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Takeaways from Last Week – March 10, 2014

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Jon Asamoah

This weekend the NFL instituted it’s second “legal tampering” signing period, allowing free agents to begin negotiating with prospective teams before the official free agency period starts on Tuesday afternoon, March 11.

Already the Atlanta Falcons have been linked to a number of potential free agents, including guard Jon Asamoah, safety Mike Mitchell, and cornerback Champ Bailey.

But the Asamoah linkage seems strongest with multiple outside sources indicating that the Falcons interest in Asamoah is high.

While I like Asamoah quite a bit as a player, I’m not sure that he is a good fit in Atlanta. But apparently it seems like I’m in the minority in that regards.

As for Caplan’s assessment, I would have to respectfully disagree. Asamoah is a player that ideally fits in a zone-heavy blocking scheme because he’s very athletic, but not overly powerful.

The Falcons have incorporated more zone-blocking into their ground attack under offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter the past two years, but still primarily a man-blocking team.

The Falcons have made an effort to emphasize size with their line acquisitions in recent years, evidenced by additions like Terren Jones, Lamar Holmes, Phillipkeith Manley and Peter Konz the past few years since Koetter joined the team. If you’re trying to be an offense that features a lot of zone-blocking, targeting plus-sized linemen, many of whom weigh in excess of 330 pounds is largely counterintuitive.

And the lines that Mike Tice and Wade Harman coached in Chicago and Baltimore respectively emphasized size and/or man-blocking.

Could the team’s interest in Asamoah suggest a shift in their blocking? Perhaps, but more than likely the answer is no.

Falcons Likely Attracted by Asamoah’s Character, Not Skill

My assumption at this point is that the Falcons’ high interest in Asamoah is largely driven by Scott Pioli. Pioli loves Asamoah’s high character, toughness, and leadership ability, the main reasons why he drafted Asamoah, and now wants to bring that to Atlanta regardless of whether he’s a great scheme fit.

Almost any report you dust off from 2010 in regards to Asamoah is going to bring up his intelligence, character and/or work ethic.

But my problem with this is that it is the same sort of drive behind why this team signed Steven Jackson a year ago. The Falcons placed a high value on Jackson’s high intangibles, obscuring them from the fact that the tangibles he brought to the table were on the decline.

And like Asamoah, Jackson was a player that I was a big fan of. I believed that had the Falcons acquired Jackson at the trade deadline in 2012, it could have wound up being the difference in being “ten yards shy” and World Champions. But just because I like Jackson (and Asamoah) independently, doesn’t mean that they are greatoptions to play for the Falcons.

Jackson was certainly an upgrade over Turner, but his value in Atlanta was at best as a complementary piece to a prolific passing attack. He was clearly not the sort of runner capable of picking up the slack should the offense need it. And certainly how 2013 played out, the offense needed it.

The same seemingly applies to Asamoah as far as his future in Atlanta goes. He’ll be a definite upgrade over what the Falcons currently have at the position, but more than likely he won’t be the top guard that he’s been for much of his career in Kansas City.

Simply because the Falcons won’t do the same things that the Chiefs have asked him to do, which is do a lot of zone blocking.

Guaranteed Money Could Make a Difference

My “fear” is that it’s just another Justin Blalock situation all over again. It’s making a relatively “safe” investment by getting a player you know is going to be at least decent if not good, but will rarely excel based on the money that the Falcons will pay Asamoah. I don’t know what type of money Asamoah is seeking, but given what the market has been in recent years, tops for guards seems to be a deal that averages in excess of $7-8 million per year.

And if the Falcons ultimately wind up paying Asamoah that kind of money, my prediction is without a major shift in blocking scheme, they won’t get their investment’s worth just like with Blalock.

One could do a lot worse than what the Falcons have received from Blalock since he signed that six-year, $38.4 million deal in 2011. For the most part the Falcons have gotten a player in him that is consistently above average, occasionally bad but rarely great over the past three seasons. Blalock is certainly not a guy that is consistently among the top 10 at his position despite being paid like one.

Ultimately, the Falcons can help themselves by limiting the amount of guaranteed money they have to dole out to Asamoah. And it’s that guaranteed portion of the deals that have really hurt the Falcons with many of the bad contracts they have given out over recent years.

It’s the guaranteed money that has forced the Falcons to hold onto players perhaps a year longer than they should have in regards to Ray Edwards, Dunta Robinson and now Sam Baker, when it’s been very clear early on that those were bad investments.

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Osi Umenyiora

Osi Umenyiora Unlikely To Go

Speaking of holding onto players a year too long, the team has reportedly asked Osi Umenyiora to take a pay cut. Or not.

Now things are buzzing over the possibility of the Falcons drawing a line in the sand and Umenyiora and the team parting ways. I don’t see it happening.

It could, but only if the Falcons are able to successfully land a better pass-rusher both in free agency and the draft, a topic that I have discussed quite a bit the past few weeks.

And if that were to occur, I could see the Falcons cutting Umenyiora after the draft. But more than likely the Falcons still envision Umenyiora to be a situational player this year. Which is the reason behind this prompt for a salary reduction. Osi is going to be a part-time player and thus shouldn’t be making starter money. But given the team’s ample cap space, it’s doubtful they will need to take a hard line.

If the team didn’t take a hard line with Michael Turner in 2012, then there’s no reason to expect one with Umenyiora in 2014. While, I do believe that Jonathan Massaquoi can be just as effective a situational pass-rusher as Osi could be this year, that doesn’t mean the latter lacks value. It just means that similar to another recently dismissed Falcon, he has the unfortunate luck of playing on a team that has a younger and cheaper player that could ably fill his shoes.

As the third option in the Falcons pass rush, there really isn’t that much to complain about Osi’s play from last year if it were to carry over into 2014. It was just disappointing considering he was supposed to be a pace-setter.

Recent Contracts Could Affect Future Falcons Deals

Money is such an important aspect of free agency. And while I could continue to wax poetic about potential moves the Falcons could make in the coming days, I’d rather prefer to finish this space by looking back at some moves made by other teams over the past week and how it could affect the Falcons moving forward.

The market was set with several deals, with the deal that the Minnesota Vikings handed out to Everson Griffen being a bit of a shocker. That certainly could raise the bar on what other pass-rushers are seeking this offseason.

Kevin Liles-US PRESSWIRE

Roddy White

Another interesting deal was that signed by Anquan Boldin, a two-year deal worth $12 million with $5.5 million guaranteed. How that deal affects the extension talks involving Roddy White will be interesting.

Boldin’s deal is structured so that it essentially appears to be a one-year extension. His cap hit in 2014 will be around $3.73 million, but shoots to roughly $8.27 million in 2015. Boldin turns 34 in October, and seemingly will be cut or retire after this season. Think of Boldin’s two-year deal similarly to the two-year deal the Falcons gave Tony Gonzalez last year.

Again, it remains to be seen if the Falcons will treat White the same way. White will turn 33 in November, and seemingly the point of extending his deal is because you don’t want 2014 to be his last season. But the question is how many more years beyond 2014 do the Falcons want White to play? One? Two?

I can’t imagine that the answer can be more than two. Marvin Harrison was 35 when he took his dramatic step back. Terrell Owens was 35 when he wore out his welcome in Dallas. And Randy Moss was just 33 when he played on three different teams in 2010. Reggie Wayne was 35 this past year and then suffered his ACL tear late in the season, and probably won’t be expected to be the same at age 36 this upcoming season.

If the Falcons get production from White at age 35 in 2016, then that’s gravy. So really in essence the deal the Falcons should sign White should make it palatable to keep him for the next two seasons, and then be easy to move on from him when he hits the dreaded age of 35.

The 49ers gave all of Boldin’s guaranteed money this year. It’ll be interesting to see if the Falcons follow suit, or will they extend some of those guarantees into 2015 and beyond.

Another noteworthy deal is the one signed by Donald Butler to keep him with the San Diego Chargers. It’s notable because it could have a dramatic effect on what the negotiations are like for Sean Weatherspoon in the next 12 months. He is entering the final year of his contract in 2014. Butler signed a seven-year contract worth $51.8 million with an $11.15 million signing bonus.

But the deal is structured that it’s essentially a three-year deal worth roughly $20 million, and the team has an option down the road to tack on the final four years.

One imagines that if the Falcons protect themselves, they will try and get Weatherspoon to agree to a similar deal. Because frankly, Weatherspoon has been oft-injured during his time in Atlanta. No more so than what he was in 2013.

But the other reality is that outside his outstanding 2011 season, Weatherspoon has not been a top player by league standards. He’s certainly been the best linebacker on the field for the Falcons the past few years, but he hasn’t been a consistent impact player in comparison to other top linebackers elsewhere in the NFL.

And if Spoon is going to be truly deserving of a big contract next year, he’ll need to play at a higher level in 2014.

But in all honestly, even if Spoon is just mediocre, my expectation is that the Falcons will still try and re-sign him to a long-term deal. It just would mean that they have to build in some “protections” for themselves by limiting the amount of guaranteed money they give him like the Chargers did with Butler.

It always boils down to guarantees whether in the draft or free agency. Limiting the amount of guarantees given to a player is the team’s best protection against busts. The reason why character or injury risks drop in the draft is because the lower the round a player is picked, the less guaranteed money a team is forced to fork up.

Ideally, a team will place the only guarantees in a free-agent contract in the first year. That way if they realize quickly that they made a mistake, they can get out of a bad contract sooner rather than later. The problem that has plagued the Falcons is that they have consistently not done this when structuring their bigger contracts over recent years. Like many teams, they often have guaranteed parts of the deal running into the second year of the deal, or will have “falling off the log” option bonuses in that same year.

In the event a team does come to the quick revelation that it made a mistake, that becomes dead weight around a team’s neck.

But obviously the opposite side of the coin for a player is that it’s best to string out the guaranteed aspect of his contract for as long as possible when negotiated. It’s the best deterrent against teams cutting a guy loose.

Thus why it’s hard to fault players for trying to maximize their stock in free agency, as well as holding out. So I struggle when I see or read a fan saying that a player is “all about getting paid.” You would be too if you were in their shoes. And if you weren’t, then you’d be a fool.

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Author: Aaron Freeman

Aaron is the founder of FalcFans.com.

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