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Takeaways from Last Week – August 19

ICON SMI

Could we see the return of Mike Peterson?

Roddy White is injured, and I’m not worried. At least I should say I’m not worried right now. If White is out of the lineup in Week 1, then I’ll be worried.

But I’m pretty calm at this point in time, even knowing that White will miss the rest of the preseason with an ankle injury that he suffered on Thursday night against the Baltimore Ravens.

The Falcons now have three weeks for White to get some rest and hopefully heal what the team termed a “minor” injury. Initial reports seem to confirm the lack of severity on this injury, suggesting White could suit up within a week if this were the regular season. But to be honest, I don’t fully buy that. The Falcons routinely have underestimated the amount of time it would take for their players to return. One famous example came in 2010 when Michael Jenkins suffered a shoulder injury in early August that was originally slated to put him out 4-6 weeks. Jenkins did not suit up for a Falcons game until 10 weeks later.

Now it should be noted that since 2010 I don’t recall any other blatant misreads of a player’s recovery. And the team may be a lot better today now three years removed at estimating the timetables for players’ recoveries. But generally speaking, I tend to add a week or two to all prognoses that the Falcons release about their injured players. The fact that the Falcons usually don’t put a timetable on players’ returns is also indicative that they also realize that it only opens themselves up for more criticism.

But the term “minor” is such a relative term. It could be minor in the sense that it may only keep him from practice or playing for a week or two. It could be minor in the sense that it won’t require surgery, but could keep him out of the lineup for a month or more. We really won’t know until Wednesday, September 4, when the Falcons practice report for Week 1 is released and it says either FP (full participation), LP (limited participation), or DNP (did not practice) to indicate where White’s status is. My personal philosophy is que sera sera, thus there is no sense worrying about things you cannot control.

And losing White is arguably the lesser of two evils, at least compared to losing Julio Jones. While I think Richard Sherman’s “dissing” of White several months ago went a bit too far (by saying he’s a product of the system), I do think there is a small sliver of a kernel of truth to what Sherman was saying in that White isn’t as good a player as Jones. Jones is the player that really makes the Falcons offense go, at least in the sense that it changes the way teams try to defend the Falcons. I do think there is a lot more overlap in regards to how the Falcons normally use White in comparison to his replacement, Harry Douglas.

But to be honest, all of this is fairly theoretical because the Falcons have never had to play without White. White has not missed a single game in eight seasons with the Falcons, and it would be a shame for that streak to end in 2013. So we don’t really know what the Falcons offense would look like without White. He’s missed snaps in games due to nicks and other minor stuff, but nothing that really forced him to be missed a huge chunk of time. The best example I could come up with of the Falcons having to try and operate an offense sans White was in Week 9 in 2010 against the Tampa Bay Bucs, where he injured his knee and missed most of the first half. The Falcons leaned on Brian Finneran to help move the chains in that game as he had three first half catches, two of which came on third downs. Tony Gonzalez got the brunt of the work in the passing game, with seven first half targets (Gonzalez had seen that much of a first half workload just three times prior in 23 games with the Falcons).

But it should be noted that was a team that had Michael Jenkins instead of Julio Jones, and was much more of a run-oriented offense than what the Falcons will feature this year under Steven Jackson. Jones and Gonzalez should easily be able to pick up the slack in the passing game, while Douglas is a much more improved player than he was in 2010. In that Bucs game, he did not have a single catch and wasn’t targeted once during the first half when White was injured. That was the year that Douglas was a bit slow returning from his knee injury the year before. Douglas has made it a habit of stepping up and producing when Jones has missed time the past two seasons, and I suspect could do the same for White. Not to mention, the Falcons play-calling and quarterback play is much improved from 2010 as well.

It’s not to suggest that losing White is no big deal. Because it certainly is. And if he were to miss the season opener against the New Orleans Saints, I would be hard-pressed to pick the Falcons to win that game. But I’m not sure I would even if I knew White was playing. I just don’t think the Falcons have to revamp the way they play with White out of the lineup. Jones is the team’s only “true” deep threat, in that teams have to adjust their coverages to respect the deep ball from him. White can and did make plays down the field last year, but most starting cornerbacks aren’t afraid of White running by them like they are with Jones. The Falcons played White more in the slot last year, a role that Douglas is used to. The Falcons would certainly miss White on third downs, but it’s about time that Jones showed he could also be a chain mover, and not just a big play threat. And the Falcons still have Gonzalez to pick up most of the slack in that regards. The main issue is that Douglas isn’t truly a “man beater” like White is. So when defenses slant their coverages away from White to deal with Jones, Roddy can make them pay because he does an excellent job separating from man coverage and making difficult grabs in traffic. That is one of Douglas’ biggest limitations. But I suspect Koetter’s play-calling would adjust to a certain degree and try to utilize Douglas on a lot of shorter, quick routes that are designed to get him the ball quickly and in space to use his superior burst and quickness after the catch. That could suck up the coverage and then allow either Douglas or Jones to go over the top downfield.

Again, the Falcons would have their fair share of obstacles to overcome, but it wouldn’t be the biggest loss in the world if White was to miss a game or two moving forward. At least that is what I’m telling myself to convince myself to not worry.

***

Three weeks ago I wrote about the possibility of the Falcons cutting several veteran players such as Stephen Nicholas, Peria Jerry, and Antone Smith among others. I made some bad calculations in regards to the numbers the Falcons would save from cutting them because I forgot that we’re now in August and the cuts made at the end of the camp count the same as post-June 1 cuts. Meaning that the full unpaid portion of a player’s signing bonus does not immediately accelerate as dead money, but is essentially spread over two seasons.

So here are the updated numbers for the players I mentioned:

  • Stephen Nicholas – My biggest miscalculation belongs to Nicholas, who the Falcons can cut and save roughly $2.1 million against this year’s cap by going with a young linebacker like Joplo Bartu. Nicholas has three years left on his contract, and thus only $1 million of his unpaid signing bonus accelerates as dead money in 2013, essentially cutting his $2.5 million base salary from the team’s payroll (roughly $406,000 of which will be taken up by Bartu or another undrafted rookie on the final 53). That will also mean that the Falcons will carry $2 million in dead money in 2014, but that is only half of what Nicholas’ cap hit was going to be.
  • Antone Smith – By keeping either undrafted rookie in Ronnie Wingo or Donald Russell, the Falcons would wind up saving roughly $224,000 against the cap in 2013. Cutting Smith would slash his $630,000 base salary, $406,000 of which would be taken up by either of the two young running backs. Smith would then have another dead money hit of $32,500 in 2014.
  • Garrett Reynolds – His release would save the Falcons about $309,000 in cap space this year if he was axed in favor of Theo Goins. The Falcons remove Reynolds’ $715,000 base salary, of which Goins would take up roughly $406,000. Then the Falcons would carry $250,000 in dead money again in 2014, but that would still amount to over $2 million in savings due to his $2.185 million base salary coming off the books.
  • Jason Snelling – If he was to get cut in favor of one of the undrafted rookie running backs, the Falcons would save roughly $444,000 due to his $850,000 base salary getting slashed in favor of the much smaller number that Wingo/Russell would carry. The Falcons would then have to eat an additional $358,333 in dead money in 2014.
  • The numbers for Peria Jerry ($498,000) and Joe Hawley ($224,000) were initially correct due to the fact that both players are in their final contract years, and thus all of their remaining bonus will accelerate this year and won’t be spread out over the next two years.

As I mentioned before, I do not think Reynolds, Snelling, or Hawley have to lose any sleep over potentially losing their jobs. Reynolds appears entrenched as a starter thanks to the injury to Mike Johnson knocking out his main competition. Hawley hasn’t taken a single rep at right guard through two preseason games, and the Falcons appear content with him being their swing guard/center on Sundays. And Snelling is Snelling, arguably the team’s most valuable backup due to his ability to contribute in a variety of ways.

But Nicholas does indeed have to be worried about his job, as does Jerry and Smith. All three could easily be cut by the team to reap the salary cap benefits going into September. People should also remember that if a player is on the team’s 53-man roster on opening day of the season, his salary becomes guaranteed. It would not be shocking to see the team cut a player like Nicholas to avoid guaranteeing his $3.5 million cap hit in 2013, in order to bring him back the following week at a lower price. The Falcons pulled this exact move in regards to Brett Romberg at the start of the 2011 season. The Falcons instead kept Rob Bruggeman on the roster for opening day at a much cheaper price. Bruggeman was cut Monday after the Falcons’ season opener against the Chicago Bears, and Romberg was brought back, where he remained for the rest of the season.

It’s possible the Falcons could try and do the same with Nicholas this year. I personally don’t feel the Falcons should just cut Nicholas outright. While Paul Worrilow has been impressive thus far in preseason, I don’t think he’s anywhere close to being ready to be a regular contributor for the Falcons in 2013. Frankly, I don’t think anybody really is. Pat Schiller might be the closest simply because he’s spent a year in Mike Nolan’s scheme. But Schiller is probably a player that shouldn’t get more than 10 snaps on regular defense in a given week. While the Falcons have Sean Weatherspoon and Akeem Dent to man the two primary linebacker positions in their nickel package, and have shown the ability to work in Kroy Biermann as the strongside linebacker in their base package, I don’t want this team to be one injury away from having to play one of these young players full-time. It should be noted that Sean Weatherspoon has missed a total of 8 games over the past three seasons, and has already been nicked up this summer due to his finger dislocation. The main issue is playing in nickel coverage. Biermann can be used in coverage, but his primary value is still rushing the quarterback. In the event of an injury to Dent or Weatherspoon, he’d be asked to play linebacker exclusively and be asked to play a lot more coverage than he should. Or it would mean calling on one of the young players to produce a lot more in coverage, something I don’t think any of them are ready for. Look, the fact that the team didn’t trust Akeem Dent to play on passing downs last year in his second season with the team should indicate that none of these undrafted guys should be expected to do so in their first seasons.

So if the Falcons do cut Nicholas, I think it should be with the intention of bring him back in Week 2 at a lower salary, or with the intent of replacing him with an experience veteran that will play for cheaper. I did read that Mike Peterson is still waiting by the phone and appears ready to go by the team the regular season starts.

Nicholas is a better player at this point in his career, but at least the 37-year old Peterson is a known commodity. And frankly, just for the sake of D-Block, I wouldn’t mind Peterson returning.

I am more worried about Nicholas getting cut and the potentially problems it could pose for the Falcons linebacker depth than I am about Roddy White’s ankle.

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Author: Aaron Freeman

Aaron is the founder of FalcFans.com.

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