Pat Yasinskas of ESPN reports that cornerback Dunta Robinson agreed to restructure his contract, which resulted in 2012 cap savings of $1.75 million. Robinson opted to waive a $3 million option bonus that was due next week. He also lowed his base salary by $1 million. Robinson’s new 2012 base salary of $5 million is now fully guaranteed. His base salaries in 2013 and 2014 increase by $1 million each year (up to $8 and $10 million respectively), and his 2015 base salary increases by $2 million to $11.5 million.
The more I think about it, the more it’s hard to imagine a good reason why the Falcons shouldn’t pursue Houston Texans defensive end Mario Williams on the open market come next week.
Williams is likely to be one of the most coveted free agents in recent memory. Teams are constantly looking for top pass rushers, and few would argue that Williams is not one of the best currently in the league. The Texans did not slap him with a franchise tag, and thus are likely to lose him to the highest bidder.
Given recent deals that Julius Peppers, DeMarcus Ware, and Elvis Dumervil have signed that included $40 million or more in guaranteed money, the market likely will dictate that Williams will make more. Basically, Williams will make as much money as a franchise quarterback, exceeding the guaranteed dollars that Philip Rivers and Eli Manning have received in recent years and potentially approaching the guaranteed dollars of Tom Brady ($49 million).
In fact, if the Falcons attempt to extend the contract of Matt Ryan in the next 18 months, Williams’ contract could potentially rival Ryan’s for who is the highest paid player on the team. And so the question becomes can the Falcons afford two players on the roster that are guaranteed $40-50 million. Especially in an off-season where the Falcons are likely to pay premium dollar deals to cornerback Brent Grimes ($20 million-plus guaranteed), and Curtis Lofton (potentially approaching $20 million).
I think the answer is yes, but the Falcons have to be smart about their spending. Let’s examine the biggest contract for a defensive end signed by Julius Peppers with the Chicago Bears in March 2010. That deal was worth $84 million over six years with $42 million guaranteed. Another $7.5 million could be earned via incentives. Any deal with Williams, is likely to be structured similarly.
The Falcons want to bring back Curtis Lofton, and that is the right decision. But the Falcons have to be careful that they do not overpay Lofton on the open market, because Lofton is not likely to be a core piece on their defense going forward. The reason for that is the league is increasingly become a passing-oriented league. The rule changes favor offenses, and particularly those that can sling the football. And the issue with Lofton is that this is the weakest part of his game.
There are several reasons why the Falcons should want Curtis Lofton back. Firsly, he is coming off arguably his best season as a pro. While he is not a dominant run defender, he certainly is a good one that is a key reason why the Falcons run defense has been so stout the past three years. Secondly, he is also developing into a leadership role. While Mike Peterson has been the leader of the linebacker corps the past three years, his time in Atlanta is at or nearing its end. At some point in the near future, someone else is going to have to step up and Lofton is as good a candidate as any to do so. While Lofton is a bit of a mild-mannered guy off the field than his more loquacious teammate Sean Weatherspoon, Lofton certainly brings an aggressive, physical disposition on the field. Lofton is a good leader by example type and their two personalities can complement each other in the locker room going forward for young Falcons.
Thirdly, Lofton is also a good middle linebacker. He’s not one of the best in the league, as he’s often portrayed as, but he is certainly above average. He is fairly consistent in playing at a solid to good level on a weekly basis. And that sort of consistency is welcomed on any defense, particularly when it comes to the guy that is at a key position such as the middle linebacker. I’ve heard it said that teams should want to reward the best people as opposed to the best players with long-term deals. And Lofton is certainly one of those players.
But before the Falcons lock Lofton up to a highly lucrative contact, they must realize that there are also some limitations. As stated before, Lofton is not the best pass defender. The league has seen the rise of tight ends and slot receivers in recent years, making the middle of the field a fertile ground for explosive passing attacks. While Lofton has improved there in recent years, he’s not helping the Falcons win that arms race. Playing in space over the middle and being stuck on an island against good receivers is not something Lofton does very well. And if he is to be the rock at the center of the Falcons defense for years to come, he will ever increasingly have to perform in those duties. And while Lofton can continue to improve there, he’s never going to reach a point where he is considered an asset in the pass defense. A comparable Falcon of yesteryear was Keith Brooking who was similarly adequate and effective at times, but often times was a liability when it came to the better players he would find himself matched up with.
There has been talk that the Falcons would prefer that Lofton become more of a two-down player. While that could minimize some of Lofton’s deficiencies in coverage, it will make his value to this football team significantly diminished. Two-down linebackers are a dime a dozen in the NFL because the overwhelming majority of guys currently in the league could be considered such. And therefore, it doesn’t make a lot of sense for the Falcons to make Lofton one of the higher paid players at his position when he could be lumped into that same group.
Basically, Lofton is a good player, but limited going forward. And therefore, the Falcons need to offer him a good, but limited deal. If Lofton balks at such a deal and can make a more lucrative contract elsewhere, then good for him. That will free up the Falcons to invest money where they need to, which is improving the pass defense.
Jason La Canfora of NFL.com reports that the Falcons plan to explore a contract extension with quarterback Matt Ryan. Ryan has two years remaining on his rookie contract that he signed in 2008.
Ryan carries a cap hit of $13.5 million this year, with $2.5 million of that being guaranteed, the last guaranteed dollars to be paid on his rookie deal. By extending his deal, it would significantly lessen that cap figure and give the Falcons more money to potentially spend on the open market this off-season. Reports indicate the Falcons have roughly $30 million to spend under this year’s projected cap. It would also increase the amount of guaranteed dollars that Ryan could net in the coming years, making an extension mutually beneficial for both parties. Ryan’s cap hit in 2013 will be $10 million, none of which is guaranteed.
Fellow 2008 first round draftee Joe Flacco is seeking a contract extension from the Baltimore Ravens. Ryan signed a six-year contract worth $72 million with $34.75 million guaranteed in 2008, and any future deal is likely to exceed those totals. Since then, passers like Philip Rivers and Eli Manning have signed deals averaging around $15 million a year with between $35 and $40 million guaranteed. Top draft picks Matthew Stafford and Sam Bradford signed deals that included roughly $42 and $50 million in guaranteed money as well in the past four years. Tom Brady and Peyton Manning signed deals over the past two seasons that averaged $18 million a year and had guaranteed money of $49 and $54.4 million, respectively.
The Falcons announced that tight end Tony Gonzalez will be returning to Atlanta after signing a one-year contract extension today. ESPN reports that the deal is worth $7 million. Gonzalez’s contract expired at the end of this year, and there had been talks of potential retirement after last season. But he has decided not to hang up his cleats quite yet by returning to the Falcons for at least one more year.
Gonzalez earned a Pro Bowl bid this year, his second in three years with the Falcons. Prior to being traded to the Falcons before the 2009 season, he spent twelve seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs. This past year, Gonzalez moved into second place all-time in terms of receptions for all receivers, and has been well ahead of all tight ends for a number of years. His 1,148 career receptions outpace the next best tight end by over 300 catches. He currently sits 11th all-time in receiving yards with 13,330. He has 867 yards this year with one game to play, and another year with similar production could move him past James Lofton (14,004) for seventh place. He is 9th all-time in receiving touchdowns with 95, and six more will move him past Steve Largent and Don Hutson (100) for sixth place.
The Falcons could receive future salary cap credits from the $6.5 million that former quarterback Michael Vick still owes them according to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk. Such credits are reviewed on a case-by-case basis according to NFL spokesman Greg Aiello, and whether or not the Falcons can get some added cap relief is under review by the league.
Vick signed a six-year $100 million contract with the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday and owes creditors more than $20 million stemming from unpaid debts due to his 2007 incarceration. According to CNBC’s Darren Rovell those debts are expected to be paid in full by 2014 thanks to the money from Vick’s new contract.
In 2009, the Falcons sought to reclaim close to $20 million in bonus money paid to Vick from a previous contract paid in 2004 that exceeded $100 million. But a bankruptcy court ruled that Vick would only owe $6.5 million.
D. Orlando Ledbetter of the AJC tweeted that the Falcons have agreed to terms on a four-year deal with linebacker Akeem Dent, the team’s third round pick of this past year’s draft class. Earlier today, the Falcons came to terms with three of their other picks. It leaves only top pick Julio Jones and fifth rounder Jacquizz Rodgers as the team’s only unsigned rookies.
A deal for both unsigned rookies is likely imminent given that several of the players around where they were picked have signed and the slotting system that tends to surround draft pick signings. Jones was taken sixth overall, and this past year’s seventh overall choice, San Francisco 49er linebacker Aldon Smith has already agreed to a four-year, $14.4 million deal. Also the fourth overall choice, Cincinnati wide receiver A.J. Green has also signed a four-year, $19.7 million deal.
Rodgers was the 145th overall pick in the draft, and picks No. 146 through 151 have all signed contracts, as well as pick No. 143 (Buffalo Bills cornerback Josh Thomas).
All rookies as part of the new labor agreement will receive four-year deals. Teams will however have the option to add a fifth year to the deals of first round picks. Since Jones was a top-ten draft selection, his option will amount to the average of the ten most highly paid wide receivers in 2015.
UPDATE: Aaron Wilson of the National Football Post reports that Dent agreed to a four-year deal worth $2.76 million, and included a signing bonus of slightly under $543,000.
Adam Schefter of ESPN tweets that the Falcons have reached an agreement with free agent linebacker Stephen Nicholas, agreeing to a five-year deal. As part of the new labor agreement, teams have been allowed to contact and negotiate with free agents since Tuesday, but transactions and agreements made during this time cannot become official until Friday evening, when players will be allowed to sign after 6 pm. Terms of the deal have yet to be disclosed.
Nicholas was a free agent for the Falcons and has been a starter for the team the past two seasons. He began last season as the reserve strongside linebacker to Sean Weatherspoon, but due to a midseason injury to Weatherspoon took over the starting job. He wound up starting 11 games and had 72 tackles. He was expecting to test the market for the first time, with rumors linking him to Detroit and New York with the Giants, but ultimately decided that it was best staying in Atlanta.
Nicholas decision to stay may also impact whether the Falcons try to bring back Mike Peterson, who is also a free agent. It would seem likely with this long-term commitment to Nicholas, that he will likely man the strongside position, allowing Weatherspoon to move to his more natural weakside position, the same position that Peterson has started at the past two seasons.
UPDATE: Zach Klein of WSB-TV Atlanta cites NFL sources that indicate Nicholas deal is worth $17.5 million over five years.
That one reason is none other than Brent Grimes. Or probably more accurately, money.
As I mentioned back in a topic I broached all the way back in February (I know seems like eons ago), Brent Grimes is ripe for a big contract extension. In that article, I discussed potential parameters of what the deal might be.
If you haven’t read it or don’t recall, I’ll briefly summarize. Basically Grimes play has been solid enough that he deserves a nice pay day. But that pay day has likely been postponed by the labor crisis. The Falcons shouldn’t be committing huge dollars to anyone until they know for sure how to safety navigate future financial waters. And because of several other Falcon players being up for free agency at the end of 2011, it behooves the Falcons to get Grimes’ deal done as soon as possible so that they still have the option of using their franchise tag instead of using it on Grimes, who of the prospective free agent crop the Falcons possess is the most likely to deserve it.
And because of the money paid to Grimes, the Falcons shouldn’t probably get into bed with Asomugha. Not that Asomugha isn’t a great player that could help out the Falcons. But he’s going to make a ridiculous amount of money on the open market.
Jay Adams of AtlantaFalcons.com reports that the Falcons have announced the extension of general manager Thomas Dimitroff to an undisclosed multi-year deal.
Dimitroff’s extension follows that of head coach Mike Smith, who got three years added to his deal back at the beginning of February. Dimitroff is coming off a year in which he was named The Sporting News’ top NFL executive. Dimitroff has been instrumental in the rapid ascension of the Falcons since being hired in 2008, due to his solid drafting, free agency moves, and the decision to hire Smith in the first place. He is considered one of the brightest young minds in the business.