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Takeaways from Last Week – June 3

June 3rd, 2013 Comments off

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

2013 Could be a Make or Break year for both Dent and Spoon

We’re entering the “dark time” of the NFL calendar where there isn’t a whole lot going on. Teams are conducting minicamps and OTAs and it’s the season of hype. Media members talk up this new free agent or rookie, or that new assistant coach or coordinator, and how it’s going to pay big dividends for their respective team. Sometimes it does, but most times it does not.

Teams have got to sell tickets, and it doesn’t feel right putting down hundreds of your hard-earned dollars for an inferior product. So they have to sell you on how your team’s product is going to be superior and merit that investment. For good teams like the Falcons, that means talking up Super Bowl possibilities. For mid-level teams like say the Panthers, it means talking up playoff potential. For cellar-dwelling teams that are rebuilding like the Raiders, it’s usually about how management has things moving in the right direction.

I apologize for my cynicism, but I can’t help it. For whatever reason, it’s always the month of June where I get the most skeptical, pessimistic, and negative about the upcoming season. Maybe it’s the freshness of the draft starts to wear off, and now we sit in this lull waiting for training camp to come around. Maybe it’s just my impatience making me bitter. No different than waiting in an overly long line to get into a store or venue, and beginning to wonder if the product or event is really worth all this fuss. This is why I don’t shop on Black Friday.

I think it’s also because I have a tendency to be contrarian. Not to extreme measures, but if you have a certain viewpoint, I enjoy exploring the opposite viewpoint. I was never on the debate team in high school, but I think I probably would have enjoyed it. You think Player A is going to have a breakout year for B and C reasons, well then I’ll start to think about D and E reasons why you’re wrong.

Speaking of breakout candidates, I’m actually not sure if I can think of many for the Falcons this year. At least no one I’m really confident is poised for a big 2013 season. I’m sure there is going to be a player a lot like Robert McClain, that sort of comes out of nowhere and becomes a key contributor for the team. But I can’t really wager a guess because it really comes from nowhere.

But there are a number of Falcon players that I hope have breakout years and really become big-time contributors in 2013.

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Falcons FA Focus: Quarterback

January 30th, 2013 2 comments

Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIRE

David Garrard, ex-Jaguars QB.

After discussing where the Falcons can improve at the quarterback position, it’s now time to look at some potential options the Falcons may have this off-season to do so.

The free agent class of 2013 will be highlighted by Baltimore’s Joe Flacco, who will likely receive a long-term extension from the Ravens that will vie with the Falcons own Matt Ryan for the biggest contract of the off-season. After Flacco, the crop of free agents that will receive interest grows invariably thin. Matt Moore (Dolphins) and Jason Campbell (Bears) are the next best starting candidates. But both are in the same realm as players such as Chad Henne and Matt Flynn a year ago, where they are good enough to compete for a starting job, but not quite good enough to hand over the reins of a team to.

That could mean the Falcons pickings at the position could be slim if they wish to bolster competition this summer for the top reserve behind Matt Ryan. The Falcons might decide to re-sign Luke McCown and add another veteran to the mix to compete with him and Dominique Davis for the position.

Probably the player that makes the most sense is David Garrard. Like McCown, Garrard has experience in Dirk Koetter’s offense. And unlike McCown, Garrard possesses enough skill that he can potentially win a game for the Falcons if Ryan was to be out of the lineup. Garrard is a good vertical passer, something that McCown struggles to do. That means if/when Ryan is out of the game, the Falcons can still attack defenses vertically with wideouts Julio Jones and Roddy White, rather than being forced to rely on a steady running game (which they currently lack) and a dink and dunk attack to score points. But the main question with Garrard is going to be price tag. Garrard hasn’t played a meaningful snap since the 2010 season, but may feel that he’s still worth a starting position. He’s not likely to settle for a lower-level backup contract. Players like Henne, Campbell, and Kyle Orton signed deals that averaged between $3.5 and $4 million last year. That is the going rate for a quality backup with extensive starting experience. It would be likely that Garrard’s rate will approach or begin there. He signed a one-year, $2.25 million deal with the Dolphins last year. If the Falcons could get him for a similar price tag, it would be a relative bargain. But that may ultimately be more than the Falcons are willing to spend on the position.

Another option on the open market could be Rex Grossman (Redskins). Like Garrard, Grossman is also comfortable throwing the football downfield and with the emergence of Kirk Cousins in Washington, likely won’t be in their future plans. Grossman isn’t likely to draw as much money as a player like Garrard could since it’s doubtful any teams will look for him as anything more than a backup. But again, that doesn’t mean he’ll be cheap. McCown could likely be re-signed by the Falcons for a one-year deal worth less than $1 million. Could Grossman be had at that price? Possibly, but it’s by no means a slam dunk.

There may also be a number of veteran players released this upcoming off-season. Notable names include Alex Smith (49ers), Mark Sanchez (Jets), and Ryan Fitzpatrick (Bills). Smith and Flynn are likely to get dealt to a team looking for a starter (New York Jets?). Sanchez’s contract is such that he’ll be hard to dump this off-season, but it’s possible that the Jets opt to cut their losses and start fresh with another player. Fitzpatrick is due a significant bonus in March, and if Doug Marrone & Co. feel that he is not the future starter of the team he could be cut. Fitzpatrick has had his moments over the years in Buffalo, but is an erratic passer with questionable decision making, accuracy, and sloppy mechanics. Due to his experience, he also will likely command the higher dollars available to backup quarterbacks if signed by another team. Other players that could find themselves cut or traded this off-season include Colt McCoy (Browns), Matt Hasselbeck (Titans), Matt Cassel (Chiefs), and John Skelton (Cardinals).

Of those players, Skelton is the only one that has potential as a vertical passer. Skelton has a strong arm, but his accuracy leaves a lot to be desired which is why he has not been particularly effective when throwing downfield over the years. He’s also a virtual statue in the pocket, which is not a great fit behind a mediocre Falcons offensive line. Hasselbeck could be a good fit, as he shares a wealth of similarities with Matt Ryan starting with his hailing from the same college (Boston College). Both are more precise pocket passers that win pre-snap as opposed to being blessed with great physical tools. But he, like Cassel and McCoy struggle to throw the ball downfield. Cassel is an effective game manager when he has a steady ground attack, but in a strict, dropback offense he tends to struggle with his decision making. McCoy is comfortable working a wide-open spread system, but struggles to read defenses due to his short stature. Interior pressure really gives him fits and he doesn’t have the arm strength to drive the ball downfield.

Overall, the best fit/candidate if the Falcons want to significantly upgrade the competition in camp remains Garrard. He’s by no means a perfect quarterback. He’s a gunslinger that will force some throws downfield, which can lead to turnovers. But unlike McCown or Chris Redman before him, Garrard can win games with his arm because he’s not going to be afraid to challenge defenses downfield. And given his starting experience (76 starts), he’s not going to be gunshy if/when the pressure is on. The same cannot be said for McCown.

If the Falcons simply want a backup quarterback that will manage the game and minimize mistakes, they will have plenty of options to choose from. If the Falcons are looking to save money, then they can simply settle for what they usually do and pick up a fourth arm via an undrafted guy after the draft. But if the Falcons want to get the most out of the backup quarterback position in 2013, then Garrard probably is the best option available.

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Falcons Needs: Quarterback

January 30th, 2013 Comments off

The Falcons have needs at every position, or at least they have room to improve their roster across the board. I want to look at every position group to see what areas where the Falcons can improve. Let’s start first with quarterback.

It is expected that the Falcons will begin contract extension talks with Matt Ryan at some point this off-season. Ryan is signed through the 2013 season, and thus the Falcons don’t want to get into a situation next off-season where they are in a protracted contract stalemate with Ryan. If the Falcons can get Ryan locked up to a long-term deal, then it will alleviate many of the issues they have at this position.

Next on the Falcons to-do list is going to be addressing the No. 2 spot on the roster. Luke McCown was signed just before the start of the regular season to replace Chris Redman and John Parker Wilson, both of whom struggled in the preseason. McCown can be a competent reserve when the conditions around him are ideal, namely when he has a ground game, playmakers at wide receiver, and doesn’t have to play from behind. Those conditions could be met in Atlanta if the Falcons can get their ground game back on track but they don’t want to be in a situation where McCown will be asked to start multiple games in the event of a Ryan injury.

McCown is a free agent, and he could be retained fairly easily. It’s unlikely he’ll get anything more than a one-year, near-minimum deal on the open market, so if the Falcons offer the same it’s likely he’ll remain in Atlanta. But the Falcons need at quarterback will be bringing in more competition. Dominique Davis will represent the third quarterback on the roster and will be in the competition, but the team needs a fourth arm. Traditionally the Falcons have relied on undrafted talent to fill this part of the depth chart, but it might be time that the team delves into free agency or the draft to try and find more than your run of the mill undrafted prospect.

The ideal fit for the Falcons will be someone that is somewhat familiar with Dirk Koetter’s scheme. But also from a skill standpoint, they probably want to look for someone that is comfortable with a vertical passing game. It remains to be seen whether or not the Falcons running game makes significant strides next year, and thus the team may still be reliant on the explosiveness of their passing game to potentially win games if Ryan were to go down. There’s an obvious candidate that fits both requirements: David Garrard.

While the Falcons could look for talent in the middle to late portion of the draft, the presence of Davis on the roster probably mitigates their desire for another young, developing quarterback. Davis possesses a big arm and mobility, which if he can polish up his mechanics and become more comfortable making his progressions could develop into a capable No. 2.

Whether the Falcons choose to retain McCown or move in another direction, the key is that they bring in some arms that can bolster competition in camp. Whoever fills the backup spot in 2013 should be in for an open, intense competition, and settling for retaining an average McCown and green Davis won’t be enough to provide that.

Roster Talk: Offense

August 28th, 2012 Comments off
Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

Lousaka Polite battling for a roster spot

I want to go position by position and discuss which players I believe will make the Falcons final 53-man roster come Friday. For this first part I want to look at the offensive players. Later I will discuss defensive battles.

Typically an NFL roster is going to consist of 25 offensive players, 25 defensive players, and 3 special teams players. Those numbers can be tweaked by 1 or 2 players often given how injuries effect you at that point in the year and other places where you have strong depth.

For example, the past few years the Falcons have kept five defensive tackles on the roster mainly because they’ve had injuries and other issues hit them during the summer. In 2010, Jonathan Babineaux was suspended for the season opener, prompting them to go into the season with a fifth tackle in Trey Lewis. Last year, Corey Peters missed the season opener against the Bears with a knee injury, thus allowing Carlton Powell a chance to make the roster as the fifth defensive tackle. Normally, the Falcons would only keep four defensive tackles as they did in 2008 and 2009, but injuries prompted them otherwise in 2010 and 2011.

Situations like that can affect a player or two making the roster or not as the team is trying its damnedest to get 46 players healthy and active for the first Sunday of the year.

Quarterback

The big question going into this week was whether or not the Falcons would choose to keep two quarterbacks or three, and whether Chris Redman would be among them. Earlier today, the Falcons seemingly answered that question by dumping Redman and replacing him with veteran Luke McCown. It was a move that I thought possible, but not probable. Well, I was wrong. But even with this late addition of McCown, he’s not guaranteed to be on the final 53 on opening day. McCown’s relatively hefty veteran salary of $825,000 would be guaranteed if he is on the roster for Week 1, as are those of any of the other 52 players. The Falcons could cut him prior to the start of the season with the expectation and understanding that they would bring him back in Week 2. Such a money manipulation is not foreign to the Falcons, as they pulled this with Brett Romberg a year ago who also signed a mere 48 hours before their final preseason game as well. McCown could get some reps in the preseason finale, although it’s doubtful given the limited amount of work he’d have to prep for it. Instead, Dominique Davis will likely play the entire game. And if he has another strong performance, then it increases the chances that the team opens the season with him as the No. 2 QB, and subsequently pulls the opening day switcheroo with McCown. If Davis struggles, then McCown will almost certainly get the nine days between the Jaguars game and the season opener to take the No. 2 job.

Best Guess for Final 53: Ryan, Davis,  McCown.

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Falcons replace Redman with McCown

August 28th, 2012 Comments off
Greg Bartram-US PRESSWIRE

Luke McCown

The Falcons announced today that they have signed veteran quarterback Luke McCown and cut Chris Redman from the team. McCown is experienced in Dirk Koetter’s offense having spent the past three seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

McCown was cut over the weekend by the New Orleans Saints. McCown began the 2011 season as the Jacksonville Jaguars starter, before poor play led him to be benched in favor of Blaine Gabbert. He was not re-signed by them in the off-season, and thus landed in New Orleans thanks in large part to the extended Drew Brees holdout. In his two starts last year, he completed 23 of 43 passes (53.5%) for 234 yards, no touchdowns, and four interceptions, giving him a 30.6 passer rating. Originally a fourth round pick out of Louisiana Tech in 2004 with the Cleveland Browns, McCown has been traded twice during his career. First, he was traded to Tampa Bay by the Browns after his rookie season. And then again by the Bucs to Jacksonville just prior to the 2009 season. For his career, McCown has logged 9 starts, compiling a 2-7 record as a starter. He’s completed 58.2% of his 316 pass attempts for 2035 yards, 9 touchdowns, and 14 interceptions, giving him a career passer rating of 68.5.

Redman was one of the longer tenured Falcons being one of nine players that remain that were on it prior to the arrival of Mike Smith and Thomas Dimitroff. He first joined the team in 2007, having experience in Bobby Petrino’s offense making him useful in integrating that with the other quarterbacks. Redman managed to turn that into a roster position, earning the third spot that year. After lackluster performances of Joey Harrington and Byron Leftwich through the first three-quarters of the season, Redman was promoted as the starter for the final four games. He managed to provide a bit of an offensive spark for the team and was re-signed the following off-season with Smith and Dimitroff coming in. He eventually lost the starting job to rookie phenom Matt Ryan, but has remained ever since as the team’s top backup. But his performance this summer was mediocre at best, and the team opted to move on. In four seasons in Atlanta, Redman started 6 games, compiling a 1-5 record.He completed 59.6% of 302 attempts for 2068 yards, 14 touchdowns, and 9 interceptions for a passer rating of 83.3. Prior to joining the Falcons, Redman had spent several years out of football. He was originally a third round pick by the Baltimore Ravens in 2000, but after four mediocre seasons and only six starts to his name, they released him after 2003. He had brief off-season stints with the New England Patriots and Tennessee Titans in 2005 before getting his shot in Atlanta in 2007.

McCown will be competing with Dominique Davis for the No. 2 position and may get reps this Thursday against his former team, Jacksonville, in the Falcons preseason finale.

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