Reports on Saturday indicated that the Falcons signing Osi Umenyiora was very imminent. Not sure if by the time this posts Monday morning if that deal will be official, but given the sources (Pro Football Talk and Adam Schefter), I trust them.
I don’t have a problem with that move. The problem with the move is that it is at best a lateral move for a team that struggled with their pass rush throughout 2012. It’s a toss-up between the lack of pass rush and the run defense as to what was the Achilles heel of the Falcons defense last year. At least for the run defense, there were some strong performances down the stretch. Not sure, if I can say the same for the pass rush.
I don’t think Osi is better than John Abraham, but the dropoff is not huge. If you asked me who I would rather have for one season, my answer is definitely Abraham. If you’re asking me who I would rather have for three seasons, then I’d probably choose Osi just because he is a few years younger. But I definitely don’t think Osi is going to be as good or better than Abraham is at age 34.
This is why I think adding pass rush help will remain a priority for the Falcons going into the draft. I think there is a strong possibility that the Falcons will use their top pick to help there.
Once Osi signs, the focus will shift firmly to cornerback as the Falcons top need. While I won’t say that the team won’t draft a corner with their top pick, there is still a lot of time left before the draft (31 days to be exact). There are just too many good veteran corners available, that I’d be surprised if the Falcons didn’t try and pursue one in that time span. It seems inevitable that Brent Grimes won’t be returning to the Falcons at this point, despite my overwhelming desires. So if not Grimes, then the Falcons still have options. Antoine Winfield is probably the best, but he’s 36 and at that age is really only a one-year stopgap. But Winfield would be a good player to pair with Asante Samuel for a season. Winfield still played at a high level last year, and is one of the league’s most consistent run-defending corners in the league. You could possibly make the argument that Winfield is one of the best run-support corners in the last twenty years. Terence Newman brings many of the physical traits to the table that Robinson did that had Falcons officials gushing over him three years ago. He was decent last year in Cincinnati, but it’s hard not to forget his struggles in Dallas the previous two years. Quentin Jammer is another corner with a reputation for physicality, but I’m not sure he can really run anymore, which is the same complaint about Nnamdi Asomugha. Rashean Mathis is a guy that Mike Smith is very familiar with, but he’s struggled with injuries the past two years, so may not be a reliable starter. There are other players such as DeAngelo Hall, Mike Jenkins, Kelvin Hayden, Marcus Trufant, Stanford Routt, Cedric Griffin, and Tracy Porter that will also potentially be in the mix. And I can’t forget about Charles Woodson either.
That’s just too many serviceable to good starters out there for the Falcons to stand pat at cornerback. Right now, there cornerback position consists of Samuel and Robert McClain, and that’s about it. Dominique Franks is on the roster bubble. He didn’t contribute anything as a returner last year, and has not contributed anything on special teams coverage, making his hold on a reserve spot tenuous at best. Backup defensive backs have to contribute on special teams, and Franks does not. So unless the Falcons really like Terrence Johnson and/or Peyton Thompson, you can be fairly confident that at least two significant additions will be made at the position. Probably one on the first two days of the draft, and likely one in free agency.
As I promised last week, I will give my thoughts on the off-season moves made so far by the AFC teams. If you’re curious to know what I thought of the moves by the other NFC teams, then check out last week’s column:
- Much of the talk has been about the sheer numbers of losses the Ravens have suffered this off-season. They lost a lot of good players, but nobody that was irreplaceable. Or I should say besides Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, nobody that was irreplaceable. They certainly can replace those guys on the field because they were diminished or declining players, but their value in the locker room will be tough to replace. Dannell Ellerbe and Cary Williams are probably the more grievous losses. Ellerbe seemed to be settling in nicely as the heir apparent to Lewis at middle linebacker, but I think the Dolphins probably overpaid a bit to lure him away from Baltimore. Williams went to Philly at a relative bargain, and while Corey Graham and Jimmy Smith can pick up the slack, I’d be really concerned about Smith. I thought he was overrated going into the 2011 draft, but they are going to really need him to step up this year. But they got a good haul on compensatory picks and so they should be able to replace some of that talent via the draft.
- The key to Buffalo’s offseason will be what they get at quarterback. This is a team that has been looking for a replacement for Jim Kelly for longer than the Dolphins were looking for Dan Marino’s heir apparent. The Dolphins got Tannehill last year at pick No. 8, and the Bills hope they find the equivalent. I really think similar to Tannehill going to a Miami team coordinated by his former college coach in Mike Sherman, I think Ryan Nassib will be rejoining his college coach in Doug Marrone in Buffalo at pick No. 8. There are people out there that really like Nassib. I’m not really one of them. But I hope for their sake, Nassib proves to be the guy since Bills fans have suffered enough. The move I’d really like to see them make is to get a bookend left tackle with that top pick, move Cordy Glenn inside to left guard to replace Andy Levitre. That could really give them a very good offensive line with C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson toting the rock, off-setting somewhat their need to have an elite quarterback right away.
- I really wanted to see the Bengals get a veteran receiver that could be a No. 2 to A.J. Green and be more of the possession receiver that would complement him and be a better fit for the lesser-armed Andy Dalton. Maybe someone like Steve Breaston. Going forward, their big key will be getting Andre Smith re-signed at a reasonable price. Outside wide receiver, the Bengals don’t have any needs that can’t be solved with draft picks.
- The Browns spent a lot of money on Desmond Bryant and Paul Kruger. I like both players, but they might have overpaid for both. But if they hit on them, then the Browns are going to have a pretty good front seven. It’ll really come down to whether Bryant, Kruger, alongside Jabaal Sheard, Phil Taylor, and Billy Winn can provide pressure. If they can, then Cleveland is really just one good corner away from being a playoff-caliber defense. Offense on the other hand is another matter and that’s going to take some time to fix.
- I think the Broncos cutting Elvis Dumervil was a good move. He was vastly overpaid with a cap hit around $12 million. If they can get Dwight Freeney or someone for a third of that price, it’s a no-brainer. Terrance Knighton and Wes Welker were good pickups. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Louis Vasquez, but I get why they signed him after Chris Kuper had a poor game in the playoffs. Dumping D.J. Williams was also a good move. Williams has been a serviceable starter for multiple years, but not a top-level playmaker and it’s clear that Wes Woodyard has been a much better player for several seasons now.
- Replacing Glover Quin with Ed Reed should help the Texans not give up as many big plays in the passing game. But Quin was a very versatile player that really was effective in Houston’s dime subpackage. Are they going to play a more traditional nickel now with Quin gone? Is Quintin Demps going to replace him, or are they going to draft someone? We’ll see. The ideal situation would have been to basically make Reed the third safety in their dime package, replacing guys like Demps, Troy Nolan, and Shiloh Keo who served in that capacity last year. Reed may not be an everydown player at this point in his career, so that was a missed opportunity.
- The Colts did something that I sort of like for teams to do in free agecy: get a bunch of solid NFL players to try and bolster competition across your roster. The problem is that the Colts spent way too much money doing it. They made some good moves, such as getting Donald Thomas, Ricky Jean-Francois, Matt Hasselbeck, Lawrence Sidbury, etc. But they really overspent on guys like Gosder Cherilus, LaRon Landry, Erik Walden, and Greg Toler. Walden and Toler really are just backups, and they’re getting paid nearly a combined $9 million/yr. Cherilus is a marginal upgrade over Winston Justice, and thus not worth $35 million. And Landry just isn’t a good investment at $6 million/yr. given his age and durability concerns.
- I do not envy GM Dave Caldwell in Jacksonville. They look to be in a long rebuilding process, and I don’t know if Shahid Khan is going to be patient enough for it to succeed. I applaud Caldwell for dumping some of those bad contracts (e.g. Laurent Robinson, Aaron Ross, Dawan Landry) that his predecessor made in recent years. But when adding Alan Ball is your best free agent move, that doesn’t speak much to the talent you’ve acquired. So Caldwell’s plan appears to be good drafting. Hopefully for his sake, he hits it out of the park in April similar to Dimitroff did in 2008. If not, he’s not going to last all that long there.
- I don’t think Alex Smith is a savior in Kansas City, but it was smart to give up a second round pick for him rather than any of these quarterbacks in this year’s draft. He’ll be an upgrade, although I don’t think he’s really a playoff-caliber passer. I know they are hoping that he’ll manage the game similarly to how he did in San Francisco. And on paper, the Chiefs have a lot of assets that can make that possible with more talent than what is typical of a 2-14 team. But I think the key difference is that the 49ers had Jim Harbaugh as their head coach, the Chiefs have Andy Reid. I am no longer a buyer of Reid’s stock. The bottom line is that teams don’t quit on good coaches like the Eagles apparently did last year. The Chiefs will be better, I don’t know if they’ll be good. And besides that move, the only other move you could convince me was good is Sean Smith, but that’s mainly because they didn’t have to pay market value for him. The rest of their additions are really just a bunch of average football players.
- Miami paid an extremely high price for Mike Wallace. They better hope that his performance last year was just a one-year aberration as a result of him pouting because he didn’t get a big contract. But this has the potential to be Albert Haynesworth bad when it comes to free agent busts. I imagine their moves to dump Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett and replace them with Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler stems mainly from defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle bringing in his own guys rather than many of players he inherited from Mike Nolan. They definitely got younger, but I’m not sure they got better with those moves.
- Much was made of the Patriots decision to “low-ball” Welker. I like the move to Danny Amendola. Welker’s age meant that he was going to be declining in a couple more years. Amendola may not hit the ground running, but should be better in the long run than Welker. Adrian Wilson and Leon Washington were virtually steals for the Pats. If they manage to sign Abraham this week, they continue to be a standout model for good off-season decision making.
- The Jets really are a mess overall, but I think have handled their off-season fairly well. They already picked up David Garrard, and if they manage to get Kevin Kolb, between the two of them they should have a competent stopgap until next year when they can draft someone and dump Mark Sanchez. Mike Goodson is explosive, dynamic, and underrated. Whether he proves to be an asset for the Jets will depend on ball security which has been an issue for him in the past.
- Oakland has added a few solid role players, but nobody really noteworthy. They seem more intent on dumping all of the bad contracts that the late Al Davis seemed to be handing out left and right over the last few years. Rolando McClain is on the trading block, Tommy Kelly might get cut, and there have been rumors that they have contemplated dealing Darren McFadden and Carson Palmer in recent months. Regardless if they are retained, I’m confident 2013 will be the final year for at least one of them in Oakland. At that point, GM Reggie McKenzie will have a fairly clean slate to build the team his way.
- Word that the Steelers tried to swoop in and swipe Jake Long before he signed with the Rams is interesting. They might want to kick the tires of Eric Winston as a Plan B, with the intent that Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams compete at left tackle. The Steelers probably need to focus much of their draft on getting more young playmakers on defense, and thus might need to be more active offensively in free agency. Tim Hightower, Beanie Wells, and Steve Breaston could help there and are familiar with Todd Haley’s offense.
- Like other new front office guys, Chargers GM Tom Telesco appears intent on building via the draft. The Chargers need a heavy dose of an infusion of talent. Former GM A.J. Smith has really been slacking in that area, as bad drafting and free agent decisions essentially dismantled a team that 3-5 years was among the class of the AFC and now is a middling team. Unless they hit some homeruns in April, it doesn’t appear they will be drastically improved in 2013.
- I really liked Andy Levitre but I’m not sure I would have paid him $47 million to lure him away from Buffalo. Delanie Walker, despite his inconsistent hands, might prove to be an upgrade over Jared Cook because he’s a better blocker. Running the ball is still going to be the foundation of the Tennessee offense. But their key to success will rest on quarterback Jake Locker’s shoulders. If he doesn’t turn into a competent to good starter this year, then I suspect there will be extensive house-cleaning of the roster, coaching staff, and front office in 2014.