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Takeaways from Last Week – March 25

March 25th, 2013 Comments off
Tim Heitman-US PRESSWIRE

Osi Umenyiora

Reports on Saturday indicated that the Falcons signing Osi Umenyiora was very imminent. Not sure if by the time this posts Monday morning if that deal will be official, but given the sources (Pro Football Talk and Adam Schefter), I trust them.

I don’t have a problem with that move. The problem with the move is that it is at best a lateral move for a team that struggled with their pass rush throughout 2012. It’s a toss-up between the lack of pass rush and the run defense as to what was the Achilles heel of the Falcons defense last year. At least for the run defense, there were some strong performances down the stretch. Not sure, if I can say the same for the pass rush.

I don’t think Osi is better than John Abraham, but the dropoff is not huge. If you asked me who I would rather have for one season, my answer is definitely Abraham. If you’re asking me who I would rather have for three seasons, then I’d probably choose Osi just because he is a few years younger. But I definitely don’t think Osi is going to be as good or better than Abraham is at age 34.

This is why I think adding pass rush help will remain a priority for the Falcons going into the draft. I think there is a strong possibility that the Falcons will use their top pick to help there.

Once Osi signs, the focus will shift firmly to cornerback as the Falcons top need. While I won’t say that the team won’t draft a corner with their top pick, there is still a lot of time left before the draft (31 days to be exact). There are just too many good veteran corners available, that I’d be surprised if the Falcons didn’t try and pursue one in that time span. It seems inevitable that Brent Grimes won’t be returning to the Falcons at this point, despite my overwhelming desires. So if not Grimes, then the Falcons still have options. Antoine Winfield is probably the best, but he’s 36 and at that age is really only a one-year stopgap. But Winfield would be a good player to pair with Asante Samuel for a season. Winfield still played at a high level last year, and is one of the league’s most consistent run-defending corners in the league. You could possibly make the argument that Winfield is one of the best run-support corners in the last twenty years. Terence Newman brings many of the physical traits to the table that Robinson did that had Falcons officials gushing over him three years ago. He was decent last year in Cincinnati, but it’s hard not to forget his struggles in Dallas the previous two years. Quentin Jammer is another corner with a reputation for physicality, but I’m not sure he can really run anymore, which is the same complaint about Nnamdi Asomugha. Rashean Mathis is a guy that Mike Smith is very familiar with, but he’s struggled with injuries the past two years, so may not be a reliable starter. There are other players such as DeAngelo Hall, Mike Jenkins, Kelvin Hayden, Marcus Trufant, Stanford Routt, Cedric Griffin, and Tracy Porter that will also potentially be in the mix. And I can’t forget about Charles Woodson either.

That’s just too many serviceable to good starters out there for the Falcons to stand pat at cornerback. Right now, there cornerback position consists of Samuel and Robert McClain, and that’s about it. Dominique Franks is on the roster bubble. He didn’t contribute anything as a returner last year, and has not contributed anything on special teams coverage, making his hold on a reserve spot tenuous at best. Backup defensive backs have to contribute on special teams, and Franks does not. So unless the Falcons really like Terrence Johnson and/or Peyton Thompson, you can be fairly confident that at least two significant additions will be made at the position. Probably one on the first two days of the draft, and likely one in free agency.

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Falcons Gearing Up to Take Pass Rusher Atop Draft

March 15th, 2013 Comments off
Mitch Stringer-US PRESSWIRE

Bjoern Werner

The Falcons primary needs heading into this offseason were upgrading their running game, replacing/retaining Tony Gonzalez at tight end, securing the cornerback spot opposite Asante Samuel, and improving the pass rush. While there were certainly other areas of the roster that could be improved, those four spots seemed to be the primary needs where the Falcons couldn’t afford to stand pat upon.

Well after the first few days of the off-season, it seems that the Falcons have already addressed the majority of them except for the pass rush.

Steven Jackson was added to replace Michael Turner as the starting running back. While Jackson won’t fix the Falcons running ailments, he certainly should provide a short-term boost. He’ll also give the team another year to evaluate Jacquizz Rodgers to determine if he will have a say in the Falcons long-term answers at the position.

Tony Gonzalez was retained for at least one more year. While the Falcons certainly could be in the market for drafting his heir apparent this April, Gonzalez’s presence means it ceases to be a priority.

While the cornerback spot remains open, the market has been flooded with so many good veteran corners such as Antoine Winfield and Nnamdi Asomugha to join free agents like Brent Grimes, Mike Jenkins, Tracy Porter, etc. that it seems impossible at this point that the Falcons won’t find someone competent to man the starting spot at least short-term. Worst-case scenario is the Falcons find a veteran seat warmer that at least prevents the Falcons need to use a very high pick looking for an immediate starter.

That just leaves the pass rush, which hasn’t been addressed yet following the release of John Abraham, by far the team’s best player in that category last season. And the market as of this writing doesn’t appear to be as favorable as the Falcons potential options in the secondary.

At this point, the best case scenario for the Falcons may be a lateral move in replacing Abraham with a similarly aged veteran like Dwight Freeney or Osi Umenyiora. The Falcons could also choose to address their pass rush with a quick, interior presence but aren’t likely to find much help on the open market. Quality pass rushers like Henry Melton, Jason Jones, Desmond Bryant, Chris Canty, and Cullen Jenkins have already worked out deals elsewhere.

Given Thomas Dimitroff’s proclivities for needs-based drafting, it would seem likely that the Falcons’ off-season is setting them up to address that key need with their top pick. Whether that happens to be an edge rusher or interior disruptor remains to be seen, but it would be a major upset at this point if the Falcons top pick six weeks from now won’t be playing a position that makes it living chasing down quarterbacks.

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FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 25 “Free Agency Preview” Parts 2 & 3

March 12th, 2013 Comments off

Click here to listen to Part 1.

Part 2:

Allen Strk joins me to discuss the upcoming free agent market. We look at some possible signings the Falcons could make including pass rushers like Dwight Freeney, Osi Umenyiora, Cliff Avril, and Michael Bennett. We also look at possible running back options such as Steven Jackson and Ahmad Bradshaw, and whether improving the running game should be a priority. You’ll also hear ourr thoughts on Matt Ryan’s looming monster contract, as well as our opinions of some other Falcon players like Jacquizz Rodgers, Peria Jerry, and Vance Walker.

Ep. 25: Free Agency Preview Part 2 [Download]

Duration: 35 minutes

Part 3:

Allen and I finish our discussion of free agency, by looking at some of the defensive tackles and tight ends the Falcons could be looking at both in March and April. We’ll break down what we see are the off-season’s priorities, as well as look ahead to 2013 to see what competition the Falcons will face and whether it culminates with a Lombardi Trophy in Flowery Branch.

Ep. 25: Free Agency Preview Part 3 [Download]

Duration: 29 minutes

Allen writes for TJRSports.com as well as the Bleacher Report. His twitter handle is: @Allen_Strk.

 

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. You can also subscribe directly to our feed at the following URL: http://feeds.feedburner.com/falcfans/LXSt

FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 25 “Free Agency Preview” Part 1

March 11th, 2013 1 comment

I am joined once again by Allen Strk, to preview and discuss free agency. In this first of three-part episode, we discussed the Falcons free agent moves made on Saturday with the re-signings of William Moore and Garrett Reynolds. We also discuss the cuts the Falcons made a week ago by parting ways with Dunta Robinson, Michael Turner, and John Abraham. There is also discussion of impending free agents Sam Baker, Brent Grimes, among other Falcons that are set to hit the market.

Ep. 25: Free Agency Preview Part 1 [Download]

Duration: 30 minutes

Click here to listen to Parts 2 and 3.

Allen writes for TJRSports.com as well as the Bleacher Report. His twitter handle is: @Allen_Strk.

 

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. You can also subscribe directly to our feed at the following URL: http://feeds.feedburner.com/falcfans/LXSt

Falcons FA Focus: Safety

March 8th, 2013 Comments off
F. Medina-US PRESSWIRE

William Moore

As the eve of the league’s new legal “tampering” period is upon us, it’s time to look at the final spot on the roster that the Falcons could address in free agency: safety.

The big priority for the Falcons at this position probably won’t revolve around adding a new player, but locking down a current one. William Moore is a free agent, and is interested in testing the market. At this point, I believe this preemptive negotiation period will aid the Falcons in their endeavors to re-up with Moore. If he gets away, the Falcons have a fairly large hole here.

They might try and plug it with Charles Mitchell, but it would be a tall order for him to replace Moore, who is arguably the team’s third or fourth best defensive player. Instead, if Moore departs, the Falcons probably will need to scramble to find a suitable replacement on the market.

Three strong safeties stand out on the open market: Kenny Phillips (Giants), Patrick Chung (Patriots), and LaRon Landry (Jets).

Like Moore, all three have struggled with injuries over the years. Moore has missed a combined 8 games over the past two seasons due to injury. Phillips missed 9 this past year, not long after a 2009 season where he missed 14 games. Both Chung and Landry missed 8 games in 2011, while Chung missed four more this past year.

And as in the case of Moore, those durability concerns will likely drive down their prices. None of those players are good bets to make it through a full 16-game slate healthy.

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Categories: Features Tags: , , , ,

Falcons FA Focus: Cornerback

March 8th, 2013 Comments off
Icon SMI

Brent Grimes

I know I should have posted this article over two weeks ago, but other projects distracted me. The Falcons released Dunta Robinson and now have an obvious opening at the cornerback position. The Falcons cut Robinson because of his high price tag and diminishing returns. While Robinson was able to blossom in some areas under Mike Nolan, becoming a highly valuable run defender and blitzer off the edge last year, he continued to struggle in coverage. Robinson just didn’t make enough plays in coverage, which likely means that the Falcons will want a corner with better ball skills to replace him. They have one potentially hitting the open market in Brent Grimes.

The first decision the Falcons have to make is whether or not they will re-sign him. The team is optimistic about Grimes’ return from his torn Achilles suffered on opening day last season. So it doesn’t sound like injury is going to deter them from making an offer. Whether Grimes returns really is going to come down to money. Grimes didn’t get the big contract he was seeking last year, and fresh off an Achilles tear is probably not poised to get one this year. Teams tend to get skittish about guaranteeing money when players wind up injured at the end of two consecutive years.

If the Falcons and Grimes don’t agree on a new deal, then the Falcons will have plenty of other options on the open market. While there aren’t a lot of top-level cornerbacks, there are plenty that are capable starters and role players.

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Falcons FA Focus: Defensive Tackle

February 16th, 2013 1 comment
Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

Randy Starks

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.

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Falcons FA Focus: Defensive End

February 16th, 2013 2 comments

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Can Paul Kruger succeed without Suggs?

The expectation is that the Falcons will be looking to upgrade their pass rush this off-season. John Abraham had a productive year, but did not quite blossom under Mike Nolan in the second half of the season when he basically worked exclusively as a stand-up edge rusher. Kroy Biermann was able to carve out an important role in the nickel package, with his versatility to rush the quarterback and drop into coverage to help the Falcons disguise their blitzes and coverages. Jonathan Massaquoi and Cliff Matthews are expected to carve out bigger roles. Massaquoi will have most of the attention, as he has good athleticism and burst to be an effective pass rusher off the edge and could push for time behind either starter.

There is talk that the Falcons could opt to part ways with Abraham who turns 35 in May. If so, then they will have to definitely replace him with another player that can anchor the pass rush. The Falcons would then like to replace something old with something new, more than likely leading them to find Abe’s replacement in the draft. But they could have potential options in free agency. But cutting Abraham seems unlikely given his status on the team as the best pass rusher. If anything, he might be asked to take a paycut and will be expected to serve primarily as a third down pass rusher this year in the nickel subpackage. That will mean that the Falcons may seek to find someone that can also play on run downs, rather than someone that is purely a pass rusher.

The first decision the Falcons will have to make at this position in regards to free agency is whether or not to re-sign Lawrence Sidbury. Sidbury has flashed nice pass rushing skills, and arguably is only behind Abe in terms of who are the best rushers on the team currently. But Sidbury is not great at defending the run and has a minimal impact on special teams, which has made it harder for the team to justify him being active on Sundays. The Falcons have so few good pass rushers, it’d be hard to let Sidbury walk. But it probably comes down to price tag. If he’s willing to accept a modest deal in line with backup ends, then the chances he returns to Atlanta are higher. In that case, we’d be talking something along the lines of deals for one or two seasons that average less than $3 million per year. But if he’s looking for something that matches or exceeds the roughly $9 million that Kroy Biermann got over three years, then he’s likely gone.

There are a number of good pass rushers that should be available this off-season, although not sure if there are any great ones. Several big names will jump to the top of the list. Dwight Freeney (Colts) and Osi Umenyiora (Giants) are both free agents. Neither player is the dominant pass rusher they once were, but still effective at getting after the quarterback with good speed. But both players, like Abraham, at this point in their careers probably need to be protected in terms of reps. Neither player seem to project well into the hybrid defense that Nolan employs. Freeney played in a similar scheme last year in Indianapolis, and didn’t take quite well to it. But Freeney’s spin move is still one of the most deadly moves in the league which means if the Falcons were going to opt for a more traditional 4-3 look, he’d be an option. Umenyiora essentially became a situational rusher for the Giants last year with Jason Pierre-Paul taking over the full-time starting spot at right end. He’s still quick speed rusher, but has never been known for his enthusiasm for playing the run, nor is he versed into dropping into coverage. If the Falcons try to do with him what they did with Abraham last year, it’s likely going to be a very rocky relationship.

Some names that might become available if their respective teams opt to cut them are Justin Tuck (Giants), Jason Babin (Jaguars), and Will Smith (Saints). Tuck isn’t the same player he was a few years ago. He still has something left in the tank, but he’s no longer an impact pass rusher that you can rely on making multiple plays per game. Babin could have been an option for the Falcons late in the year. He’s still a competent speed rusher, and unlike the others has experience playing in the 3-4 so he wouldn’t be a true square peg in Nolan’s scheme. But Babin isn’t known for his great locker room presence, which probably prompted the Falcons to pass on him initially. And he did little in Jacksonville to suggest that decision was a mistake. Smith has had good performances against the Falcons over the years going up against Sam Baker, but overall is just nothing special as a pass rusher. He too would probably be miscast in a Nolan scheme.

The problem with many of the names I’ve mentioned already is age. Even if the Falcons could get production from some of them, all are on the wrong side of 30, and would essentially be lateral moves in regards to replacing/complementing Abraham. If the Falcons are going to go after free agent pass rushers, it makes much more sense to target players with much more youth.

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Falcons Needs: Special Teams

February 14th, 2013 Comments off

The Falcons won’t be making many major changes here. Their primary goal, if any, at this position group will be upgrading their ability in the return game. The team lost Eric Weems last off-season, and their in-house replacements for him did not suffice.

Jacquizz Rodgers was a competent kickoff returner at times, but if he is going to carve a larger role on offense, they should have another player that can play here. If the Falcons do add a wide receiver or cornerback this off-season, it would make a lot of sense to find one that can also return kicks.

Dominique Franks struggled throughout the year to make any impact as the team’s punt returner. He was replaced late in the year by Harry Douglas, who did very little in his brief time. At this point, finding a competent punt returner would appear to be the biggest priority.

The Falcons probably will let players like Tim Toone and James Rodgers get opportunities to win either job next summer. But it makes sense to bring in more competition if possible via a free agent signing, a mid or late round draft pick, or do what the Falcons did a year ago and target a number of undrafted players that have return and special teams experience.

As for the other specialist positions, besides bringing another camp body there is no need there. Kicker Matt Bryant still seems to be going strong. His leg strength isn’t what it once was, but inside the Georgia Dome he’s about as good a kicker as they come. Punter Matt Bosher showed improvement in his sophomore season. Bosher’s big leg has the potential to really affect field position. He’s also a very good kickoff specialist.

Long snapper Josh Harris had a couple of miscues during his rookie season, but for the most part was solid to good. If any one of the three specialist deserve competition, it would be him, but it’s not really necessary. Other than that, the Falcons might want to kick the tires on an undrafted kicker just to get a look-see at the young talent that is out there given Bryant’s increasing age. Bryant turns 38 in May and has two more years left on his contract.

The teams’ coverage units took a step back in 2012 due to the absences of Weems and Akeem Dent, who were the team’s best cover guys in 2011. Dent got more work on coverage towards the end of the year. The team still has solid performers with players like Kroy Biermann, Jason Snelling, Antone Smith, Drew Davis, Robert James, and Chris Owens. Healthy seasons from players such as Bradie Ewing, Kerry Meier, and/or Shann Schillinger could also improve the unit. Jonathan Massaquoi and Cliff Matthews flashed ability as well late in the year, and the team needs to get a greater contribution from Charles Mitchell, who will be replacing Chris Hope in all likelihood as the top reserve at safety. Overall, the Falcons coverage was more than capable last year. If the Falcons target reserves at wide receiver, linebacker, or in the secondary this off-season, you can be sure they will be expected to contribute in this arena as well.

Falcons FA Focus: Linebacker

February 12th, 2013 Comments off
Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

Jon Beason

I know I skipped over the defensive line positions in terms of looking at prospective free agents that could help the Falcons, but there are a lot of players to watch to drink it all in. So I’ll just instead skip ahead to the linebacker position won’t take a huge amount of effort to break down.

The Falcons need at linebacker centers around their desire to get better in coverage. It arguably cost them a chance at the Super Bowl after tight end Vernon Davis carved up the Falcon defense in the NFC Championship Game, following a year where tight ends seemed to do the same every week.

The Falcons are expected to challenge Stephen Nicholas for his role in the team’s nickel subpackage. The primary challenger probably will be middle linebacker Akeem Dent, but with Mike Peterson hitting free agency and unlikely to return, there is a definite void that could be filled this off-season. And it makes the most sense if that is a player that also can help out in coverage.

It makes sense if the Falcons wait until the draft to address this position. One of the many issues with the Falcons’ coverage at the linebacker position is a lack of speed. While Sean Weatherspoon, the unit’s best player does not lack in that arena, he too struggled at times to match up. Particularly with New Orleans Saints running back Darren Sproles, who worked him over in Week 13 last year. Upgrading in that area makes a lot of sense to try and give the team a linebacker that can deal with Sproles. That way, the Falcons can utilize Weatherspoon more effectively to cover tight end Jimmy Graham in those Saints matchups, which may prove ultimately more fruitful than previous attempts.

The simple fact is that linebackers in the draft are going to be younger, sprier, and ultimately more explosive than any veterans that have already accumulated wear and tear in the league. If the Falcons want someone with speed that can potentially match up with Sproles, their best options likely lie in the draft.

But that doesn’t mean that the Falcons can’t find veterans worth signing. With Peterson likely departing, the Falcons have a need for depth. Currently their backups are Robert James and Pat Schiller due to the release of Matt Hansen over the weekend.

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