The Atlanta Falcons have an interesting situation in free agency, and a lot of unique questions to answer this offseason. Many of them have large numbers against the salary cap, some could have a very large one if they were to be re-signed. Here are a few, and what the situation at those positions will be. I will also include most realistic draft picks, given the 2012 picks the Falcons will have.
The first order of business is the Brent Grimes situation, and the corner position in general. Brent Grimes will be an unrestricted free agent when March rolls around, and he would doubtless demand a big time salary on the free agent market. If the Falcons could sign him at a huge discount, that would doubtless be ideal, but it seems quite apparent that we are currently not in a position to spend boat loads of money on another corner. The question popped into my head: what will the Falcons do at corner? The answer came to me in the most unlikely of places. Follow the jump to find out where.
After watching the Falcons play the sacrificial lamb to the New York Giants in the Wild Card Round of the playoffs, one person’s play stood out to me. That was the play of Chris Owens. He was torched as the nickel corner against the Packers last year, but with Brent Grimes injured, he started at the left side corner position. When not playing nickel, he was outstanding. Whether it be Victor Cruz, or Manningham, Owens did a tremendous job covering from that position. My thought is that the Falcons will let Grimes walk, allow Chris Owens to have an outside corner position, saving money due to the huge Dunta Robinson deal. When healthy, Kelvin Hayden was great, and I think another one-year contract would be cost effective and very significant. He is a tremendous nickel corner when healthy, and with young Darren Walls and Dominique Franks getting more playing time in Dime defense situations, this could be a great way to build the defense for the short term, and potentially for the long term.
Staying in the secondary, Thomas DeCoud is also going to be a free agent in over a month. We have a great strong safety in William Moore, who makes big hits and helps alot in the run game. The free-safety position, DeCoud’s position, is designed to be played as a last line of defense for the passing game. DeCoud has not done a very good job in the passing game, and isn’t the biggest hitter at free safety either. Another option is necessary, as his production doesn’t warrant another contract. I had a brief conversation with some colleagues from Blogging Dirty, and a couple potential free agent signings in the secondary (CBs Ladarius Webb, Carlos Rogers, Safety LaRon Landry) that could become possible.
John Abraham is the pass rush for this team. Now that the Falcons have make Mike Nolan their new defensive coordinator, I would expect to see more blitzing from linebackers, but it is still necessary to be able to rush the passer with only 4 down linemen. Abraham was almost all of the pass rush the past four years. He is now 34, definitely on the downward end of his career, and a free agent. Abraham will require a large number against the salary cap if he were to be resigned, but I don’t think the Falcons are prepared to do that simply out of respect for the man. The Falcons need to use that money to sign a younger free agent for that defensive line, or for another position. Ray Edwards is not the dominant player that the Falcons expected him to be, so it is imperative the Falcons sign a good pass rushing defensive end. However, one thing cautions me: Mike Nolan has been a big 3-4 defense guy, and it is possible the Falcons sign a big defensive end to make the front bigger, so the linebackers can make plays. Without a whole lot of money on the defensive line, this team could go either direction as far as 4-3 or 3-4 defensive scheme.
Curtis Lofton needs to be resigned. Weatherspoon may be the better athletic talent, but Lofton is the heart, soul, and organizer of the defense. As the middle linebacker, he is responsible for telling the other players what adjustments need to be made, and he is pretty good at it. There is no doubt in my mind that the Falcons re-sign Lofton, keeping our very solid linebacking corps together.
The offensive side of the ball has some holes, and only a couple players that need to be re-signed. Harry Douglas has to be given a new contract. I know he disappeared for long portions of games, and wasn’t the force to be reckoned with many expected, but he can be a very valuable weapon from the slot, Ryan is very comfortable with him, and with a new OC, it would be wise to keep Douglas. Koetter will know how to use him properly, trust me. The other player is Jason Snelling. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him get another one-year deal. He is bruising, and can also catch the ball out of the backfield. He is a valuable, yet underused weapon. Atlanta would be wise to get him to come back.
On the offensive line, there are problems at right guard, center, and left tackle. It is possible that more players will be drafted, or that a big free agent could come in. It is possible that the Falcons could sign New Orleans G Carl Nicks to play at RG. That way Joe Hawley could move to backing up/playing center for McClure full time. Will Svitek is not the long term option at LT, but he is servicable, and will probably start for us there at least one more season, barring something monumental happening. I feel less confident about the possibilities on the offensive line than at other positions; nearly everything there is simply a guess.
I have given a lot of thought to who the Falcons may draft in April. There are a multitude of holes in this team as I have mentioned earlier in this article, but I think the number one priority should be TE. With picks in rounds 2,3,5,6, and 7, it is doubtful we could draft the left tackle of the future, or a dominant pass rushing defensive end. But there will still be great value at the TE position to be had in rounds 2 and 3. In Bloggind Dirty’s Mock Draft, Jamie Kelly has projected several times that the Falcons will take Dwayne Allen from Clemson in the second round of the draft. If he is there, I would certainly take him. There are other options at TE however. Georgia’s Orson Charles would be another good pick, and Coby Fleener may be another good selection. Those two could fall into the third round. If the could fall to the Falcons in the third round, I would see it as impossible for the Falcons to say no with the age of Gonzalez becoming an issue. Do not be surprised to see the Falcons use a 2nd or 3rd round pick on the TE position.