It seems like the Falcons and free agent running back Jason Snelling are playing a game of cat and mouse. Early reports over the weekend were that the Falcons were hard at work trying to retain Snelling, but the free agent was intent on testing the market. It seemed like a few days ago he was very close to signing with the St. Louis Rams, but that proved to be untrue. They opted to sign ex-Falcons Jerious Norwood. Then the New York Giants came calling, but that was mainly a ruse to try and force Ahmad Bradshaw’s hand. Now, reports serviced yesterday that Snelling was in Kansas City to work out for them.
The clock is ticking on whether or not Snelling can get a good free agent offer. Signed free agents will begin practicing today around the league, and it’s likely that the market will slow to a virtual crawl after this point in most cities. Thrice now, Snelling has been spurned by other teams that have shown interest in him, but ultimately settled on other options. Part of that could be that Snelling’s contract demands are too high, part of it may be those teams ultimately preferred other options.
The early buzz on Jacquizz Rodgers has been positive in camp, and it’s possible that the Falcons have moved on past Snelling while he’s put his feelers out in free agency. If that’s true, it would be a mistake. While Rodgers could potentially handle the third down role this year, keeping Snelling means he doesn’t have to. The Falcons won’t have to rely on him to be that guy, instead they can work him slowly into the lineup and pick and choose his spots. When it comes to protecting their franchise quarterback, it makes sense for the Falcons to put their best foot forward, which is Snelling as Turner’s top backup.
D. Orlando Ledbetter of the AJC reports that the Falcons have signed both of their remaining draft picks, inking deals with first round wide receiver Julio Jones and fifth round running back Jacquizz Rodgers. The Falcons came to terms with their other four draft picks earlier today. Although terms of their deals have yet to be disclosed, both players signed four-year deals. Because Jones is a first round pick, the team has an option to add a fifth year in 2015, which will be equal to the average of the top ten salaries for wide receivers. That figure was $8.65 million based of 2010 salaries.
UPDATE: Zach Klein of WSB-TV reports that Jones signed a four-year deal worth $16.2 million, all of which is guaranteed.
What shakes out at the running back position will heavily depend on what happens in free agency for the Falcons. Jason Snelling and Jerious Norwood are both free agents. All signs indicate that the Falcons want to bring Snelling back, but there’s no guarantee that will happen and he could walk. The selection of Jacquizz Rodgers in the draft will likely push Norwood out the door, but the possibility of his return increases if Snelling signs elsewhere.
Unlike Matt Ryan at the quarterback position, the Falcons should not have to spend a ton of time and effort getting Michael Turner ready for the season. Although that could change if the Falcons aren’t keen on Turner’s conditioning when camp opens up. Hopefully, unlike past off-seasons, Turner put in the extra time to try and be in top conditioning in order to hit the ground running when football reconvenes.
If that is the case, then the Falcons can spend the extra reps trying to get Jacquizz Rodgers up to speed, particularly working in passing situations and on protections. If the Falcons lose both free agents, it will become paramount that Rodgers gets up to speed as quickly as possible since he will likely be the team’s top option on third downs since that was the primary role in which both Snelling and Norwood served the past three seasons.
Depending on how Rodgers does in that area will likely determine the chances that either Gartrell Johnson or Antone Smith remain Falcons in 2011. Both players’ experience makes them suitable alternatives if Rodgers, at least early in the season, isn’t up to the task. Johnson is the likelier of the pair to make the roster since he passed Smith on the depth chart during the course of 2010. His size and power make him a more suitable alternative in the event of injuries and the team needs an option to fill in on the ground. He was also slightly more productive of the pair on special teams as well.
At fullback, Pro Bowler Ovie Mughelli’s job is safe. The Falcons may toy with the idea of bringing another lead blocker to camp to add depth. The chances that happens increase if Snelling departs, since he’s the primary backup there. Although the Falcons might try and use their reserve tight ends as H-backs in such an event. Michael Palmer would have the best opportunity there.
The Falcons offense was one of the least explosive offenses in the league in 2010. And it’s been a major point for the Falcons front office to try and change that headed into 2011.
At the running back position the Falcons currently have Michael Turner. Turner receives the bulk of the Falcons carries on the ground, at about 75% each of the last three seasons when healthy. That probably isn’t going to change in 2011. But since 2008, the Falcons have made a concerted effort to reduce some of Turner’s workload. And what can help that significantly if the Falcons can have reliable options behind him as a change of pace. Jason Snelling had a strong finish in the 2009 campaign, but outside his Week 2 performance as a replacement to an injured Turner, he didn’t contribute a ton in 2010 on the ground. Jerious Norwood missed almost the entire year, and his future in Atlanta is in doubt. If the Falcons can secure a solid No. 3 running back in the draft, it should all but end Norwood’s disappointing tenure in Atlanta due to his inability to stay healthy.
And the most likely target for that No. 3 spot is a quick, explosive back that can be a factor on third downs.
Thankfully for the Falcons, this draft class seems to be loaded with those types of runners, with teh Falcons more than likely targeting one in the middle portion of the draft. At this point, my expectation is that the ideal range where the Falcons will take a back is somewhere between the third and fifth round of the draft, with them trying to address other needs earlier.
Jay Adams of Atlanta Falcons.com reports that the Atlanta Falcons have placed running back Jerious Norwood on the injured reserve after he suffered a knee injury on the opening kickoff of the team’s matchup last weekend vs. the Arizona Cardinals. Jay Glazer of FOX Sports reported earlier today that it was a torn ACL in his right knee.
Norwood had thus far had limited usage offensively this year, with his only two carries coming for 8 yards in the season opener vs. the Steelers. He also had a reception for 9 yards in that game, and had been splitting reps with Eric Weems as the team’s kickoff returner. Injuries are nothing new for Norwood, who had only made it through a full 16-game schedule once since joining the Falcons in 2006.
To fill Norwood’s spot on the roster, the team signed running back Gartrell Johnson. Johnson was a fourth round pick with the San Diego Chargers last year, but was cut by that team at the end of camp. He was picked up by the New York Giants, and appeared in 10 games, carrying the ball 13 times for 43 yards (3.3 avg). The 5’10″ 219-pound running back is more of a power runner than the speedy Norwood. You can read about Johnson in a scouting report included in the 2009 FalcFans.com Draft Guide.
The team did manage to add some speed at the position by signing Shawnbrey McNeal to the practice squad. McNeal was another cast-off of the San Diego Chargers and was an undrafted free agent this past year. You can read a scouting report on McNeal, posted here in the forums.
In the absence of Norwood, Antone Smith will likely be elevated up the depth chart and potentially get more reps on Sundays. Depth at running back is fairly thin with the loss of Norwood. Michael Turner suffered what Mike Smith termed a non-severe groin injury during the Week 2 game vs. Arizona. Jason Snelling is expected to get a heavier dose in the offense as he did against the Cardinals.
To free up a space on the team’s eight-man practice squad, the team parted ways with middle linebacker Bear Woods.
D. Orlando Ledbetter of the AJC reports that the Falcons expect several players to return to action in next week’s preseason game against the Miami Dolphins after missing some time. Among them are safety William Moore, cornerback Dunta Robinson, defensive tackle Peria Jerry, cornerback Brian Williams, and running back Jerious Norwood.
All five players have yet to suit up for a game this preseason. Typically, the third preseason game is the one in which the team’s starters get the majority of their playing time. And Robinson and Jerry are expected to hold down starting positions this season. Head coach Mike Smith indicated in his post-game press conference that the team had been targeting most of the injured players to return for this third preseason game from the start.
Moore has missed time by re-aggravating a groin injury he suffered in the spring. The former second round pick has seen very little action to date for the team in the past two seasons.
Robinson was held out last week with a hamstring injury, although he indicated in a television interview that he could have played had it been a regular season game. The team erred on the side of caution to allow the injury to heal.
Jerry still has lingering issues from the knee injury he suffered in September of last season and has been limited in practice since training camp began at the end of July. Williams is in the same boat.
Norwood too has been limited for most of camp with a hip flexor.
The Falcons were able to get wide receiver Harry Douglas and safety Matt Giordano back from injury for last night’s preseason game. Douglas (knee) and Giordano (groin) were held out of the Chiefs games. Douglas responded with a pair of receptions for 13 yards. It was his first action since 2008, after missing all of the 2009 season with a knee injury. Giordano had two tackles in his first action in a Falcon uniform.
The Falcons will have an open competition at the kicker position. Matt Bryant is expected to be the frontrunner, but he will be pushed by Steven Hauschka.
Bryant has the experience which likely gives him the edge since the Falcons would like to avoid any inconsistency at the position. But Hauschka has the bigger leg and longer range. The problem is that he has not been particularly effective in clutch kicking situations and showed a tendency to miss some fairly easy kicks last year in Baltimore, leading to his release. But Hauschka also has the added advantage of being 10 years younger than Bryant.
The Falcons will have options, and will likely go with the more consistent of the two. More than likely, the team will alternate them in preseason games to maximize their opportunities.
At punter, Michael Koenen’s job is safe. And while Hauschka was an effective kickoff guy for two years in Baltimore, he doesn’t like he’ll be a serious challenge to Koenen even if he wins the job over Bryant. Joe Zelenka’s job as long snapper appears safe after a good last month of the season in 2009.
The return situation will also feature some heavy competition. Eric Weems is the incumbent returner, and while he may lack explosive speed to really get a lot of big plays, he is fairly consistent with his ability to give the team good field position. Jerious Norwood has more explosive speed on kickoffs, but the team may feel his value on offense makes Weems more desirable there. As a punt returner in 2008, Harry Douglas was fairly good. But he didn’t show the most reliable set of hands and coming off an ACL injury it doesn’t seem like he’ll have that same explosive burst. Dominique Franks will get an opportunity as well. He doesn’t have great speed, but if he can show he can be a reliable set of hands and show some big play potential there, he has a shot to unseat Weems.
Michael Turner and Ovie Mughelli are entrenched as the starters, but the Falcons could see some turnover as far as depth goes. Jason Snelling had a strong finish last year, and it’s possible he could surpass Norwood as the primary backup and third down option. However, more than likely, the team will use and alternate both come the regular season to highlight their strengths and minimize their weaknesses.
The main issue at running back is if the Falcons decide they want to keep another back. Snelling’s ability to play both halfback and fullback means that the team only needs to keep four backs on the roster. But if Antone Smith or Dimitri Nance have strong preseason performances, there is a chance they could land as the fifth roster spot. Smith is more explosive, which probably gives him a slight edge due to the fact that Jerious Norwood may no longer be in the team’s long-term plans. Nance has a good combination of size and speed, and potentially projects a little better as an every-down back. Keys for both players along with their ability to tote the rock will be how they perform in pass protection and on special teams since that is likely to be their role if they make it to the regular season.
The Falcons announced today that four of their restricted free agents signed their one-year tenders today. Those players that signed their tenders were offensive linemen Tyson Clabo, Harvey Dahl, and Quinn Ojinnaka, and running back Jason Snelling.
Today was the last day that restricted free agents could sign offer sheets with other teams. No word on whether or not punter Michael Koenen or running back Jerious Norwood signed their tenders, but since they did not sign offer sheets with other teams, they aren’t going anywhere.
Clabo and Dahl will earn $2.521 million in base salary this year. Snelling will make $1.684 million and Ojinnaka $1.176 million. When Koenen and Norwood sign, they will be set to earn $2.73 million and $1.759 million, respectively.
After the 11:59 Thursday deadline for NFL teams to extend tenders to their restricted free agents, the NFL published the official list of free agents. The list indicated that the Falcons did not extend tenders to three restricted free agents: safeties Jamaal Fudge, Antoine Harris, and Charlie Peprah. Thus all three will become unrestricted free agents, free to sign with any other team.
Also to update previous reports, the Falcons tendered Jerious Norwood at the second round level rather than the first. His salary for 2010 will be $1.759 million, roughly $800,000 less than previous reported.