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FalcFans Weekly – April 6, 2014

April 6th, 2014 No comments
F. Medina-US PRESSWIRE

William Moore

Potential Atlanta Falcons newcomer and safety Rafael Bush appears very keen on joining the team. The Falcons signed Bush to an offer sheet this week as a restricted free agent, giving his former team, the New Orleans Saints until April 8 to match or let him become a Falcon. Bush is still friends with Falcons safety William Moore, from their days with the team back in 2010-11, and is the strongest candidate should he join the Falcons to replace Thomas DeCoud at free safety.

Blogging Dirty’s Jake Bennett has a nice write-up about how Bush’s addition can benefit the Falcons.

And speaking of Moore, he apparently now has a chip on his shoulder in regards to the contract the Saints gave Jairus Byrd this offseason.

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Vaughn McClure of ESPN has an excellent piece on how defensive tackle Paul Soliai’s contract came to be in Atlanta with a  candid discussion with his agent David Canter.

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McClure also shares insights into center Peter Konz, who has been working hard to improve this offseason. Konz has added some muscle and took to heart the final words of tight end Tony Gonzalez, when he addressed the team before the regular season finale against the Carolina Panthers.

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Breaking Down Joe Hawley and His Contract

March 14th, 2014 Comments off
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Joe Hawley

ESPN’s Vaughn McClure already posted the numbers of the new deal that center Joe Hawley signed with the Atlanta Falcons on Tuesday. However, I’m going to talk about what those numbers really mean from a roster standpoint.

Here’s a basic overview of what Hawley got from the Falcons:

Contract: two years, $6 million with an additional $500,000 available through incentives
Guarantees: $3 million ($2 million signing bonus and $1 million base salary in 2014)

Cap Hits:

2014: $2 million ($1 million base salary + $1 million bonus proration)
2015: $4 million ($3 million base salary + $1 million bonus proration)

Pay close attention to those cap hits, particularly Hawley’s 2015 number. That’s a fairly high number for a center. Comparing that to Todd McClure, who in the final year (2011) of his extension signed in 2006 counted just $2.3 million against the cap. It’s also worth noting that the 2015 cap hit for Hawley is currently tied with Jason Kelce for the 10th highest at the position. Kelce just signed a lucrative six-year contract extension.

The point is that Hawley won’t be allowed to make that sort of money as a backup or even an underwhelming starter. Hawley not only will need to win the starting center spot in any potential competition with Peter Konz this summer, but he’ll have to play at a level in 2014 where there is zero doubt that he deserves the same role in 2015.

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Free Agent Focus: Jon Asamoah

March 3rd, 2014 Comments off
Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Jon Asamoah

Ranking just behind his Kansas City Chiefs teammate Geoff Schwartz on a lot lists about the top free agent guards in 2014 is Jon Asamoah, making him a potential target for the Atlanta Falcons this offseason.

Asamoah (pronounced AH-suh-MO-uh) is not coming off his most successful season, losing his starting job at right guard to Schwartz towards the end of the year. But that doesn’t really portray the reality of how Asamoah’s career in Kansas City could potentially end if he walks in free agency.

Asamoah lost his job due to both injury and less than ideal play. He suffered a shoulder injury in Week 11 against the Denver Broncos, being limited the following week in practice. Schwartz replaced him as the starter at right guard, and his performance against the San Diego Chargers in Week 12 led to his keeping the job for the remainder of the season.

But Asamoah gave the Chiefs mostly solid production over the past three seasons since assuming the starting right guard spot after the departure of long-time veteran stalwart Brian Waters. His +8.9 Pro Football Focus grade in 2011 was second-best on the team behind only left tackle Branden Albert that year. He followed that up with a +15.0 grade in 2012, tying right tackle Eric Winston for the best on the roster. While there was a decline from Asamoah in 2013, his +7.9 grade still earned him third-highest on the roster and better than all but 19 of 80 other guards with significant playing time last year.

And it’s more than likely the decline of Asamoah had more to due with a shift in blocking scheme installed by new head coach Andy Reid than any decline in skill. Clearly, his Pro Football Focus grades indicate Asamoah fared well in the zone-blocking scheme employed under the previous regime. While the Chiefs didn’t completely scrap zone-blocking under Reid, there was more of an effort to become more of a straight-ahead smash mouth rushing attack, which is more in line with what Reid had in Philadelphia.

Over the years, the Eagles offensive lines under Reid featured massive blockers such as Tra Thomas, Jon Runyan and Jason Peters at offensive tackle and Shawn Andrews, Jermane Mayberry, Jamaal Jackson and Todd Herremans inside at guard and center, all of whom are north of 320 pounds and some over 340. When Reid made the decision late in his tenure to switch to a smaller group coached by Howard Mudd, it resulted in disaster for the Eagles.

The lighter, 305-pound Asamoah just doesn’t fit that sort of style as well as the 340-pound Schwartz.

Any questions surrounding Asamoah center on whether he could fare better with the Falcons, a team in desperate need of upgrading the play at right guard.

Strengths:

  • Athletic and very effective blocking on the move on stretch plays and getting downfield on the second level
  • Has good feet and does a nice job staying in front of speed in pass protection
  • Young, developing player with still room to grow

Weaknesses:

  • Not very big or powerful to create consistent push off the line
  • Will give up ground to powerful interior pass rushers
  • Has had a few nicks and bruises the past two years causing some slight durability concerns

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Falcons cut Garrett Reynolds

February 18th, 2014 Comments off

Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

Garrett Reynolds

The Atlanta Falcons announced earlier this evening that guard Garrett Reynolds was released from the team. Reynolds’ departure was expected given his finishing the 2013 season on the team’s inactive list coupled with the recent signing of Gabe Carimi, who potentially fills the same niche. Per Over the Cap.com, Reynolds’ release frees up nearly $1.4 million in cap space for the Falcons in 2014.

Reynolds started the first nine games of 2013 at right guard, but was benched in Week 11 when the team inserted center Joe Hawley into the lineup and moved Peter Konz from center to right guard. But Konz performed poorly early in that game, and Reynolds finished the game at right guard. He would resume his starting position the following week against the New Orleans Saints, but would not finish that game due to his own struggles. He was reduced to a backup role with hardly any playing time for the next four games, before being inactive in the team’s season finale against the Carolina Panthers.

Reynolds was originally a fifth-round pick by the Falcons out of North Carolina in 2009. He spent his first two seasons as a backup to right guard Harvey Dahl, before getting first crack at replacing him in 2011. But he was benched after making seven starts that year in favor of Hawley, who finished the season as the starter. Reynolds would again resume the starting position in 2012, making six starts before injuries sidelined him for the remainder of the year. He was then replaced by Konz for the rest of the season.

The Falcons have had a revolving door at the right guard position since the departure of Dahl before the 2011 season. That has been partly due to the fact that Reynolds has not shown the consistency to hold the position long-term. However, Reynolds did make steady progress each year. Per the site Pro Football Focus, he graded out better each subsequent year as a starter finishing with a career-best +2.8 grade this year. That grade rated second-best on the Falcons behind left guard Justin Blalock in 2013.

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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

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.

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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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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

2013 Year-End Superlatives: Most Disappointing Player

January 17th, 2014 Comments off
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Osi Umenyiora

After careful consideration, defensive end Osi Umenyiora was selected as the most disappointing player on the Atlanta Falcons in 2013.

This was the most difficult of these to decide upon because there were plenty of options. As an entire unit, the Falcons were one of the most disappointing teams in the league in 2013. Midway through the season, I selected center Peter Konz. And one could make a very strong argument why Konz still deserves the distinction. But even at that time I thought Umenyiora was a disappointment, but because he had earned the distinction of being the team’s top newcomer thanks to a Steven Jackson injury, I didn’t really mention him. But once Jackson’s play in the second half of 2013 indicated that he had overtaken Osi as the team’s best non-rookie newcomer, the latter immediately became a candidate for this “award.”

The main reason why I didn’t choose Konz is because when you really think about it, there was no reason for there to be high expectations on Konz. He had a good preseason, but he was not a good player as a rookie in 2012. I count myself among those people that are very disappointed with Konz, but outside one promising preseason game against Haloti Ngata this past summer, there really have been little to no indicators in his limited NFL career that suggest he was going to be a good player. Thus the bar was relatively low for him, and even though Konz managed to come in below that lowered standard, the difference isn’t as huge.

Before the season, I indicated the sort of benchmark Osi needed to hit in order to have a good year. I expected him to have 25 or more “positive pass rushes,” which according to my Moneyball review system, are the combined number of sacks, pressures, and quarterback hits. Osi finished the year with 12.5, behind Jonathan Babineaux (13) and marginally ahead of Jonathan Massaquoi (11.5).

Not helping Osi’s case was the drop off in production he saw in the second half of the season with just four positive pass rushes. I also tallied hurries this past year and in the first eight games, Umenyiora had seven but just one in the final eight games. That sheer drop in production over the second half of the year is what earned Osi this distinction as 2013′s most disappointing player, since it’s certainly not an honor.

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