Nov 21, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff reacts after the Falcons missed a field goal late in the game against the New Orleans Saints during the second half at the Georgia Dome. The Saints defeated the Falcons 17-13. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Building through the draft, while it is the preferred way, isn’t always enough to bring your franchise to contention. Teams every year scramble to sign the big-name free agents in hopes of them being that missing piece. Atlanta has been exposed far too many times this season, but it may have opened the eyes of Dimitroff to what those holes actually are. Picking late in the draft for the last 5 years has not allowed Thomas Dimitroff to pick from a wide selection of high-end prospects, thus contributing to the slump we have just experienced. This year is a different story; Atlanta is picking at No.6 overall, and is scheduled to have roughly 18 million in cap before cuts. Since the free-agency period occurs before the draft, Atlanta has a chance to fill some holes before exhausting any draft picks. Here are 3 dream free agent pick-ups that would have the Falcons’ front office salivating…
OT Branden Albert , Kansas City Chiefs
We have all seen how atrocious the Falcons’ offensive line has been this year. Today against Carolina, Ryan was sacked a staggering 9 times, raising the season total to 44. Add the sack total to the fact that Ryan is the most hurried Quarterback in the league, and you have a recipe for disaster. Signing Albert would bring a consistent pass protector that will protect Matt Ryan’s blind side. He isn’t the best run blocker, but as a left tackle he doesn’t need to be. Since 2008, Albert has helped pave the way for one of the NFL’s most successful rushing attacks in Kansas City. Signing Albert would allow Baker, Holmes, and Schrader to battle it out for the other Tackle position. Albert would command something similar to a 5 year, 40 million dollar contract.
DE Greg Hardy, Carolina Panthers
As I said above, Ryan was sacked 9 times in today’s loss to the Panthers. 4 of those sacks came against none other than Greg Hardy. Signing Hardy would not only bolster the non-existent pass rush that Atlanta features, but also take away one of Carolina’s most feared defensive stars. Hardy capped off a 15 sack season today, which tied the Panthers’ single season sack record. This would be a huge blow to the NFC South rival, and also help keep Carolina from putting Ryan in the dirt. Hardy will probably sign something similar to that of teammate Charles Johnson’s 6 year, 76 million dollar contract. If he happens to come to Atlanta, it would make for
an awkward locker room encounter between Hardy and Matt Bryant.
TE Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints
What is there to say about Jimmy Graham? I could tell you about his 1,144 yard-15 TD season he just completed against Tampa Bay. Or I could tell you about his 40 career touchdowns in a mere 4 seasons. There’s also his importance to the Saints’ offense, which could quite possibly be the most important part. Graham is an irreplaceable threat in New Orleans. If Atlanta were able to pick him up, it would be a blow of unmeasurable proportions to the Saints’ passing attack. Graham’s stats would replace the production of Tony Gonzalez, and then some. Giving Ryan that kind of target would open up so much for Roddy White and Julio Jones as well, forcing defenses to always account for all of them. Not that Gonzalez didn’t draw the same attention, just that Graham is a faster, younger version. Jimmy Graham is rumored to command wideout money, and if that’s top wideout money, that would be around +15 million per year.
With cuts assured to come, Atlanta will most likely be one of the biggest players in free agency in 2014. However, these are DREAM free agent pickups for the Falcons, and not PROBABLE free agent pickups. If Atlanta were to pick up any of these players in the offseason, I’d be more than ecstatic. If Dimitroff can match a few good FAs with a solid draft, then the 2014 Falcons will truly be a force to reckon with.