Unlike a lot of positions on the Falcons roster, the defensive tackle spot is relatively settled. The Falcons are very likely to return both starters in Jonathan Babineaux and Corey Peters. Vance Walker is a restricted free agent, but is also a fairly safe bet to return under a one-year tender. The one player currently on the roster that is on the bubble is Peria Jerry.
Jerry, as a former first round pic,k is being paid highly but the Falcons have yet to really get a substantial return on their investment as far as his on-field play goes. Jerry flashed some ability early in the season but then was fairly quiet the rest of the way. According to Jeff Schultz of the AJC, Jerry carries a cap hit of close to $2 million this year. It’s not very expensive, but the Falcons could opt to part ways with him.
But I would be somewhat suprised if Jerry is released this off-season. My reasons are: 1) The cap savings would not make a huge difference, 2) Jerry got a lot of praise last summer from teammates and coaches for making some strides in camp, likely indicating the powers that be believe the needle is pointing up, and 3) The Falcons seemed to give Jamaal Anderson probably one more year than he deserved as a former first round pick, and he wasn’t even one of their selections. With Jerry, who is one of the “their guys” it’s likely he’ll get a fourth year too.
At the very least, I would expect the Falcons to bring Jerry back to camp for one more summer and have someone try to push and compete for his spot and try to improve the rotation on the back-end.
Another interesting development is with the introduction of Mike Nolan as the new defensive coordinator, would the team target a bigger physical run defender that can play a bit more of a nose-tackle role if the team does choose to employ some hybrid 4-3/3-4 looks. That player is currently missing on the roster, with Vance Walker coming the closest.
It’s unlikely the Falcons would target a big name or higher priced free agent, since it’s no safe bet that any addition would even beat out Jerry for the job. So that probably leaves guys like Paul Soliai and Aubrayo Franklin, guys that once played under Nolan in Miami and Baltimore out of the mix. Not unless either were willing to come to Atlanta cheaply. But there’s always a premium on good 3-4 nose tackles on the open market.