Entering the free-agency period, the Falcons looked like they could make a whole lot of noise. Not only was it projected on this page, among others, that the Falcons had in the neighborhood of $30 million in salary cap space, but Mario Williams was going to be a free-agent, the Falcons weren’t predicted to have any problem re-signing the free-agents they needed to have (Grimes, Lofton, maybe a couple others), and should have gotten a lot better.
On top of this, the other teams in the NFC South looked to be in desperate straights. The Carolina Panthers had no free cap space, and did not end up doing much. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were supposed to stay with their traditional ways and refuse to spend much of their money, and basically remain the same team they were in 2011. The Saints had about $20 million in cap space, had three huge free agents in Drew Brees, Marques Colston, and Carl Nicks (among others), and were not looking to be in good shape. Brees was franchise-tagged, costing them the majority of their cap space, making them pick and choose between re-signing Nicks or Colston. On top of that, they were hit with bounty-gate. As a Falcons fan, I was on top of the world: the NFC South was ripe for the taking.
My, how things have changed.
Yes, the Panthers have basically stayed put, but that was not out of choice. But the Bucs signed Vincent Jackson, Carl Nicks, and cornerback Eric Wright to massive contracts, and still have around $13 million in cap space AFTER those signings. If Carl Nicks was supposed to stay in the NFC South, he was supposed to come to Atlanta, not to Tampa. The only bright side is that Nicks didn’t stay with the Saints. Tampa may not even be done signing players at this point.
The Saints situation is even more mind-boggling. With Brees receiving the exclusive franchise tag, he cost New Orleans $15 million. Granted they restructured a couple contracts, but with about $6 million they were able to somehow, magically, re-sign Colston and add Ben Grubbs to replace Nicks at left guard. It would be one thing if Grubbs was a huge drop-off from Nicks, but hes not. He was a Pro-Bowler with the Baltimore Ravens last season. True they lost Robert Meachem, but Tracy Porter is reportedly still talking about re-signing with the team. After all of this, they only lose Meachem, and have a slightly less talented guard in Grubbs.
To add insult to injury in this situation, both Tampa and New Orleans are in talks with our former middle-linebacker, Curtis Lofton. If Lofton went to either of those places (especially New Orleans) that would be a huge coup for them, and massively demoralizing for us.
How could we have let things get so carried away from us? What on earth is going on in the offices in Flowery Branch? Has Thomas Dimitroff lost his mind completely? From a fan’s standpoint it is hard to see other teams making huge and productive signings while somehow staying under the salary cap the whole time. If we have one iota more cap space than either Tampa or New Orleans, shouldn’t we be doing everything we can to get players to make our team better? It seems that the front offices in the other two towns have figured out how to not spend around $17 million on three decent, but not spectacular players (Grimes, DeCoud, Biermann). I can’t quite figure out how those three cost us quite so much, and decimated our cap number.
The Falcons have taken a clear step back, as far as what the roster looks like on paper. That in and of itself would not be such a big deal, but these other teams are clearly and definitively making their teams better. The combination of our step back, and other teams steps forward puts us way behind the eight ball. Right now, it may be difficult to be able to project 9 wins on the Falcons 2012 schedule.
Patience is something I insisted was necessary two days ago, and that remains true today. The Falcons have not been included in any free-agent talks with any player. Its embarrassing that we seem to have squandered our salary-cap space. I understand being closed lipped about a team’s movements, but to an extent, the Falcons need to start making moves.
I still have faith in Thomas Dimitroff and that he will do his best to get the team ready to play in 2012. But the longer we wait, the smaller the crop to pick from, and there will be less high-level talent available. The most important thing however, is for unity among us Falcons fans. Now is the time to present a united front, and not be at each others throats, or bang too hard on the front office. Keep looking to the horizon Falcons fans!