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Posts Tagged ‘free agency’

Team Needs: Falcons Need More Athletes at Linebacker

February 6th, 2014 1 comment

Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

Joplo Bartu

The adversity the Atlanta Falcons faced at linebacker in 2013 should benefit the team in 2014.

The team was without stalwarts Stephen Nicholas and Sean Weatherspoon for much of last season. Nicholas dealt with injuries in training camp, and ultimately lost his job as the team looked at younger, more athletic options in Joplo Bartu at strong-side linebacker position. Weatherspoon missed most of the regular season with an injury, and it thrust Paul Worrilow into the limelight after a promising summer.

Both undrafted rookies, Bartu and Worrilow, got a wealth of experience playing significant roles with the team in 2013. So much so that it is very likely that both will open up this offseason in starting roles with Bartu manning the strong side and Worrilow starting in the middle as Weatherspoon resumes his duties at weak-side linebacker.

Now Nicholas has since been released, and the team is searching to upgrade their depth at linebacker. Particularly in Bartu, the Falcons finally got another “plus” athlete on the roster besides Weatherspoon, and needs to continue that trend into 2014. Nicholas could once be described that, but time and age really started to catch up to him in 2012 where he was continually abused by opposing tight ends. Despite the upgrade in terms of athleticism from Bartu, the Falcons still struggled to check opposing tight ends in 2013. But one hope is that with a year’s worth of experience under his belt, there will be improvement from Bartu moving forward.

Worrilow was so good as Weatherspoon’s replacement at weak-side linebacker that he eventually replaced Akeem Dent as the team’s starting middle linebacker roughly a third of the way through the season. While Dent did show improvement after a lackluster 2012 season, his limited speed, range, and coverage ability just proved to be too much of a liability. While not the world’s greatest athlete himself, Worrilow proved an upgrade in those areas. But more importantly, he was a far more instinctual defender in his first season in Atlanta than Dent had showed in three years. But Dent is expected to return and help out on special teams, an area where he’s excelled at in the past, and add depth in the middle.

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FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 57 “Who Stays, Who Goes?”

February 4th, 2014 Comments off

This week, Allen has a snow day and I ask Dave Choate of The Falcoholic to fill in. We discuss several Atlanta Falcons players that are on the bubble, as we decide which players we think stay or go this offseason. Among the players discussed are Steven Jackson, Harry Douglas, Osi Umenyiora, Jonathan Babineaux, Asante Samuel and Thomas DeCoud. Afterwards, I give my thoughts on the Falcons cap room, while Dave weighs in on the recent induction of Claude Humphrey into the Hall of Fame and whether it will open opportunities for other past Falcon greats. We finish off the episode by discussing Super Bowl XLVIII, the Seattle Seahawks blueprint and potential dynasty, free agent pass rushers that are on the Falcons radar, and whether trading up for Jadeveon Clowney is worthwhile with Khalil Mack possibly available.

Episode 57: Who Stays, Who Goes? [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 7 minutes

Allen writes for TJRSports.com as well as the Pro Football Spot. His twitter handle is: @Allen_Strk.

Dave writes for The Falcoholic and can be found on twitter: @TheFalcoholic.

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, and be sure to rate us there! You can also subscribe directly to our feed at the following URL: http://feeds.feedburner.com/falcfans/LXSt

Team Needs: Defensive Tackle A Priority Due to Injuries and Free Agency

February 4th, 2014 1 comment

John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Jonathan Babineaux

The potential is high for turnover at defensive tackle for the Atlanta Falcons this offseason. Mainly because the team has all three of its primary players headed towards free agency.

It is likely that the Falcons will be able to retain at least one of the guys, with Corey Peters topping the list. Peters suffered a torn Achilles tendon at the end of the season, and while that might put the start of his 2014 in jeopardy, it probably enhances the chances that the Falcons re-sign him. The injury will likely eliminate a number of potential suitors in free agency and thus allow the Falcons to bring him back at a more modest salary than previously expected. Peters had a strong 2013 campaign prior to his injury, standing out as a run defender and occasionally as a pass rusher. He really found a home as the team’s nose tackle in their hybrid defensive scheme, due to his ability to hold leverage at the point of attack. While his injury may limit his effectiveness in 2014, there is good reason to believe that the 25-year old Peters still has plenty of good years ahead of him.

The player that is likely to be next on that priority is Jonathan Babineaux, although there could be complications in his return, namely salary. At 32 years of age, Babineaux is nearing the end. And similar to the situation with John Abraham a few years ago, the Falcons don’t want to be in a position to overpay a player that may only have one or two more years of solid production left. But everything suggests that the Falcons are definitely open to re-signing Babineaux, and the only potential sticking point is compensation. Babineaux once again seemed to defy time by having a solid, but unspectacular 2013 season. He is still the team’s best interior pass rusher due to his disruptive capabilities. There is good reason to believe that with a reduced role, his production should stay steady if not improve. Babineaux simply was forced to play too many snaps in 2013 and his ideal role would be a situational player with half the workload.

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Team Needs: Searching for the Next John Abraham at Defensive End

February 4th, 2014 Comments off

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Jonathan Massaquoi

The pass rush of the Atlanta Falcons has been a problem area for a number of years.

Expectations were reasonably high that the Falcons could potentially upgrade their pass rush with the switch from defensive end John Abraham to Osi Umenyiora last year. Unfortunately, Umenyiora’s production wasn’t in the same ballpark as Abraham from the previous year. Falcon fans had to watch as Abraham put together a Pro Bowl season with the Arizona Cardinals, while the Falcons finished second-to-last in the NFL in sacks.

Upgrading that pass rush will likely be one of the team’s biggest priorities this offseason, alongside their needs on the offensive line. While the Falcons could opt to release Umenyiora due to the disappointing 2013 he had, it’s more than likely that they’ll retain him and move him into a situational role similar to what he had with the New York Giants prior to his arrival in Atlanta.

One reason to release Umenyiora is due to the presence of Jonathan Massaquoi, who midway through the year arguably started to play at a level on par with Umenyiora. Massaquoi wasn’t ready for the starting role that was thrust upon him last year due to the injury to Kroy Biermann, but as a situational player he could be a solid fit, and a much cheaper and younger one than Umenyiora. Of the young defensive ends on the roster, Massaquoi possesses the most upside and the teaching that new defensive line coach Bryan Cox could provide, could help bring that out of him in 2014.

Biermann is another player that the Falcons can count on to bolster their pass rush in 2013. He is coming off a torn Achilles that sidelined him for practically the entire season. While never a great pass rusher, his production as a pass rusher in previous years was pretty consistent and frankly, any little bit will help the Falcons.

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Takeaways from Super Bowl XLVIII

February 3rd, 2014 1 comment

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Russell Wilson

Super Bowl XLVIII proved compelling if you find one-sided blowouts to be such. The Seattle Seahawks just decimated the Denver Broncos, who were masquerading as the ’90s era Buffalo Bills, in the 43-8 blowout on Sunday. However, what was compelling is the lessons that may be learned from the game.

Last year, I mused on the fact that there had been an unprecedented run of closely contested Super Bowls over the past decade. Fitting that streak came to an end yesterday.

Super Bowl XLVIII All About Seattle’s Defense

My initial expectation for the game was that Denver would not be able to cope with Seattle’s defense, headlined by their physical secondary and relentless pass rush. But apparently I over-thought it because I chose the Broncos to win the game, largely because I didn’t believe the Seahawks had enough offensive firepower.

Well, it was clear that the Seahawks defense was more than a match for the Broncos. The Broncos didn’t convert a first down until five minutes into the second quarter and were held scoreless until the final play of the third quarter. The Seahawks were able to set the tone early by winning the coin toss and electing to play defense first.

My expectation that the Seahawks offense wasn’t good enough did seem to be fairly accurate through the early going of this game. I would say that Seattle’s offense was solid, but unspectacular. For the Seahawks, 21 of their points were generated off turnovers, including a pick-six by linebacker Malcolm Smith. The other two gave them favorable field position near midfield or in Bronco territory to score points. And the Seahawks took the opening kickoff of the second half for six.

Factoring in all those points that were directly responsible by the defense or special teams, the Seahawks only scored 13 points in the game. And that touchdown was set up by an onside kick that once again gave Seattle favorable field position to start their drive. Really, the only success the Seahawks offense had that was generated on their own was a pair of drives that ended in field goals in the red zone in the first quarter.

So I feel better that at least half of my prediction came true. It was a game where field position, special teams, and defense were the deciding factors. A stark change from previous years, which was a main reason why the other half of my prediction was so wrong. I expected the Seahawks defense to have a good game, but I never expected them to stymy the Broncos as thoroughly as they did.

Absolutely nothing went right for Denver, and this game ultimately will probably become a referendum on whether defense still matters in today’s offensive-driven league. Really, it should not be a revelation that it still does. But it just shows that even still, an excellent defense can have the advantage over an excellent offense despite all the rule changes in favor of the latter.

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Team Needs: Re-signing Hawley Key at Center

February 1st, 2014 Comments off

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Joe Hawley

Unlike most of the positions along the offensive line, at center, the Atlanta Falcons can say that time healed some wounds in 2013.

That elixir came in the form of Joe Hawley, who assumed the starting spot at center in Week 11. While Hawley was by no means outstanding in that role, he proved to be an immediate upgrade over Peter Konz, who had struggled throughout 2013. Konz moved to right guard, where he did not fare any better.

Hawley is now an impending free agent, but one that the Falcons are likely to re-sign. His market isn’t expected to be huge given his limited experience at center. Prior to starting the final seven games in 2013 at the position, he had logged just three starts at center in three previous years in Atlanta, all coming as injury fill-in for Todd McClure in 2011.

Despite Hawley’s solid play at the position this past season, it doesn’t mean he’s entrenched there. His lack of experience makes him a somewhat unknown commodity moving forward. Essentially, his play in 2013 only gives him the leg up in any competition and means it should be considered his job to lose in 2014. But the Falcons shouldn’t be thinking that seven games is enough to give Hawley a lucrative, long-term deal, a mistake they’ve made too often in recent years based off limited sample sizes.

If the team does manage to successfully re-sign Hawley to a modest contract, it’s possible he could be in for a camp competition with Konz this summer. The chances of Konz returning to center increase if the Falcons are able to add a potential starter to replace him at right guard.

Were that to happen, it would be reasonable to believe that the competition between the two would likely produce a competent or possibly good long-term option. The team also has Harland Gunn on the roster, who has experience playing center and has a similar skillset as Hawley.

The Falcons could also opt to add other players this offseason, particularly if Hawley finds a way to depart via free agency. If that were to occur, adding a veteran on the open market would make the most sense given Konz has done little to merit the team’s optimism and faith.

Even if Hawley is retained, the team could still seek to bolster the position in the draft with a developmental player in the latter rounds.

But the key remains re-signing Hawley, as letting him walk would open up a can of worms. And given the team’s needs at other positions along the offensive line, that’s a can best left alone.

Categories: News Tags: , , , ,

Team Needs: Falcons Must Expand Options at Right Guard

February 1st, 2014 Comments off

Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Garrett Reynolds and Peter Konz are on the outs

Unlike the offensive tackle position, it is not safe to say the Atlanta Falcons roster currently features both starters at guard. While left guard Justin Blalock is coming off arguably his best season and is a lock to return as a starter in 2014, right guard remains wide open.

Peter Konz and Garrett Reynolds split the majority of snaps there in 2013, neither performing at a high level. Reynolds started the season well, but as things wore on he became less effective. When Konz was benched at center in favor of Joe Hawley in Week 11, the bottom seemed to fall out for Reynolds, who logged significant reps in just two more games before finding a permanent seat on the bench. He was inactive for the Falcons final game of the year, a significant drop from being the team’s second-best blocker on opening day.

Reynolds’ star may have fallen so much that he may find himself unemployed this offseason. The Falcons could free up close to $1.4 million (per Over The Cap.com) in cap space by releasing Reynolds. Reynolds got his first opportunity to run away with the starting right guard position in 2011 and then again in 2012. But both years were marred by inconsistent play and injuries. Ostensibly, 2013 represented his third strike and the Falcons could opt to move on this offseason given the moderate cap savings.

Konz replaced Reynolds and got the majority of those reps at right guard down the stretch, but did little with them as he looked like a liability for much of it. By year’s end, I was ready to give up on Konz after just two seasons but it doesn’t appear the Falcons share that mindset.

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Team Needs: Falcons Tackles Could be Shuffled Around

January 31st, 2014 Comments off

 Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Questions surround Sam Baker’s future

The issue the Atlanta Falcons face in terms of their offensive tackle position isn’t necessarily about whether certain players will return, but rather what roles they might return in.

Although some had the foresight to question it, it’s become abundantly clear in hindsight that the contract the Falcons gave left tackle Sam Baker last March was a bad one. The team is faced with the scenario of paying him an option bonus which likely will lock him to being a Falcon for the next two seasons. While it’s possible the Falcons could decide to get out of the contract, it does not appear that is their plans, likely due to the significant cap penalties they would face over the next year or two. So it seems that Baker will return next season and open up the offseason as a starter. The only real question is whether that will be playing left tackle or another position.

It’s likely that Baker will man the left tackle position once again in 2014. But it’s possible that dependent on what moves the Falcons make this offseason, he could be switching positions. Baker’s brief stint at right guard did not go well in 2011, making a possible switch to right tackle more doubtful. If that happens, then it will be due to the Falcons spending on a free agent or using a high pick on another left tackle. The latter seems more plausible of the two scenarios, since it’s doubtful the Falcons are willing to dole out another large contract that it would take to entice such a free agent to Atlanta given their investment in Baker. And drafting a tackle will depend on whether or not the Falcons like the premier prospects at the top of the draft, whether they are on the board on May 8, and if the Falcons can shore up other needs across the roster in free agency. All of which are unknown quantities to date, making it doubtful that is planned path moving forward.

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Team Needs: Toilolo Would Benefit from a Running Mate at Tight End

January 30th, 2014 Comments off
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Levine Toilolo

The Atlanta Falcons will be attempting to move on from the greatest tight end of all time this offseason in Tony Gonzalez, which is rife with challenges.

Obviously the team will struggle to replace the production that Gonzalez has given that position over the past five years, where he combined to catch 409 passes and 35 touchdowns, resulting in the Falcons losing roughly a quarter of their passing production.

While the return of a healthy Julio Jones, and retention of veterans Roddy White and Harry Douglas at wide receiver can help fill some of that void, it will likely lead to a net loss for the Falcons offense with Gonzalez’s departure. Backup Levine Toilolo got limited snaps during his rookie season and it will be a tall order for him to try and fill the void as the starter.

Toilolo during his days at Stanford shined in a two-tight end offense, where a combination of him and players like Zach Ertz and Coby Fleener would attack the seams in Stanford’s run-oriented, vertical offense. Toilolo’s height and length can make him an effective downfield threat because he can extend to catch high passes that most defenders cannot. That height also serves Toilolo well in the red zone, where he was underutilized as a target this past season. Toilolo was targeted six times this past season in the red zone, scoring a pair of touchdowns which was the highest percentage of touchdowns to targets on the Falcons. The underutilization becomes apparent when compared to White and Douglas, who scored just once on 26 combined targets in the red zone in 2013. But Toilolo is by no means a dynamic weapon, since he is more an outlet option than someone that can be the centerpiece of an offense much like Gonzalez was.

That is why the Falcons will need to bolster this position in some way this offseason, whether via the draft or free agency, or both. Chase Coffman is an impending unrestricted free agent and his return at this point is negligible. Coffman has had a few brief moments during his short stint with the Falcons, but essentially is a third tight end and should not be expected to carve out a significantly bigger role in 2014 than he currently has. Instead, the Falcons must turn to other options if they intend to try and fill some of the void left by Gonzalez.

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FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 56 “I’d Take Eugene Robinson at the Drop of a Hat!”

January 28th, 2014 Comments off

After a one-week hiatus, Allen and I are back to discuss the Atlanta Falcons team needs. We are joined by Matt Chambers, a writer for the Falcoholic, to rank the Top 6 needs the Falcons need to address this offseason. Later, we discuss some of the key matchups between the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII, as well as other pervasive topics around the league such as Richard Sherman’s rant, the resurgence of the NFC South in 2014, and my thoughts on whether Anthony Barr should be on the Falcons radar at the top of the draft. Warning: This episode contains some explicit NSFW language!

Episode 56: I’d Take Eugene Robinson at the Drop of a Hat! [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 25 minutes

Allen writes for TJRSports.com as well as the Pro Football Spot. His twitter handle is: @Allen_Strk.

Matt Chambers can be found on twitter: @FalconsM5, and also writes for The Falcoholic.

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, and be sure to rate us there! You can also subscribe directly to our feed at the following URL: http://feeds.feedburner.com/falcfans/LXSt