As I stated in my previous blog, I believe Vick needs to step up or step out. But at the same time, I realize that the likelihood of this team trading or cutting Vick after this season is about the same as it would be to occur tomorrow. It’s just not going to happen.
So while I truly believe that Vick doesn’t have to look much beyond the mirror in order to assess why this team has been so inconsistent, I also realize that the front office and coaching staff are going to have to do what so many other Falcon fans continually are advocating: improve the talent around him, in order to get the ball rolling.
There’s still a lot of football left to be played this year, so my talk of potential off-season moves is probably premature. But at this point, the off-season seems a lot more interesting than this team’s performance in recent weeks.
1) Addressing the Offensive Line
There is a nice stat I’ve happened to come across that says when the Falcons offensive line performs at an average level of better (meaning they allow what has been the league average consistently since 2004 in allowing no more than 1 sack per 15 dropbacks), the Falcons are 13-4. When not playing at this level, then the Falcons are 11-14. So it seems crucial that for Vick to take his play to the next level, it would probably mean this unit would have to do so as well.
There really are no Steve Hutchinsons in this year’s free agent class. The closest being Bengals blocker Eric Steinbach. Of course, he’d be a great pickup at LG, but I’m not sure the Falcons will be in a position to spend $30+ million on him. Instead, I would try and sign Broncos blocker Cooper Carlisle. Not a stud by any means, but knows the scheme well, and would be a significant upgrade over Matt Lehr at LG. Other options would be Kris Dielman (Chargers) and Sean Mahan (Bucs), and if they are willing to spring the draft pick, Colts RFA Jake Scott. All currently play in zone blocking schemes and would be better options than Lehr, particularly in pass protection.
Also, I would also like to see the Falcons finally use a first day pick on a blocker. Preferably a OT or OC. McClure is a free agent next year. I would like to see him come back, because I worry what the alternative would be. But if he finds greener pastures, then a rookie like WVU’s Dan Mozes would be an ideal replacement, and could sit behind Lehr until he’s ready.
2) Upgrading the Receivers
Jenkins and White have to play better. But you get what you pay for, and essentially both Jenkins and White are No. 2 receivers that were reaches in the first round. I thought this back in ’04 and ’05 when they were first drafted, and nothing in their short careers has indicated otherwise. But I’ll hold out some hope that things will click for at least one of them next year. I’d like to see Lelie come back, but he’s likely to get a big contract elsewhere, so I don’t expect it. With Finneran coming back, it does alleviate some of the issues with Lelie’s potential loss. There really is no FA that I really like that is likely to be available. I’m sure people will chime in on Joe Horn, Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, and Chris Chambers, if any are cap cuts after the season. But truthfully, with exception to Horn, none of them I would really want on this team. I might be persuaded to give Moss a one-year deal and tryout, but only if the price is right. Basically, I don’t really see a lot we can do at WR except cross our fingers and hope White & Jenkins emerge. Anybody else we sign would be just as big, if not a bigger risk.
3) Upgrading the Defense
Free agent cornerbacks are very expensive, and it would be hard to accept paying another huge sum to even a quality player such as Roderick Hood or Asante Samuel with Webster, Hall, and Williams already on the roster. The best possible solution there seems to be adding one somewhere in the draft, perhaps in Round 3 or 4.
The Falcons have to make the decision to re-sign Kerney. From a business standpoint, I would opt against it (although my heart feels the exact opposite). If the team was going to spend top coin on a DE next year, I’d much prefer it was Dwight Freeney, Justin Smith, or Jared Allen. A cheaper option would be Dewayne White, who would be a solid complement to a healthy Abraham, and a good fit since McKay drafted him in his final year in Tampa Bay. Otherwise, it seems like we could get a solid DE in the middle or latter part of Round 1.
As for the remainder of the defense, there’s no reason to spend big coin at any other position. Improving depth at defensive tackle and safety would be other keys, but I think the Falcons could do so in the middle or late part of the draft.
The truth is, with the way next year’s free agency is shaping up, there really isn’t a lot of band-aids the Falcons can do that should cause a dramatic improvement. Essentially all the players currently on the roster just have to simply play better. And that starts with Michael Vick, and filters down to every one else.