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Following the end of the season, the best thing to look forward to for Falcons fans is the free agency period and the 2014 NFL draft. This should actually be very exciting for Atlanta and I’ll tell you why.
A lot of fans had problems with the kind of contract Matt Ryan signed in 2013. That kind of deal can disrupt a team in the worst possible way. After Flacco signed a major deal, the front office barely had any room to sign back major players and was strapped for cash so much that they could only bring one major talent in Elvis Dumerville. The same could be said for the New Orleans Saints. Although they are having a great season, they will enter free agency with many major players (namely Grahm) off contract and will still be roughly eight million dollars over the cap.
The difference in Atlanta is Thomas Dimitroff. Say what you will about his ability to draft good linemen, but when it comes to number-crunching, he’s one of the best. Despite signing Matt Ryan to a huge deal, Atlanta will enter the 2014 free agency with almost $20 million in free cap space. That number is even bigger after making obvious cuts like Asante Samuel and Stephen Nicholas. On top of that, there aren’t very many players entering free agency that would be difficult to resign.
It’s obvious that Atlanta needs to fix their line, but what’s the best way to fix the personnel?
A smart mix in free agent signings and draft selections is the best. There is always a plethora of talent in free agency and considering how high Atlanta is picking in the draft, there’s’ a possibility of even the third round player being an immediate starter.
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The line needs an overhaul and there’s no question about that. Osi has supplied the only real pass rush all season and only an okay one at that. Corey Peters has stood out as a stud. Being young, big, and skilled at eating blocks, plugging the run, and rushing the pass, resigning him is a no-brainer. Jonathan Babineaux is alos a free agent. His skill has diminished, but he’s still valuable. This is a tossup. I’d offer about $6-9 million, three-year contract to allow him to retire a Falcon, but if someone wants to offer something more, he can take it. Peria Jerry should be let go. If those two come back, then Atlanta has a need at a third defensive Tackle and a Solid Defensive end.
With a few very strong pass rushers in the Draft, I would spend the first pick on one. Either Clowney (wishful thinking) Barr, or possibly Mack would fill in nicely.They may even trade down for Vic Beasely a little later. The draft is also deep with tackle depth and one can be picked up in the third round that could be a reasonable starter.
As for free agency, I pass rusher could also be picked up with starting quality like Michael Johnson from Cincinnati or Michael Bennett from Seattle. Randy Stark from Miami or Vance Walker from Oakland (who I don’t believe should have even left) might be good to bring in for the defensive tackle.
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Matt Ryan signed an incredible extension and even despite the poor record, proved himself to be one of the top quarterbacks in the league again. One thing that needs to be improved is how many times he gets sacked.
It’s awful right now. Sam Baker will start the season somewhere, either at right or left tackle. It all depends on what happens in the offseason. Justin Blalock is the only solid offensive lineman Atlanta has. Center used to be the weakest link for Atlanta while Peter Konz was getting shoved around like wet cardboard box. Joe Hawley may not be the permanent answer, but he makes the center position a lot less important to fix.
That leaves Right Guard and another Tackle. Holmes has improved, but he is still only a backup kind of guy. Mike Johnson deserves a shot and he’ll get one. Guard, however, can and should be filled in the draft. Guard doesn’t require extreme skill to play successfully so teams don’t usually reach for guard high in the draft unless there’s a major stud. It could be very easy to grab the best guard in the draft with the second round pick.
Free Agents that may be targeted is Branden Albert from Kansas City, Rodger Saffold from St. Louis, or Anthony Collins from Cincinnati. Albert or Rodger would be an immediate starter and upgrade over Holmes or Trueblood, but Collins could be a cap-friendly guy to bring competition to Johnson and Holmes.
If Atlanta wants to really sink some money in free agency and proven skill, they might also want to go for Alex Mack from Cleveland. He’s one of the top centers in the league and would bring a huge upgrade to the line.
There’s also a few options in the draft. If Atlanta wanted a tackle, it would be best to get one in the first round. Both Jake Matthews (if he’s still on the board) and Cyrus Kouandjio are giant SEC products that would make it big in the NFL. Taylor Lewan is also an interesting product with a mean streak.
What would you do?
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If I could have my way with the offseason, I would enter Free Agency with my eye set on Branden Albert and throw some money at Alex Mack to see if we can get him in Atlanta for a deal (most likely not). Resigning Corey Peters would be a must before I even hit free agency. I’d offer Babs a 3-year, $9 million contract. If he wants it, I’ll be more than happy to bring him back. If not, He can make some good money somewhere else or retire now. If he walks, I’d take Vance Walker back, he already knows most of the defense and we might get him at a deal.
When the Draft comes, I’ll cross my fingers for Jadaveon Clowney to drop. For that to happen, both Jacksonville and Oakland would have to want a quarterback. The QB class just isn’t that talented and top heavy to justify that, but don’t hold that decision above them. If he doesn’t fall, I’d trade back for another second or third round pick and drop back to a spot where I can draft Vic Beasley. Either way, I have my future at defensive end.
When the second round comes around, I’ll pick up Cyril Richardson if he’s still around, which I think he will be.
In the third round (or possibly a later second round pick) I would pick up the best available Defensive Tackle to fill out the rotation. That guy would be Kelcy Quarles from South Carolina. SC can produce some monsters on the line. He’s not getting a lot of attention on a national level, but I guarantee you that he’ll be a great starter if Atlanta took him in the early third or late second round.
If everything went as expected, my starting lineup for the line would be as followed:
RG: Cyril Richardson
RT: Sam Baker
DT: Peters/Walker (Babineaux)/Quarles
RDE: Clowney (Beasley)
To make it fun, comment what kind of changes you would make on the lines.