employ a four-man front if the preseason is any indicator as to what will happen in the regular season. So the odds are very low that Maponga will play any snaps this year unless the Falcons are hit with several injuries up front. Maponga thus will probably be inactive every Sunday because I don’t think the Falcons consider him to be a highly valuable special teams player either. So the Falcons likely won’t get any value out of him on game days this year. But in the case of Maponga there is a clear long-term value to developing him. I personally didn’t think Maponga was that impressive this year, enough that I thought the Falcons could risk exposing him to waivers with the intent of putting him on the practice squad. The Falcons obviously felt differently, and understandably so because Maponga does have developmental potential. He may not have had a great rookie summer, but he had injury concerns as somewhat an excuse, and he could still be primed to take a huge leap from Year 1 to Year 2, as many players do. Lawrence Sidbury did when he was here in Atlanta, and Maponga reminds me a lot of Sidbury, at least as an NFL prospect.

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Ryan Has His Money, Now He Needs More Help

July 27th, 2013 Comments off
Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

Matt Ryan

Matt Ryan got paid, and deservedly so. While he may not have the accomplishments that put him on par with the other most highly-paid quarterbacks in the league, it certainly doesn’t make him any less deserving of being in that peer group.

And by accomplishments, we’re talking about playoff wins and Super Bowls.

Now that Ryan is being paid handsomely for his services with the Falcons, more scrutiny is going to come towards him even if he doesn’t feel it. Rightly or wrongly, quarterbacks are largely judged by how many playoff wins and Super Bowl rings they have.

I personally believe those things often get overrated when assessing individual quarterbacks. Postseason success is largely billed as reflective of quarterbacks, but it is in fact reflective of the entire team that he plays on. Teams win games, not necessarily quarterbacks. While quarterbacks are the most important aspect of a team, football is not like basketball where you can be a championship contender by having one transcendent player. Just look at Drew Brees in New Orleans, who by the way had zero playoff wins in his first five seasons (one less than Ryan). Brees has helmed the Saints for seven seasons, and three of those seasons the Saints did not finish with a record above .500. Their lack of success in those seasons was largely because of their poor defensive play which ranked among the ten worst teams in the league in all three seasons. Brees will ultimately be enshrined in Canton for his tenure with the Saints, but it’s clear that even a quarterback of his caliber can’t do it all on his own.

And that’s the point I’m getting to with Ryan. While the Falcons have rewarded Ryan with a resplendent contract, they need to get him more help if they hope that he ultimately will have greater postseason success moving forward.

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Ryan and Falcons finalize big extension

July 25th, 2013 Comments off

Chris Mortensen of ESPN reports that the Falcons and quarterback Matt Ryan have finalized a five-year extension worth $103.75 million. The deal also includes $59 million in guaranteed money, with a $63 million payout over the first three years of the deal. The latter payout tops large extensions signed by Joe Flacco and Aaron Rodgers this past off-season, and his $20.75 million annual average over the life of the deal is only second to Rodgers’ $22 million annual average in terms of new money. His guaranteed money only falls short of the $60.5 million received by Drew Brees in 2012 as part of his new deal. Ryan was set to hit unrestricted free agency following the 2013 season but now is signed through 2018.

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Takeaways from Last Week – July 22

July 22nd, 2013 Comments off
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Desmond Trufant

The Falcons will report to training camp on Wednesday, July 24 and practices begin on Thursday of this week. And with no positive news on Matt Ryan’s deal, focus now centers on the possibility of some rookie holdouts. That was a thing that should have been a thing of the past with the new Collective Bargain Agreement’s rookie wage scale.

Word broke Sunday morning of the potential risk of a holdout from Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant per Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio. There is an impasse looming between Trufant and the Falcons over guaranteed money. And it all stems from previous deals negotiated at the 22nd overall spot where Trufant was selected by the Falcons.

In 2011, the 22nd overall pick was Indianapolis Colts left tackle Anthony Castonzo.  The Colts refused to fully guarantee all of Castonzo’s four-year deal with the team, only the first three years. Castonzo eventually relented and reported to work on the second day of Colts training camp with $6.535 million in guaranteed money in his pocket.

However in 2012, the Cleveland Browns sweetened the pot for quarterback Brandon Weeden, also taken 22nd overall. They guaranteed the first three years of his deal, and about 60% of his base salary in the fourth year, giving him guaranteed money of $7.511 million.

That’s more guaranteed money than 2013′s 21st overall pick, tight end Tyler Eifert, got in his deal with the Cincinnati Bengals. Eifert received $7.49 million in guaranteed money, which represents all of his contract minus approximately a $765,000 roster bonus he’s due in the fourth year. Eifert’s guarantees differ little from those of defensive end Chandler Jones ($7.421 million), the previous year’s 21st overall pick.

Due to the flat increase of the salary cap, Trufant will receive the same signing bonus that both Weeden and Castonzo received ($4.318 million). If following suit from the Colts’ example by guaranteeing the first three years and signing bonus, Trufant should be due guarantees around $6.65 million this year.  That is based off the first three years and bonus of Weeden’s deal multiplied by roughly the same increase rate seen from Jones to Eifert’s deals (about 1%). More than likely the Falcons will have to relent and guarantee a portion of that fourth year money, but the question becomes how much. The fact that the Falcons moved up eight spots in this year’s draft to select Trufant, buoys his camp’s stance of maximizing the guarantee dollars.

The Falcons gave up third round (92nd overall) and sixth round (198th overall) picks to move up to get Trufant and got back a seventh round pick in 2015. Players taken with those picks were St. Louis Rams wide receiver Stedman Bailey and Houston Texans defensive tackle Chris Jones. Bailey received a $527,400 signing bonus from the Rams, while Jones got $92,512 from the Texans. Combined that would be $619,912, suggesting that it would make sense for the Falcons to guarantee a comparable amount of his fourth-year salary seeing that they were willing to give up that amount via trade. Adding that to his $6.65 million, that would give Trufant a guaranteed payout of around $7.271 million. Whether the actual terms of the deal signed by Trufant are that remains to be seen, but it’s a fair compromise in my eyes. Hopefully it results in Trufant not missing a single snap of practice.

While the possibility of a holdout would hurt Trufant’s chances to win the starting right cornerback position, I don’t think any potential holdout will be long. Trufant displayed his eagerness and commitment to the team this spring during OTAs when he was Skyping with Tim Lewis while away due to league rules. My suspicion is that he’ll push for agent, Doug Hendrickson of Octagon Sports, to get him in camp on time, no matter what. But even if he does miss a few practices, I would be shocked if it was more than a day or two’s worth, and thus I don’t think would be a significant setback to his chances of winning the starting job by camp’s end.

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Why the Ryan Deal is Held Up

July 11th, 2013 Comments off
Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Show him the money

I don’t have any insider information, I’m just basing this information off my own logic. But I suspect the reason why the negotiations for Matt Ryan’s new blockbuster contract are looming this late in July has everything to do with the structure of the deal.

The Falcons have prioritized getting this deal done since the draft, and the hope was that this thing could get hammered out sometime in May. Then it seemed like things were picking up steam in June when talk of Richard Seymour’s imminent arrival in Atlanta started to pick up. That was because the belief was that once the Ryan deal would get done, the Falcons would then immediately sign Seymour. But then the Seymour talks broke off, and now we’re two weeks from the start of camp and no word is on the pipeline. We’re just waiting for Jay Glazer or Adam Schefter to break the news that Ryan deal is done.

But the nature of the NFL is that things don’t get done until deadlines. The Falcons still haven’t finished signing their rookies, as top pick Desmond Trufant and final pick Sean Renfree are still without contracts. Franchise free agents have until next Monday before they have to get a deal done. But technically the Falcons have no deadline for when a Ryan deal gets done. It seems like the opening of camp is a de facto deadline since I’m sure neither the Falcons nor Ryan want to have to ponder the possibility of the quarterback not showing up on July 25. Now I certainly think it’s a trillion to one shot that Ryan would ever even contemplate the possibility of holding out. But if/when Ryan first steps up to the podium in two weeks to address the media, I don’t think the first question he wants to be asked about is the progress of his contract.

So that’s why I think the Falcons probably will get something done in the next two weeks, but perhaps haven’t been going full-bore over the past four to six weeks.

But a big reason why it takes so long for these negotiations to get done is because of the sheer size of the deal. I think it’s almost a certainty that Ryan will eventually sign a five or six-year deal that averages at least $20 million per year. If the Falcons could have gotten him for significantly less than that, then I think a deal would have already been done. Given the market right now with deals signed by Joe Flacco and Aaron Rodgers, getting Ryan for even $19 million a year would be a bargain that the Falcons would have pounced all over.

I think the big issue with the contract is how much will be paid out over the first three or so years of the deal and exactly how that money gets structured.

In looking at the deals signed by Drew Brees, Joe Flacco, Aaron Rodgers, and Tony Romo over the past year, there seems to be a basic structure to how the Falcons will do their deal. I also looked at some of the recent contracts the Falcons signed with their own top-end free agents.

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Categories: Features Tags: ,

Takeaways from Last Week – July 8

July 8th, 2013 Comments off

Timothy T. Ludwig-US PRESSWIRE

Jairus Byrd’s contract situation is worth keeping an eye on

Once again, another week goes by without not much on the NFL or Atlanta Falcons radar. But nonetheless, I will try to give you a thousand words worth considering.

Word came over the weekend that the NFL is considering the possibility that they will not allow collegiate players that were ruled academically ineligible to participate at the annual Scouting Combine.

This seemingly is in response to some of the criticism that the league has received in light of the Aaron Hernandez arrest when it comes to player maturity issues. I’m not going to comment specifically on the pluses and/or minuses of the league’s consideration, as others have already and I don’t have much to add that will be different.

However, the angle I would like to tackle is the angle of cynicism. This move by the league really ruffles my feathers. This illustrates one of the beefs I have with Roger Goodell and the National Football League, in that they are really just a giant corporation.

Understandably so, as they are a multi-billion dollar industry. This is just another example of the league functioning like one. Big corporations like them will often do superficial things like this to potentially address areas where they are criticized. The league probably has no intent to do this, as others have explained it won’t really do anything. But it is good pub in the sense that it shows the public that the league “cares” about this issue. They really don’t, but they can’t just sit and do nothing. So they leak that they are considering this, floating it out there to see how people react, and so no one can criticize them for apathy.

It’s similar to the whole player safety issue. The league doesn’t really care about player safety in my humble opinion. They care more about liability, as the potential lawsuit coming in terms of concussion history could be disastrous for the league’s bottom line.

As I’ve said before if the league was really vested in making this game as safe as possible, then they would be looking into shrinking the size of the regular season rather than expanding it. The league took steps to limit cut blocking this year, but why are any players allowed to block anybody below the waist? If you really cared about player safety, you would put as much emphasis on protecting all players, and not just their heads but their knees and legs as well. Offensive skill position players are considered defenseless, but why not defenders when it comes to 300-pound linemen diving at their legs? How can you really protect yourself from that?

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Takeaways from Last Week – June 24

June 24th, 2013 Comments off
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Patriots could lose both tight ends this year

Of course the biggest story in the NFL last week was the news surrounding New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, and his potential involvement in the homicide of Odin Lloyd.

Lloyd was found dead last Monday afternoon after confirmation that he was with Hernandez the preceding evening. As of Sunday night, a warrant had been issued for Hernandez on obstruction of justice charges, stemming from reports that he destroyed his cell phone, security system, and had his home cleaned by maids. Certainly raises suspicions about Hernandez’s guilt.

But I won’t really comment on the legal side of things. I am neither a policeman nor a lawyer. We have a justice system in this country, and as far as I am concerned it says that a man is innocent until proven guilty. So I won’t speculate on whether Hernandez is guilty of anything besides probably picking a bad day to destroy items that would be very helpful in a murder investigation.

But I suspect regardless of how Hernandez’s legal situation plays out, we won’t be seeing him suit up for the Patriots in 2013. Given Roger Goodell’s penchant for slamming down the hammer regardless of whether a player is guilty of anything, makes me believe that before Patriots training camp starts at the end of July, we’ll see him receive an indefinite suspension until his legal situation is resolved. This happened with Michael Vick back in 2007 after he was indicted following federal dogfighting charges. We also saw the same with Dallas Cowboys nose tackle Josh Brent following his indictment on manslaughter charges following his December car accident that resulted in the death of teammate Jerry Brown. Now in both cases, the common denominator is indictment. We’ll see what happens with Hernandez, but I suspect even if an indictment is not reached before July 25, when the Patriots open up camp, Goodell will ask him to simply stay away from the team as was the case with both Vick and Brent.

Well that’s about as far as I care to venture down the legal hole in terms of Hernandez’s situation, and now I’d like to switch gears to how it affects the football side of things. We already know that Rob Gronkowski’s recent back surgery puts his start to the 2013 season in jeopardy. It wouldn’t be that shocking if he too doesn’t play for the Patriots this year due to this injury. Gronkowski had an unrelated back ailment coming out of Arizona in 2010, and has had a number of injuries since joining the team. If Gronk does wind up playing this year, I don’t expect he’ll be at his previous level. And if he does return to form, it probably won’t be until the latter half of the season. Regardless, at best Gronk probably only gives the Patriots 50% of what he did in previous seasons.

That leaves the Patriots without the top three weapons from last year’s team going into 2013. They lost Wes Welker via free agency, replacing him with Danny Amendola. But their offensive identity was really built around the pair of tight ends in Hernandez and Gronkowski, that created such matchup problems with opposing defenses. It really is the equivalent if the Falcons lost Julio, Roddy, and Tony all the span of a five months.

It likely means that the Patriots offensive identity might have to switch more towards being a run-first team. Opposing defenses won’t be put in the quandary of trying to figure out how to match up with their passing attack if Hernandez and Gronkowski aren’t on the field. Gronk was the inline tight end, but was without question the best in the league the past two seasons. You couldn’t cover him with a safety or linebacker, as he was too fast, and he was too physical for a corner. Hernandez was a jack of all trades type of player that would be used like a wide receiver, tight end, H-back, and fullback at times. His role was reminiscent to Reggie Bush’s in New Orleans, where he wasn’t the best player on the field, but you always had to account for him. And because of the different alignments he could appear in, it made it very difficult to game plan against them.

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Falcons sign Alford

June 14th, 2013 Comments off

The Falcons announced the signing of cornerback Robert Alford, their second round pick from this past April’s draft. Alford is the sixth of the Falcons eight rookies to sign a deal. Top pick and fellow corner Desmond Trufant and seventh round quarterback Sean Renfree remain unsigned.

Alford, out of Southeastern Louisiana, signed a four-year deal, although terms of the deal were not disclosed. Based on the deal signed by Baltimore Ravens offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele, the 60th overall pick in the 2012 draft, Alford should receive a signing bonus of around $875,000.

Alford is competing for the open starting position at right cornerback opposite Asante Samuel. He has been working recently in OTAs with the first team.

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OTAs: Day 7 Report

June 12th, 2013 Comments off

The media once again had access to the first of four days of the Falcons third and final offseason team activities. The Falcons will have a mandatory minicamp starting next week on June 18:

  • As mentioned earlier, Desmond Trufant returned to practice today. He and fellow rookie Robert Alford were able to get extra reps due to the excused absence of veteran cornerback Asante Samuel today. Trufant at left corner, Alford at right, and both Robert McClain and Dominique Franks manning the slot. Matt Ryan was impressed with the Falcons top pick.
  • Speaking of Ryan isn’t too concerned over his looming contract status.

    You know what, I leave that to my agents and the front office. Those guys will get that stuff done.

  • Absent at today’s session were Samuel, as mentioned previously, Tony Gonzalez, and Levine Toilolo. Toilolo is expected to join the team tomorrow. Meanwhile, Chase Coffman stepped in for Gonzalez at tight end with the Falcons starters. Sean Weatherspoon and Stephen Nicholas still look to be on schedule to return for next week’s minicamps.
  • Steven Jackson has improved his diet to try and defeat Father Time. Sounds like his plans are to be a “finisher” for the Falcons with most of his work on the ground coming in the fourth quarter. He’s focused on getting on the same page with Ryan in the passing game for the no-huddle offense earlier in games.
  • Matt Ryan seems to admit the offensive line is a work in progress, but that strides are being made. And it looks like they might be incorporating more tempo which I suggested the other day.