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Takeaways from Last Week – July 29

July 29th, 2013 Comments off
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Should Stephen Nicholas be worried?

Training camp has begun for the Falcons. And it’s still early, but there have been a few interesting developments.

A lot has been made of the beatings that rookie corners Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford have had at the hands of Julio Jones and Roddy White. It’s somewhat silly, given it’s their first few days in camp. They are going up against arguably two of the ten best receivers in the league (I’d love to meet the person that would argue against it). And they are rookies after all. Frankly, if Patrick Peterson didn’t set the world on fire as a rookie, and he was the best cornerback prospect to come out since Champ Bailey, then why would anybody expect either Trufant or Alford to not suffer through growing pains? The key for them is going to be how much progress they show over the course of camp and the preseason. And then they’ll face Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints in the season opener. And I have no doubt that Sean Payton and Brees are going to very purposefully attack them in that game. And my expectations are that Payton and Brees will get the better of them more than they won’t. But even then, I won’t be upset. In regards to Trufant, Alford, and Robert McClain, it’s less about how good they are in September, but how good they are in January. After all, everyone expects this Falcon team to make the playoffs and make a title run.

It’s hard to tell who is ahead in some of the other position battles that dot the roster. What limited word we’ve heard about the right tackle position, suggests that Mike Johnson is still slightly ahead of Lamar Holmes. But one can’t put too much stock in one observation during one drill. We’ll see how that plays out the rest of summer. In past summers, things usually start to pick up by the second preseason game for offensive line battles so we’ll see how that goes.

It’s going to be interesting to see how the tight end battle plays out with Tony Gonzalez’s prolonged absence from camp. Chase Coffman and Tommy Gallarda appear to be getting much of the first-team reps thus far, with Levine Toilolo working as a reserve. While Toilolo’s roster spot isn’t really in jeopardy, we’ll have to see if he can leapfrog either in the coming days and weeks. As I’ve mentioned before, what sort of summer Toilolo has could have significant impact on how the rest of the roster plays out at that position. If he shines as a blocker, then Gallarda loses a bit of value. If he shines more as a receiver, then Coffman loses a bit of his luster there.

Defensively, there isn’t any direct competitions per se that I’m paying attention to. I’m more curious to see and hear how the Falcons use certain players like Kroy Biermann and Osi Umenyiora, who seem to getting a lot of time playing on their feet thus far. Eventually, I’m curious to see how the competition between Akeem Dent and Stephen Nicholas plays out for the second linebacker in the nickel. I fully expect Dent to win the job, but I’m curious how it all plays out. I’d like to see Dent win the job handily, that would give me more confidence that things are looking up for the Falcons coverage abilities from the linebacker position. There is some risk that Nicholas winds up a cap casualty at the end of camp. I don’t expect that to happen, but I also didn’t expect the Falcons to cut John Abraham at the beginning of the off-season. The Falcons cap situation currently (projected at roughly $5.7 million in cap space after Ryan’s extension) doesn’t call for the team to really need to purge salary at the end of the summer. As I’ve noted before the Falcons can save $905,000 against the cap by cutting Peria Jerry. Well actually that’s not true, the savings really only becomes $498,000 when you factor in a player like Micanor Regis (2013 cap hit of roughly $407,000) would then take up a roster spot and eat into those savings.

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Training Camp: Day 1 Report

July 26th, 2013 Comments off

Besides the contract extension signed by quarterback Matt Ryan, here is a look at some of the top stories that developed from the first day of the Atlanta Falcons 2013 training camp:

  • It appears that tight end Tony Gonzalez will be given some time off in the coming days and weeks of camp. Falcons head coach Mike Smith did not specify when Gonzalez will take time off and it remains to be seen how much action Gonzalez will get in preseason games. Gonzalez had this to say (h/t to the AJC for the transcript):

    Right now, I’m here. I’m planning on being here tomorrow but there are some prior obligations I made to my family, more specifically my son Nikko, last year. I made these obligations to them last year because I was planning to retire. I wasn’t joking about that all year last year. Those responsibilities are coming up and will be here pretty soon so I’ll probably head back and hang out with him and do what I told him I was going to do. Then I’ll be back and join the team early. I’m not going to be showing up a week before the game, I’ll be here a lot earlier than that, but I’ll be ready to go, too. You can bet the house on that. This isn’t something that is going to go into the regular season.

  • Falcons rookie defensive end Stansly Maponga has been cleared for individual drills, but will be held out from team drills for the first few days of camp per Smith. Maponga is recently returned from off-season foot surgery that kept him out of OTAs.
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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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Trufant returns; Maponga out til training camp

June 11th, 2013 Comments off

Jay Adams of Atlanta Falcons.com reports that Falcons head coach Mike Smith updated the status of three rookies today at the team’s OTA session. Top pick and cornerback Desmond Trufant was able to participate in his first Falcon practice due to the graduation of students at the University of Washington. Tight end Levine Toilolo is expected to join the team tomorrow. Smith also indicated that rookie defensive end Stansly Maponga is expected to be out until training camp, as he recovers from offseason surgery on his broken foot/ankle.

Trufant had been trying to keep up with the team by speaking with defensive backs coach Tim Lewis via Skype due to his absence away from the team due to league rules indicating that rookies can’t join their teams until after their respective schools graduate. Toilolo’s absence has been for similar reasons.

In other injury news, linebackers Stephen Nicholas (sports hernia) and Sean Weatherspoon (knee) appear to be on track to re-join the team for mandatory practices next week. That had been the target date since their injuries were announced.

Falcons add tight end Miller

June 6th, 2013 Comments off

The Falcons announced today that they signed tight end Anthony Miller and waived-injured tight end Adam Nissley.

Miller was an undrafted free agent out of California that originally signed with the Denver Broncos in 2012. Miller was primarily a blocking tight end at Cal, catching 64 passes for 774 yards (12.1 avg) and 5 touchdowns during his career. He was a three-year starter that earned honorable mention all-conference honors twice. He was cut by the Broncos at the end of last summer’s training camp and finished the year on the San Diego Chargers practice squad. But he was not retained by the Chargers after the season.

Nissley, also a blocking tight end, was an undrafted free agent out of Central Florida. Nissley injured his knee in the first preseason game and wound up on injured reserve. If he clears waivers, he will once again go on the team’s injured reserve.

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OTAs: Day 1 Report

May 29th, 2013 Comments off

Technically it’s the second day, but this is the first day that media have been covering things.

  • So the biggest news from the day is that Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez were absent from these these voluntary workouts. So was Desmond Trufant, who is finishing school at the University of Washington. But he’s apparently putting in the extra work by contacting coaches via Skype. Levine Toilolo is also finishing up his schoolwork at Stanford.
  • As reported earlier, linebackers Sean Weatherspoon (knee), Stephen Nicholas (sports hernia), and rookie end Stansly Maponga (foot/ankle) were held out of practices today due to their recoveries from off-season surgeries.
  • The Falcons opened with a brand new starting 5 on their offensive line: LT Sam Baker, LG Justin Blalock, C Peter Konz, RG Garrett Reynolds, and RT Mike Johnson. Lamar Holmes is expected to be in the mix with Johnson at right tackle.
  • The Falcons cut UDFA Deon Goggins. Goggins played DT at Syracuse, but was being converted to fullback in Atlanta.

Weatherspoon, Nicholas to miss start of OTAs

May 24th, 2013 Comments off

D. Orlando Ledbetter of the AJC reports that linebackers Sean Weatherspoon and Stephen Nicholas will miss the start of Falcons’ organized team activities which begin next Tuesday due to their recoveries from off-season surgeries. Weatherspoon had arthroscopic knee surgery, while Nicholas is recovering from a sports hernia. Both players are expected back by mid-to-late June in time for the team’s mandatory minicamp which begins on June 18.

Ledbetter also reports that a pair of rookies will be limited for the start of OTAs: defensive end Stansly Maponga who is recovering from surgery on his broken foot in March, and quarterback Sean Renfree who suffered a torn pectoral at the end of December both were limited throughout the pre-draft process and off-season.

Takeaways from Last Week – April 22

April 22nd, 2013 Comments off

Scott Olmos-US PRESSWIRE

Dion Jordan

Last week, I promised that I would go over the Falcons Day 3 draft plans. But of course news and rumors picked up steam that the Falcons were planning on moving up via trade in the draft. I do think the two issues are somewhat related, which I will delve into later. But for now, let’s talk about the Falcons potential third day draft possibilities.

The meat of the Falcons draft lies on the third day of the draft, where rounds four through seven will be selected. The Falcons hold eight of their eleven total picks during this stretch of the draft. The third day of the draft is typically where teams try to build their depth. A few players will emerge as starters, but they are few and far between.

Using previously discussed draft grades, only 14 of the 153 players selected in the final four rounds in 2008 earned C grades or higher (i.e. became solid starters after five seasons). That number is 22 out of 156 players from the 2007 class. In 2008, five of those 14 starters were fourth rounders, while that number was 12 in 2007.

Because the Falcons draft for need, they are going to lean towards targeting players that have a high probability of making the roster. Basically operating under a simple principle that there’s no way you can help the team if you don’t make it. So to determine what areas and positions the Falcons might target on the third day of the draft, you have to take a closer look at the team’s current roster. Here’s a quick breakdown position by position, with the number in parentheses indicating the current number of players at the position that have a strong probability of making the final roster:
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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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DeCoud, Moore to Pro Bowl; Ryan, Gonzalez to sit out

January 24th, 2013 Comments off
Josh D. Weiss-US PRESSWIRE

DeCoud congratulates Moore

Falcons safeties Thomas DeCoud and William Moore were added to the NFC Pro Bowl roster in the wake of the San Francisco 49ers going to the Super Bowl. They will be replacing 49er safeties Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner in this Sunday’s all-star game.

Also, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan will sit out the game due to a shoulder injury he suffered late in the Falcons loss to the 49ers last Sunday in the NFC Championship Game. Ryan suffered a sprained AC joint in his left non-throwing shoulder. The injury will require up to a month for recovery, but will not require surgery.

Tight end Tony Gonzalez will also not be appearing in this weekend’s Pro Bowl due to personal reasons. He has been replaced by Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph. Gonzalez is expected to be mulling over his NFL future as he is finishing his 16th season in the league. Prior to last Sunday’s loss to the 49ers, reports indicated that Gonzalez was leaning closer to retirement after indicating at the outset of the year that he was 95 percent certain that 2012 would be his final year. Gonzalez’s contract expired once the Falcons season ended.

Wide receiver Julio Jones is the other Falcon player voted to the Pro Bowl team.

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