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Takeaways from Week 5

October 7th, 2013 Comments off
Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

Tom Coughlin might be out of a job soon

For some silly reason I have picked the New York Giants to cover three times this year. Each time they have failed to do so. No more. This Giants team is headed for a coaching shake-up if they don’t get their act together.

I think Tom Coughlin is a good coach and doesn’t really deserve to be fired. But the simple truth is that if Coughlin didn’t have two Super Bowl rings, he would have gotten axed a long time ago. Assuming there is no epic turnaround this year, it will mean that the Giants have only made the playoffs once in the past five seasons under Coughlin. Over their past 16 games, the Giants sport a 6-10 record. Their defense has given up 30 or more points every game this year, and did so in two of their three final games last season. They’ve now turned the ball over 20 times in their first five games, more than the 19 the 2012 Chiefs gave up in that same span, and the most since the ’97 Saints.

Next week the Giants face the Bears, which probably will be a loss. But if they don’t reel off three straight wins after that point against teams like the Vikings, Eagles, and Raiders, then I think Coughlin has to go. Super Bowls don’t buy you that much leeway especially when there are long-time rumors that Bill Cowher wants the job.

The Houston Texans are a fascinating team with coaching questions as well. Going into this week, they ranked 1st in the league in total defense, but 23rd in the league in scoring defense. I’ve never heard of that since usually it’s the opposite. They have been a “break but don’t bend” defense, with one of the league’s premier passing defenses, yet they give up points rather easily. Like Coughlin, Gary Kubiak’s job security is very tenuous at this point.

Kubiak’s problem is that while his Texans teams have been successful the past two years, he had five seasons where he built very little credit league-wide. Houston was an average team for those five years under him, and after ascending into one of the better teams in 2011, expectations now are much higher. This is a team that I expected to be competing with Denver for the best record in the AFC this season. But the Texans suffer from questions about their quarterback, a very conservative and predictable offense, and an underachieving but talent-laden defense.

The fact that they just suffered their second shellacking of the season on the road doesn’t help things. Losing to the 49ers by 31 on Sunday, after a 21-point loss to Baltimore two weeks ago is not the sign of a championship-caliber team. In between, they choked away a 20-3 halftime lead against Seattle last week.

In terms of coaches on the hot seat, it’s really not about the wins and losses, rather it’s about how good you look. And for the Texans and Giants, both teams have looked really bad in their losses. The best word to describe it is inept. Those sort of performances are what we expect out of teams that win 3 or 4 games all year long. The Giants were a team that looked capable of winning 8-10 games this year, while the Texans were a team that should have skated to at least 11 wins this year. If the Giants are only a 4 or 5-win team this year, that’s dramatic underachieving. If the Giants were able to get their season back on track and get to 6 or 7 wins, you might be able to excuse that and keep Coughlin around.

I’d be surprised if the Texans don’t get to at least to 8-8 this year. And if they can get things back on track, a 10-6 record seems achievable. But both teams are ripe for change along the sidelines if things don’t change, and don’t so quickly.

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Categories: Features Tags: ,

Takeaways from Week 4

September 30th, 2013 Comments off
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

‘Sad Arthur Blank’ should be a meme somewhere

Last week, I tried to make the compelling case for why the Falcons 1-2 start wasn’t as dire as many believed.

I’ll have a much harder time trying to make the same argument now that the Falcons are 1-3.

Honestly, losing to the Miami Dolphins on the road wasn’t that shocking to me. Losing to the Patriots at home, however was. I just expected the Falcons to play much better than they did on Sunday night.

Their looking out of sync against the Dolphins, I chalked up to the injuries and being on the road. I can still partially blame injuries for their looking out of sync against the Patriots, but they typically look much sharper at home.

My immediate reaction won’t be to write off the Falcons this season. From the research I did (called Pro Football Reference), 109 teams in the “Parity Era” (1995-2012) have started the season 1-3, and only 17 of them went on to make the playoffs, giving the Falcons about a 15.5-percent chance. Given that you have a 37.5-percent chance to begin win that is not promising.

One of those teams that did manage to make the playoffs despite a 1-3 start was the 2002 Falcons. After their 1-3 start, they didn’t lose their next eight games (seven wins, one tie) to get into the playoffs on a wildcard. Two of their three opening losses came against playoff teams.

Currently, all three of the Falcons losses come against teams that I suspect will make the playoffs, as the chances a team that starts the year 4-0 makes the playoffs is 82.6-percent over the Parity Era. And we know at least two of our opponents, depending on the result of the Miami Dolphins-New Orleans Saints game tonight will be 4-0. And it’s loser will still be in the driver’s seat to finish the year strong and be playing in January.

The Falcons definitely have some work to do. And the honest to goodness truth is that this team is not nearly as good as we thought they would be. They still have the capacity to be a good team, but time is running short.

Their offense needs to get in sync, and their defense got exposed thoroughly for the first time against what had been a struggling Patriots offense.

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Takeaways from Week 3

September 23rd, 2013 Comments off

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Ryan and the running game give Atlanta hope

I have become increasingly aware of the fact that over the years part of my duties as a Falcons blogger is being able to talk my fellow fans down from the ledge.

Under Mike Smith, losses by the Falcons are relatively rare and thus it seems that the negativity is magnified during the weeks following a loss. People have to get all the negativity that they are used to getting out over a 12-loss Falcon season in less than half as many games. Also it seems like after every single loss that Falcon fans want to take a referendum on the season and use that individual game to determine whether the Falcons are going to or capable of winning a Super Bowl.

Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news. But the only game that determines whether a team is able to win a Super Bowl is the Super Bowl itself. And that game is a long ways off. Thus nobody should be trying to figure out February in September.

Look, I’ll admit the stats aren’t that promising since teams that start the season 1-2 aren’t exactly known for making deep playoff runs. But here’s something that should provide you a bit of solace. Five of the twelve playoff teams last year did start the season 1-2. That might be the most ever, although I only checked back to about 1990 or so before my eyes glazed over. In 2010, none of the playoffs teams got off to worse than a 2-1 start. What does that mean? I don’t know. It could be a one-year aberration or a sign that parity is rising in the NFL. But more importantly, it’s supposed to illustrate to you that a 1-2 start doesn’t end your season just as it did not for Denver, Green Bay, Indianapolis, New England, and Washington a year ago.

Also, the 2001 Patriots and 2007 Giants both started the year 1-2 and ultimately won the title. Sure, two out of twelve doesn’t exactly fill you with an abundance of confidence but it should illustrate to you that an NFL season is not defined by what happens in Week 3.

If I’m making the argument for why the Falcons are going to turn around their season then that argument is going to be based off the fact that both losses came in the final minute. A play or two here and there, and the Falcons could easily be 3-0. The fact that the Falcons’ are pretty beat up at this point in the year also could play into their favor later on. It’s getting a lot of younger players reps to the point that several of them might wind up stepping up. It is noteworthy that without contributions from rookies like Aaron Ross, Kevin Boss, Ahmad Bradshaw, and Michael Johnson, the Giants may not have made it to the Super Bowl back in 2007.

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Takeaways from Last Week – August 12

August 12th, 2013 Comments off
Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Is Vick the one to lead the Eagles in 2013?

I don’t feel the need to really discuss the Falcons preseason opener against the Cincinnati Bengals. I spent 4,300 words breaking down nearly every player on the roster on both offense and defense, an hour-long podcast, as well as seeing which players’ stock is up and down following the game.

But the one thing I do think is worthwhile mentioning about the preseason opener is just many of the reactions I’ve seen and read about it. For whatever reason, people seem to have what I believe to be an overreaction to preseason games in general, but particularly the first one. If I am to wager a guess as to why that is, it’d be that since it’s really the first real football action we’ve seen in six months, people tend to probably overrate it. Similar to if you’re on a diet and you’ve decided to cut out soda or pizza. If you were to a regular consumer of either and then went six months without it, you might think that first sip of cola or slice of pepperoni is among the greatest thing you’ve ever eaten. Even if it is just the generic brand you bought for $0.89 at the local grocery store, or the crappy pizza from your local parlor that makes Pizza Hut look like gourmet stuff.

It’s not surprising that many fans do this. They are probably just aping what the media is doing, whose job it seems to be only about overreacting to things.

Take for instance the happenings in Philadelphia. First, Riley Cooper mouths off and says a racial slur. This might be a controversial viewpoint to some, but I don’t get what the big deal is. Cooper did what tens (if not hundreds) of millions of (white) Americans have done in the past, especially when they have imbibed alcohol. The only difference is that Cooper is semi-famous and it was posted on YouTube. I’m certainly not trying to condone what Cooper said, but why is the media coverage of this incident to the degree like he is/was the first person to use a racial slur. If you just paid attention to television, you would think Cooper and Paula Deen were the only people to use a racial slur in the past twenty years.

The other thing in Philly is how quickly everyone seems to be slamming the door on the quarterback competition between Michael Vick and Nick Foles. I don’t deny that Vick’s performance against the New England Patriots likely means he’s the front-runner and likely winner of the job going into the regular season. In fact, it’s not really the notion that people believe the competition is over since I’m fairly confident that it is over as well. But it’s the notion that Vick’s performance in the preseason opener means that all the question marks that the Eagles have at that position are answered.

Vick threw an extremely pretty pass to DeSean Jackson for a score against New England. But hitting deep passes to Jackson really hasn’t been Vick’s problem over the years. It’s been managing games and limited turnovers. His performance against New England did nothing to indicate those won’t continue to be issues for Chip Kelly and the Eagles to try and overcome this season.

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Takeaways from Last Week – July 22

July 22nd, 2013 Comments off
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Desmond Trufant

The Falcons will report to training camp on Wednesday, July 24 and practices begin on Thursday of this week. And with no positive news on Matt Ryan’s deal, focus now centers on the possibility of some rookie holdouts. That was a thing that should have been a thing of the past with the new Collective Bargain Agreement’s rookie wage scale.

Word broke Sunday morning of the potential risk of a holdout from Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant per Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio. There is an impasse looming between Trufant and the Falcons over guaranteed money. And it all stems from previous deals negotiated at the 22nd overall spot where Trufant was selected by the Falcons.

In 2011, the 22nd overall pick was Indianapolis Colts left tackle Anthony Castonzo.  The Colts refused to fully guarantee all of Castonzo’s four-year deal with the team, only the first three years. Castonzo eventually relented and reported to work on the second day of Colts training camp with $6.535 million in guaranteed money in his pocket.

However in 2012, the Cleveland Browns sweetened the pot for quarterback Brandon Weeden, also taken 22nd overall. They guaranteed the first three years of his deal, and about 60% of his base salary in the fourth year, giving him guaranteed money of $7.511 million.

That’s more guaranteed money than 2013′s 21st overall pick, tight end Tyler Eifert, got in his deal with the Cincinnati Bengals. Eifert received $7.49 million in guaranteed money, which represents all of his contract minus approximately a $765,000 roster bonus he’s due in the fourth year. Eifert’s guarantees differ little from those of defensive end Chandler Jones ($7.421 million), the previous year’s 21st overall pick.

Due to the flat increase of the salary cap, Trufant will receive the same signing bonus that both Weeden and Castonzo received ($4.318 million). If following suit from the Colts’ example by guaranteeing the first three years and signing bonus, Trufant should be due guarantees around $6.65 million this year.  That is based off the first three years and bonus of Weeden’s deal multiplied by roughly the same increase rate seen from Jones to Eifert’s deals (about 1%). More than likely the Falcons will have to relent and guarantee a portion of that fourth year money, but the question becomes how much. The fact that the Falcons moved up eight spots in this year’s draft to select Trufant, buoys his camp’s stance of maximizing the guarantee dollars.

The Falcons gave up third round (92nd overall) and sixth round (198th overall) picks to move up to get Trufant and got back a seventh round pick in 2015. Players taken with those picks were St. Louis Rams wide receiver Stedman Bailey and Houston Texans defensive tackle Chris Jones. Bailey received a $527,400 signing bonus from the Rams, while Jones got $92,512 from the Texans. Combined that would be $619,912, suggesting that it would make sense for the Falcons to guarantee a comparable amount of his fourth-year salary seeing that they were willing to give up that amount via trade. Adding that to his $6.65 million, that would give Trufant a guaranteed payout of around $7.271 million. Whether the actual terms of the deal signed by Trufant are that remains to be seen, but it’s a fair compromise in my eyes. Hopefully it results in Trufant not missing a single snap of practice.

While the possibility of a holdout would hurt Trufant’s chances to win the starting right cornerback position, I don’t think any potential holdout will be long. Trufant displayed his eagerness and commitment to the team this spring during OTAs when he was Skyping with Tim Lewis while away due to league rules. My suspicion is that he’ll push for agent, Doug Hendrickson of Octagon Sports, to get him in camp on time, no matter what. But even if he does miss a few practices, I would be shocked if it was more than a day or two’s worth, and thus I don’t think would be a significant setback to his chances of winning the starting job by camp’s end.

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FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 30 “Norv Turner’s Neck Meat”

June 15th, 2013 Comments off

This week, Allen and I are joined by Rashad James to talk about the latest happenings with the Falcons. Those include discussion of changes to the right side of the line and whether it will work in the Falcons favor … Addressing the depth and rotation at defensive end and which players might step up opposite Osi Umenyiora to help the Falcons pass rush … Concern over depth at linebacker and which young players might step up including Pat Schiller and Brian Banks … Falcons depth at safety and whether or not more usage of Mike Nolan’s Big Nickel is on the horizon … Roddy White’s future in Atlanta … Revisiting the Julio Jones trade and other potential options … NFC South Division Race talk … Offseason Grades … Falcons Mount Rushmore … Are the Houston Texans for real?

Ep. 30: Norv Turner’s Neck Meat [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 4 minutes

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

Rashad can be found on twitter: @SaucedUp_Boss

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, and be sure to rate us there! You can also subscribe directly to our feed at the following URL: http://feeds.feedburner.com/falcfans/LXSt

Takeaways from Last Week – April 22

April 22nd, 2013 Comments off

Scott Olmos-US PRESSWIRE

Dion Jordan

Last week, I promised that I would go over the Falcons Day 3 draft plans. But of course news and rumors picked up steam that the Falcons were planning on moving up via trade in the draft. I do think the two issues are somewhat related, which I will delve into later. But for now, let’s talk about the Falcons potential third day draft possibilities.

The meat of the Falcons draft lies on the third day of the draft, where rounds four through seven will be selected. The Falcons hold eight of their eleven total picks during this stretch of the draft. The third day of the draft is typically where teams try to build their depth. A few players will emerge as starters, but they are few and far between.

Using previously discussed draft grades, only 14 of the 153 players selected in the final four rounds in 2008 earned C grades or higher (i.e. became solid starters after five seasons). That number is 22 out of 156 players from the 2007 class. In 2008, five of those 14 starters were fourth rounders, while that number was 12 in 2007.

Because the Falcons draft for need, they are going to lean towards targeting players that have a high probability of making the roster. Basically operating under a simple principle that there’s no way you can help the team if you don’t make it. So to determine what areas and positions the Falcons might target on the third day of the draft, you have to take a closer look at the team’s current roster. Here’s a quick breakdown position by position, with the number in parentheses indicating the current number of players at the position that have a strong probability of making the final roster:
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Rumors swirl of potential Falcons trade up

April 18th, 2013 1 comment

The Falcons are picking thirtieth in the 2013 draft, and rumors continue to gain momentum that the team is looking to move up and get an earlier pick. D. Orlando Ledbetter of the AJC recently discussed the possibility of the Falcons moving up in the first round based off a year-old study of Falcons drafts under GM Thomas Dimitroff. Yesterday, SI.com’s Peter King and then today, CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora, cite sources that suggest the Falcons desires to trade up are real.

The Falcons last went through a blockbuster trade-up in the first round in 2011, where they moved up 21 spots to select wide receiver Julio Jones. The team sent their first round pick (27th overall), second and fourth round picks in the 2011 draft along with first and fourth round picks in the 2012 draft to Cleveland in exchange for the sixth overall selection. In 2012, the Falcons did not trade up in the draft, however they did move back seven spots in the third round via a trade with Baltimore.

La Canfora reports that the Falcons are eyeing either Oregon defensive end Dion Jordan or Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner, according to his sources. Both have been projected to be potential Top 5 picks in the majority of mock drafts.

Today during an hour-long press conference, Dimitroff indicated that the team was open to maneuvering in the draft, whether that mean moving up or down.

Categories: News Tags: , , ,

Takeaways from Last Week (March 11)

March 11th, 2013 Comments off
Robert Mayer-US PRESSWIRE

Health of Darrelle Revis’s knee is important to his trade value

Last week ended well for the Falcons as they were able to kick off the legal tampering period by re-signing two free agents. One of which, in William Moore, was their biggest priority of the off-season in terms of keeping.

Things also took a positive spin on Sunday where reports indicated that Tony Gonzalez is set to return. And while Moore was their biggest priority re-signing, Gonzalez is likely the biggest difference maker they could add or retain. I honestly struggle to see how the Falcons will contend for a title with Gonzalez’s presence in the offense. His presence on the inside and virtually unstoppability on third down work in perfect conjunction with the playmaking abilities of Julio Jones and Roddy White on the outside. Remove Gonzalez from the equation, and while the Falcons would still be difficult to defend, it’s not an insurmountable feat.

Besides Gonzalez, the thing that could potentially impact the Falcons’ offense the most is improving their running game. And that would likely take a really good running back to do that given the likelihood that there won’t be major changes to the offensive line in 2013. And given the current rumors that the Falcons might be pursuing Steven Jackson as their new starter doesn’t particularly excite me in regards to any major improvements the ground attack could make this year.

Now I could question the reliability of these so-called “sources close to Gonzalez,” but given these sources are saying things that fans like myself want to hear, I won’t.

Hopefully this week the Falcons will get even more good news since Sam Baker and Brent Grimes could be the next dominoes to fall.

With all the talk about Darrelle Revis being traded from the New York Jets, some of the talk has centered around his injury. Revis tore his ACL early last season, and the questions surrounding that injury have been cited by many experts as a major hurdle to any trade. Teams won’t be willing to give up the compensation likely to be required (at least one first round pick) without being 100% certain that the knee is healthy. Now obviously, there are ways around that. Before any trade can be finalized, the player must pass a physical. And if a team acquired Revis and had misgivings about his rehab, they could fail him and recoup their traded assets. But then throw in the probability that Revis will demand to be one of if not the highest paid defender in the league will deter a lot of folks. That’s a lot of money to spend on a corner, even one as good as Revis.

It’s why I’m going to ape what many of the talking heads are saying in that I don’t believe Revis will be traded between now and the draft in late April. There will be constant talk of it; rumors about teams contacting the Jets and where Revis’s best fits may lie. But I believe they will be nothing more than rumors and media-induced hype. The Jets are in New York after all, and there’s got to be something to talk about with them for the next six months. Last spring they had Tebow, this year it will be a Revis trade.

I think once we get into training camp, that’s when potential Revis trade talks might pick up in earnest. If he shows himself to be healthy during the preseason, and then gets off to a good start in September, then I think you’ll start to hear trade speculation heat up. A contender that has some struggles in coverage may be tempted to give up that first round pick for Revis at that point as a midseason boost to get over the hump. I do believe at that point, the Falcons could become a legitimate contender. But a lot of that will depend on the status of Brent Grimes, and the play of any other corners on the Falcons roster.

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Monday Takeaways from Divisional Round

January 14th, 2013 Comments off

Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports

Defense will need Abraham next week vs. 49ers

The Falcons did what they needed to do on Sunday. I just hope they don’t shut it down next week against the 49ers now that they’ve finally won a playoff game. They haven’t reached the summit of the mountaintop, that will occur with a win next week. And even when you get to the top of that peak, you emerge to see a second even taller peak off in the distance that represents winning the Super Bowl. Let’s hope that Mike Smith has the Falcons prepped with a sherpa and some climbing gear.

My initial reaction for how the Falcons match up against the 49ers is not very promising. The 49ers present many of the same challenges as the Seahawks, but only better. They won’t be missing Chris Clemons like Seattle was, as Justin Smith and Aldon Smith will likely be playing and near full strength. They have many more dangerous weapons on offense that require a lot more man coverage. The Falcons looked to be playing a lot of zone against Seattle in order to keep all of their eyes on Wilson and his scrambling ability. That was one of the reasons why guys like Golden Tate, Sidney Rice, and Zach Freakin’ Miller were wide open throughout the day. I don’t think the Falcons can try to get away with what against the likes Michael Crabtree, Randy Moss, Vernon Davis, etc. Which means that the front line has to be more disciplined and do a better job of trying to contain Kaepernick on the read-option. That appeared to be the Achilles Heel of the Packers on Saturday night, as they did not seem prepared for it or equipped to play it. That won’t be an excuse for the Falcons with a week to prepare and that they have perhaps seen more read-option than any other defense this year. Getting John Abraham back healthy will be key, and if the Falcons plan on winning and containing the 49ers explosive offense, they will need him to play all four quarters.

However, I do like the fact that Kaepernick really struggled against the noise in Seattle in Week 16. Similar to Wilson, it appears Kaepernick is a much different QB on the road. I also like the fact that this will be Harbaugh’s first road playoff game. Will that matter that much? Probably not, but it at least gives me some hope that the 49ers won’t be that sharp, which I think might be necessary if the Falcons are going to pull the upset. And let’s not be naive here, it will be an upset if the Falcons win. The line for that game opened up with the 49ers being a 3-point favorite. The 49ers have the capacity to utterly dominate the Falcons in the trenches. It’s going to be a fun week as I try to dig deep to find flaws that can be exploited by the Falcons in this matchup.

In order for the Falcons to win, I think it has to be similar to yesterday’s game, where the Falcons get an early lead. But unlike against the Seahawks, the Falcons can’t take their foot off the pedal.

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