One could argue that the Falcons need at defensive tackle exceeds that of their need at defensive end. That argument hinges on the fact that John Abraham is still productive, coupled with the presences of Kroy Biermann and Jonathan Massaquoi gives the team two decent if not good options for the future. At defensive tackle, Jonathan Babineaux is entering the final year of his contract. Corey Peters has not developed into much of a pass rusher. Vance Walker is a free agent, and Peria Jerry is a bust. Right now, the only player that is a good bet to be on the Falcons roster come 2014 at defensive tackle is Travian Robertson, since Jerry and Peters are also entering contract years like Babs.
This of course could mean that the Falcons top pick this April could be an interior defensive lineman. But if they wish to explore their options in free agency prior to that point, they could find some upgrades.
The big question for the Falcons is going to be exactly what are they looking for at this position. Their run defense was porous in 2012, leading one to believe that their priority will be getting a widebody that can help there. But they also need help with the pass rush, and getting some better pressure up the middle certainly can help there. At this point, Babineaux is the only reliable guy that can get pressure up the middle, and he’s slowing down. Improving the run probably is more of a short-term goal that doesn’t require a significant investment, while improving the pass rush probably has much greater long-term value. And due to the premium teams put on quality pass rushers, it might require either a big investment in free agency or a high pick in the draft.
There really aren’t any signature free agents. Henry Melton (Bears) probably tops the list coming off a 6-sack season. Melton is an athletic player that played both running back and defensive end at Texas before moving inside for the Chicago Bears. He has flashed the ability to be a game-changer as an interior pass rusher. But I’m not sure if Melton is the next big thing in terms of interior pass rushers, as he didn’t wow me on tape. I think part of Melton’s success could do with the talent around him on the Bears front, which gives him a lot of one-on-one situations against inferior blockers. He has good quickness and is comfortable moving around the line. He played in some 3-man fronts at Texas, but has made his home as more of a 3-technique in the Bears defense. He’d have a chance to be a long-term replacement of Babineaux in the middle, as the two possess similar traits. But I’m not sure he’s the ideal candidate to be the “lead guy” on a unit, which are similar concerns I had about Ray Edwards two years ago.
Other notable names might have to come as teams begin to cut more players. Chris Canty (Giants) and Richard Seymour (Raiders) have already been given their walking papers. Canty was an effective pass rusher as primarily a nickel specialist for the Giants. He has experience in both the 3-4 and 4-3, making him a nice fit under Mike Nolan. But he turns 31 in November, making him just a year younger than Babineaux. That means he’s probably only a short-term solution that won’t be a dominant force in the middle (3 sacks in 2012). Seymour was once a dominant 3-4 end for the Patriots that was traded to the Raiders in 2009. While he provided good veteran leadership in their locker room and a physical presence against the run on the field, his skills have declined enough that he’s more of a backup at this point in his career than a starter. His ability as a pass rusher is fairly limited. He could help improve the Falcons run defense to a degree, but unless he’s willing to play on the cheap for one year, is probably not worth the time.