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Takeaways from Last Week – May 6

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John Abraham

This weekend the Falcons conducted their first rookie mini-cap. Forty-eight players participated, including 24 undrafted free agents that signed contracts with the team and 17 that did not and are only in Flowery Branch for a tryout. There’s also the six 2012 rookies that were carried on last year’s practice squad and Brian Banks.

It’s going to be interesting to see if any of the tryout players earn a spot. I expect at least one will. Last season, three players were signed following their tryout. I have not seen really any of them, but I did like a bit of what I saw of Marcus Sales in a few Syracuse games I watched.

The site has grown fairly quiet since the draft, and I apologize. I have been traveling heavily for my job, and just don’t spend as much time maintaining the site on the road. That travel should end after this upcoming week, and I fully intend on making up for it. I still am going to post scouting reports on the six remaining Falcons draft picks. You can also expect several new podcast episodes in the coming weeks, hopefully to stem the “doldrums” that exist in the NFL calendar between the draft and the openings of training camps.

I also intend to write several articles looking at many of the up and coming young players on the Falcons roster, as well as veteran players that could play key roles in 2013.

As for the remainder of this column, I will in fact use it to give some of my own takeaways and commentary on many of last week’s NFL events and revelations.

The Jaguars reportedly used advanced statistics to help them with their decision to select an offensive tackle with their top pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. I think it’s a promising revelation for the league going forward. Advanced statistics are relatively in their infancy as far as the NFL is concerned in comparison to baseball (which is approaching middle age) and basketball (adolescence). But as the years progress and the techniques evolve, I think we’ll see advanced stats become more commonplace on the professional football landscape. Maybe we will reach a point, where we could effectively calculate the “PER” of a left guard. PER refers to Player Efficiency Rating, which is supposedly the all-in-one stat for basketball.

I don’t think advanced stats will ever reach the point they do in baseball and basketball. Football features 11 players, and it’s very difficult to calculate how each one of those players relate to one another. It’s much easier to calculate the efficiency of units rather than individuals.

Tyson Clabo signed with the Dolphins on Sunday to help solidify their offensive line. The Dolphins made the controversial decision to let go of All-Pro  left tackle Jake Long and are now replacing him with Jonathan Martin. I liked Martin coming out of Stanford, but more as an average NFL starter. I understand the Dolphins reluctance to pay Long given his durability issues moving forward, but even if Long never gets back to his previous level, he’d still be a better player than Martin moving forward.

Clabo’s addition should help, as I’d be much more willing to roll the dice with him as the starting right tackle than Dallas Thomas, Will Yeatman, or Nate Garner. But it’s an interesting approach the Dolphins have had this off-season, adding a lot of dynamic weapons on the outside and at skill positions, while sort of trying band-aid solutions along their offensive line. The team also signed Lance Louis, a physical, but inconsistent player with the Bears to compete with John Jerry at right guard. How effective Clabo is at working with him remains to be seen. But given the amount of turnover Clabo has had beside him in Atlanta the past two years, I imagine it won’t be a huge adjustment for him.

John Abraham hinted at retirement on his twitter, which has since been reported as frustration over the free agent process. Probably not coincidentally, Abraham is coming off a visit with the Tennessee Titans, who were apparently kicking his tires to see how much he had left in the tank.

The selection of both Malliciah Goodman and Stansly Maponga probably assure that he won’t return to Atlanta. The Falcons have consistently kept five defensive ends the past three seasons, and if Abe were to return as one of those players, it would likely result in the Falcons having to lose one of the following four: Cliff Matthews, Jonathan Massaquoi, Goodman, or Maponga. While one couldn’t argue that either one of those young players could add more to the Falcons lineup in 2013, I think the Falcons understand that it’s possible one or several of those young players could offer more potentially to the team in 2014 and beyond. And simply, I don’t see this team prepared to make that long-term sacrifice for a short-term gain.

But just because it might not work in Atlanta, doesn’t mean Abraham couldn’t help out a number of teams looking for a situational pass-rushing specialist. But ultimately, I think the reason why neither Abe or Dwight Freeney are signed comes down to money. The Broncos added Shaun Philips over draft weekend, signing the 31-year old to a one-year, $1 million deal.

Jeff Legwold of the Denver Post breaks it down nicely. Abe and Freeney are holding out for lucrative deals, but I’m afraid at this point they aren’t likely to receive them. At this point, I think they are basically hoping some big name defensive end gets injured between now and August, and thus has his team subsequently desperate for a capable fill-in. While such an event is unpredictable, I just don’t really see it happening. And even so, both Abraham and Freeney will be at odds to fight over the spot, and essentially the low man wins, whoever is willing to bite the bullet and take a lesser contract will ultimately be signed. In the end, I think it’s much likely that come July, both veteran ends are going to have to be willing to accept lower-paying, incentive-laden deals if they want to play football in 2013.

And given the nature of Abraham’s tweets, I’m not sure that’s a given. Would he be willing to hang it up if no team is willing to meet his price. Abraham has had an outstanding 13-year NFL career.

It would be a shame, because I think it would lead Abraham to ultimately fall short of the Hall of Fame. Abraham I think is one of those players on the cusp of Canton that really needs a ring to push him over the edge.  His 122 career sacks rank 13th all-time, tied with Simeon Rice. Of the twelve players ranked ahead of him, all but four are Hall of Famers: Kevin Greene, Michael Strahan, Jason Taylor, and Leslie O’Neal. Taylor is not yet eligible, and both Greene and Strahan were first-time finalists this past year.

But the problem that will face Abraham over the next five years until he’s eligible to be enshrined is the number of players that will pass him. Jared Allen has 117 career sacks, but is currently four years younger. Even if Allen is half as productive over the next four years as he was over the past four, that’s roughly 30 more sacks he’ll be able to pad his career total with. Julius Peppers and DeMarcus Ware look likely to pass Abraham either this season or next. Even a player like Mario Williams, who averages just under 10.5 sacks per season could approach Abraham’s career totals over the next five years to add to his current 63.5 career sacks.

That is why I think it’s best for Abraham, if increasing his chances of earning a bust in Canton is important to him, should opt to sign a top contender for relatively cheap. I’ve stated before that  I believe New England is a perfect opportunity for him. Andre Carter performed the same role as a situational pass rusher for the Pats in 2011, and wound up with 10 sacks in 14 games. The problem of course is that in order to play for the Patriots, it’ll have to be at the right price. A deal comparable to what Phillips got in Denver, rather than trying to be compensated on the same level as a player like Osi. It’s a tough pill to swallow for a player like Abraham, who believes he’s a better player at this point in his career than Osi (and you would get no argument from me on that issue), but will have to play for a dramatically lower price.

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Charles Woodson

Speaking of the Patriots, it would appear that star tight end Rob Gronkowski might require a fourth surgery on his arm. If that were the case, then it’s realistic possibility he could be limited at the outset of the 2013 season. I don’t root for players to be injured, but in the case of Gronkowski, I do hope for a long, laborious recovery that likely pushes his return to the Patriots lineup to October. At that point in the year, they will have already played the Falcons and hopefully we will avoid having to deal with him.

The Falcons struggled covering tight ends last season, culminating in a dominant performance by Vernon Davis in the NFC Championship Game. Gronkowski is the pinnacle of what would be a troublemaker for the Falcons defense to defend. Not to mention, his cohort in Aaron Hernandez who presents unique challenges to a defense because he is essentially an extra wide receiver. Corners are too small, safeties too unathletic, and linebackers too slow to deal with him. The Texans had a novel concept of trying to employ converted corner-turned-safety Glover Quin as Hernandez’s shadow in their dime subpackage. It didn’t work to great effect as the Patriots put up 83 points and 624 passing yards against the Texans in their two matchups last year. But the idea is fairly sound. If looking for a player good enough to be left on an island against a player like Hernandez, it would be a cornerback since they are the only defenders adept enough in man coverage to stand a chance.

It’s one of the reasons why I like the Falcons decisions to add Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford with their top picks. But I think the Falcons might need more help, and it’s why I think this team could be really smart to sign Charles Woodson. The ex-Packer moved to safety this past season in their base defense, but reverted to a cornerback in their subpackages. I don’t think the Falcons would need to count on Woodson to be a starter. But he could add much-needed depth behind Robert McClain in the slot. He also offers the size and physicality to think that he could match up with a quality tight end in man coverage. He did so against Tony Gonzalez in the 2011 playoff matchup against the Falcons and essentially took him out of the game. Now, Woodson isn’t quite the player today as he was back then, but there is still ability left in the tank. His veteran leadership could rub off on young players like Trufant, Alford, Dominique Franks, and even Thomas DeCoud. While Woodson might not bring much value on special teams, which is preferred in reserve corners, the fact that rookies Trufant, Alford, along with McClain can pick up the slack in that realm.

But similar to Abraham, Woodson’s signing would come down to price. Woodson turns 37 in October, would likely have to accept a one-year deal for no more than $1 million that also would have to include incentives on the back-end, a la Phillips. Otherwise the Falcons are likely going to turn to Dominique Franks or one of their rookies to fill that role as sixth defensive back and dime back. Franks performed the role at the end of last season thanks in part to injury to William Moore and was solid. Franks has enough size to think he could fit the bill moving forward, but his potential to make the roster is limited from the fact that he adds little value as a special teams player. His failed stint as the team’s punt returner was preceded by the fact that he has done very little in coverage (0 special teams tackles in 3 seasons). That won’t be the case with Alford, who could be in the mix as the team’s return specialist, but also has the speed to be a great gunner on punt coverage. But it would be a tall-order to ask one of those two more untested players to match wits with opposing tight ends. That’s why adding a player like Woodson could be a smart move. What Woodson lacks in raw athleticism at his advanced age, he can certainly make up for with anticipation, awareness, and discipline. Like Asante Samuel, Woodson has a Super Bowl ring and a future Hall of Fame pedigree. His presence in the locker room certainly wouldn’t hurt.

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Author: Aaron Freeman

Aaron is the founder of FalcFans.com.

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