On this fine Easter Sunday, let’s recap some of the news and stories surrounding the Atlanta Falcons over the past week:
The subject of fifth-year options for 2011 first-round picks became a popular subject this week. The Falcons have yet to exercise their option on wide receiver Julio Jones, and have until May 3 to do so.
The fifth-year option will be equivalent to the top 10 salaries for his position group in 2015, which according to ESPN’s Vaughn McClure will give Jones a salary of $10.176 million next year. That money will be guaranteed, but for injury only.
It is very likely that the Falcons will exercise that option. The only reason not to is because they want to sign Jones to an extension before the start of the 2014 regular season. That certainly is a possibility, but unless progress on talks are pretty far along, it really doesn’t hurt the team to still exercise the option in the meantime.
Jones has a cap hit of roughly $5.15 million in 2014, which means that if the option is exercised, he will make around $15.3 million over the next two years, with roughly-two thirds of it guaranteed.
Comparatively, Mike Wallace signed a five-year contract worth $60 million last offseason, with a $27 million payout in his first two seasons, all of which was guaranteed (according to Spotrac.com). It’s certainly possible that Jones could receive substantially more money in his eventual extension from the Falcons. Through the first five games of the 2013 season before his season-ending foot injury, Jones was leading the league in receptions (41) and second in yards (580) behind only tight end Jimmy Graham (593).
One of the big stories of the week came when Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank appeared on 680 the Fan on Tuesday morning and spoke candidly about how he perceived the team lacking toughness. Blank highlighted the hit that New Orleans Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro put on Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan in the season-opener as a play that bothered him:
“And that play really bothered me, sincerely. It bothered me that none of our players, they all complained, but none of them went to the safety on the Saints and did anything.”
ESPN’s Vaughn McClure has a good recap of Blank’s interview as well as a follow-up piece praising Blank’s candidness. Blank’s comments echoed earlier ones made immediately following the 2013 regular season in which he expressed his desire to toughen up the Falcons.
Blank’s comments were followed up on Friday with a radio appearance by Ryan himself, who was diplomatic in defending his teammates’ inaction while also expressing his own praise for Blank for “having his back.”
The Atlanta Falcons announced the signings of safety Dwight Lowery and cornerback Josh Wilson earlier today. Lowery spent the past three seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars, while Wilson played with the Washington Redskins during that same span. Terms of their deals have yet to be disclosed, although Wilson’s deal is reportedly for one year.
Lowery missed most of the 2013 season with a concussion, suffered in the third game of the season on a blindside hit from Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate. In 2012, he started nine games, missing five during midseason with an ankle injury and missing the final two with a foot injury. Lowery was first traded to the Jaguars at the start of the 2011 season after spending three years with the New York Jets, who drafted him in the fourth round of the 2008 NFL Draft. Lowery began his career as a cornerback, but was moved to free safety as an injury replacement for Eric Smith near the end of the 2010 season before making the permanent transition upon his arrival in Jacksonville. He spent his first two years in the NFL primarily playing as the Jet’s nickel cornerback. Through his entire career, Lowery has started 41 games both at cornerback and safety and tallied 178 tackles, three sacks, 10 interceptions, five forced fumbles and six recoveries.
Wilson signed a deal with the Redskins following the lockout in 2011 and started the past 48 games for them opposite DeAngelo Hall. He’s coming off a season where he finished with career-highs in tackles (89), sacks (two) and fumble recoveries (three). Prior to joining the Redskins, Wilson spent one season with the Baltimore Ravens after getting traded by the Seahawks. In both Baltimore and Seattle, Wilson played a lot as a nickel cornerback but still managed to start a combined 33 games between 2008-10.
Lowery is likely to move into the team’s vacant free safety position, while Wilson adds depth at cornerback and can compete for the nickel job or potentially push Robert Alford for a starting job. Wilson has experience playing the slot both in Washington and Seattle.
The Atlanta Falcons announced late Friday night that fullback Bradie Ewing had been released. Ewing was originally drafted by the team in the fifth round in 2012, but spent two injury-marred seasons in Atlanta.
Ewing landed on the injured reserve during his rookie season after tearing his ACL in the team’s preseason opener. Ewing missed a good chunk of preseason with an unspecified injury but then returned to win the starting position. But he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in the Falcons’ Week 2 win over the St. Louis Rams.
In Ewing’s absence, the Falcons have gotten good production from his replacements in Mike Cox in 2012 and Patrick DiMarco last season. In two career appearances, Ewing finished with two receptions for 29 yards. DiMarco currently remains the lone fullback on the Falcons roster currently.
Not only did the team make several new additions to the roster but the Atlanta Falcons also parted ways with some long-time veterans on Tuesday to start free agency. The team announced that tight end Tony Gonzalez and safety Thomas DeCoud were officially released, moves that were long expected to be made.
Gonzalez had announced his intentions to retire prior to last season and had made good on those plans this offseason when he was hired by CBS Sports to become an in-studio analyst for the network this fall. But because he had not yet filed his retirement papers, the Falcons were forced to cut him in lieu of paying him an option bonus this week.
DeCoud’s impending release had been reported two weeks ago due to a portion of his salary becoming guaranteed if he was on the roster as of March 15. DeCoud was drafted by the Falcons in the third round of the 2008 NFL Draft, and became a regular starter at free safety the following season. He managed to start 78 games over five seasons with the Falcons, collecting 14 interceptions. He earned a Pro Bowl bid in 2012 with a team-high six interceptions, which was also the second-most among safeties in the NFL that year. But DeCoud’s play took a notable dip last season. Premium website Pro Football Focus rated him as the 83rd best safety in the league last season out of 86 players graded.
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.
The Atlanta Falcons announced the signing
of free agent offensive lineman Gabe Carimi today. Carimi was recently released by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He was traded to the Buccaneers last June after two unsuccessful seasons with the Chicago Bears, where he was coached by new Falcons offensive line coach Mike Tice. Per multiple reports, Carimi signed a one-year deal.
Carimi was the Bears’ top selection in the 2011 out of Wisconsin, and according to Michael Holley’s book The War Room, would have been the likeliest target of the Falcons had they not opted instead to trade up for wide receiver Julio Jones. Carimi suffered through an injury-plagued rookie season with the Bears, starting just two games before landing on injured reserve. He returned in 2012 to start the first 10 games at right tackle before poor performances led to his being benched. He would be re-inserted into the starting lineup two weeks later as an injury replacement for right guard Lance Louis, and started three games there where he fared better. He would start one more game at right tackle before the season was done. However, when the Bears fired their coaching staff following 2012, the new regime decided to trade him after making several moves in the offseason to upgrade their offensive line.
This past year for the Buccaneers, he started the first two games of the regular season at left guard as an injury replacement for Carl Nicks. Nicks returned to the lineup for two games before his season was finally over. Instead of putting Carimi back into the lineup as a starter, the Buccaneers decided to shuffle around their offensive line, putting center Jeremy Zuttah at left guard and backup Ted Larsen at center. Eventually, the Bucs settled on Jamon Meredith at left guard, with Carimi serving out the remainder of the 2013 season as a sixth offensive lineman and tight end.
Carimi could potentially help the Falcons at multiple positions, but will likely be asked to play either right guard or right tackle in Atlanta. Click here to read a scouting report on Carimi from 2011.
Alex Marvez of FOX Sports cites sources that the Atlanta Falcons have released linebacker Stephen Nicholas and cornerback Asante Samuel today. Marvez’s report was subsequently confirmed by the team. NFL teams were allowed to begin releasing players starting this past Monday, and the release of veterans such as Nicholas and Samuel had long been expected. Nicholas was on the roster bubble since last summer’s training camp, while Samuel’s exit seemed inevitable once the team opted to bench him at the end of the 2013 season.
Per figures at OverTheCap.com, the combined release of both players frees up over $6 million in cap space for the Falcons. Nicholas was set to count $4 million against the Falcons’ 2014 cap, and frees up $2 million in cap savings. Samuel was set to count nearly $5 million against the 2014 cap, and his release frees up roughly $4.2 million.
Nicholas first joined the Falcons as a fourth-round draft pick in 2007. He was a reserve with the team his first two seasons before assuming the starting strong-side linebacker position in 2009. He would maintain that grip on the starting position through the 2012 season, before losing it this past year. For his career, Nicholas appeared in 101 games, starting 50 of them. He also recorded 329 tackles, 8 sacks, 2 interceptions, and 5 forced fumbles over the course of his Falcon career.
Samuel was traded to the Falcons from the Philadelphia Eagles in 2012 in exchange of a seventh-round draft pick. Samuel started 25 games over the course of two seasons with the Falcons, missing some time due to injury. During that span, he recorded 66 tackles, 6 interceptions and 22 pass deflections. Samuel came to the Falcons after playing four seasons with the Eagles and five seasons with the New England Patriots. Originally a fourth-round pick by the Patriots in 2003, Samuel would earn four Pro Bowl trips and two Super Bowl titles over the course of his 11-year career. His 51 career interceptions currently rank fourth among active NFL players on the all-time list. For his career, Samuel also has 437 tackles, 145 pass deflections, and six pick-sixes.
D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that the Atlanta Falcons will place defensive tackle Corey Peters and rookie safety Zeke Motta on injured reserve. Peters suffered an Achilles injury in Monday night’s loss to the San Francisco 49ers. The injury will likely limit Peters during the upcoming offseason where he is set to become an unrestricted free agent. Motta suffered a fracture in his C1 vertebrae during the preceding week’s win over the Washington Redskins. He is expected to miss 4-6 weeks as he recovers from his recent surgery.
For the fifth consecutive season the Falcons have placed a player on injured reserve before the season finale. Last year, it was wide receiver Kevin Cone. In the preceding year, it was linebacker Mike Peterson and cornerback Kelvin Hayden. In 2010, safety Schann Schillinger found himself going to injured reserve while guard Harvey Dahl and cornerback Chris Houston were sidelined in 2009. Traditionally the Falcons typically elevate player(s) from the practice squad to the active roster for the season finale.
In the absence of Peters, the Falcons moved Peria Jerry to his traditional nose tackle spot against the 49ers. It will likely lead to increased reps for Travian Robertson in the season finale next week against the Carolina Panthers. Robertson has just played a total of 55 defensive snaps this season in four games played. Motta filled in for an injured Thomas DeCoud at free safety against the Redskins in his lone start of the season. But DeCoud returned this past week against the 49ers. Motta’s injury led to fellow rookie Kemal Ishmael receiving three snaps against the 49ers, his first of the season on defense. That will likely continue against the Panthers with Ishmael being the team’s top backup at both safety spots.
Today, the Atlanta Falcons announced a pair of roster moves, including promoting offensive tackle Terren Jones from their practice squad to the active roster. The team also waived wide receiver Brian Robiskie.
Jones, an undrafted rookie out of Alabama State, initially made the team’s final 53-man active roster, but was released and added to the practice when the team signed Jeremy Trueblood in September prior to the season-opener. Jones had an occasionally up, but mostly down preseason.
Robiskie was added to the roster following the season-ending injury to wide receiver Julio Jones, and after playing in Week 7, he was inactive for the past five games.