With only five picks in this April's draft, the Atlanta Falcons will have to address at least several of their needs during the free-agency period this offseason.
Depending on who they decide to retain from their own list of FA's, they could potentially be looking at some huge voids to fill.
The Falcons have missed on some free agents in recent years.
Dunta Robinson had a ton of cash thrown his way, but he's really been mediocre for the majority of his playing time in Atlanta. Ray Edwards was brought in this past offseason to bolster the defensive line, and in case you missed most of the Falcons' games this season, fans were often asking if he was even in the game. That should be a good indication of his presence in 2011.
Atlanta has been able to hit on a lot of their draft picks, but after trading away several selections to Cleveland, free agency is going to be vital in 2012. We don't know who the Falcons are keeping around for next season. However, with 17 players eligible for unrestricted free agency, we do know a portion of those guys will be looking for new homes soon.
Thomas Dimitroff estimated that around eight of those 17 players would return, as Daniel Cox reported. If that prediction proves to be true, Atlanta will need to land some key players to ensure their chances of success going forward.
Let's take a look at a few free agents the Falcons could land.
I have never been big on Thomas DeCoud, and now, the time has finally come where the Falcons can decide they aren't either.
DeCoud makes some plays here and there, but the way he approaches runners is embarrassing to watch at times. He takes the wrong position and lets opponents blow right by him. Don't believe me? Watch the highlights of Brandon Jacobs making him look silly back in the first round of the playoffs.
Dashon Goldson has been a part of one of the best defenses in the league this year in San Francisco. You might have watched him pick off Drew Brees this past Saturday. If Goldson hits the market, the Falcons should at least take a look.
LaRon Landry and Tyvon Branch are other candidates who have been mentioned recently, but I like Goldson playing his natural position here.
Carl Nicks is expected to leave New Orleans this offseason, and all Falcons fans should hope he finds his way to Georgia.
Nicks is one of the best guards in the league, and we all know Atlanta needs some help on the offensive line.
This is another guy who will be looking for big money, but the Falcons need elite players on their line. Protecting Matt Ryan has to be a top priority. They can't expect to get that first playoff win under this new regime with their quarterback constantly on the move.
Everything else aside, wouldn't it be great to see Atlanta swoop in and snatch one of the Saints best?
How sweet would that be to see him convert to their side?
Mathis is going to require some money to be dished out by any team that signs him, but he is a monster in the pass rush, and would be worth every penny at this point.
He was named as a replacement to this year's Pro Bowl, so that makes four in a row for the Colts' defensive end. Mathis has 83.5 sacks and 39 forced fumbles in his career. If John Abraham leaves, Mathis definitely deserves consideration.
I'm not sure if Atlanta would be willing to give him the contract he wants, but if they could sign Mathis, he would be a huge addition for their line. Mathis has openly expressed his discontent with his current deal in Indy, so it wouldn't be surprising to see him leave.
He grew up and attended high school in Atlanta, so maybe this could be a homecoming for him. There aren't many other elite options for the Falcons, as Cliff Avril and Calais Campbell have already been claimed as top priorities from their franchises.
Here's another guy from that tough 49ers defense.
Rogers was named to the Pro Bowl this season and has been a great addition to San Fran since coming over from Washington.
The Niners might not let him get away, but if Brent Grimes does in fact depart, the Falcons will need a solid replacement at corner.
Rogers can make an instant impact in Atlanta's secondary.
E.J. Henderson has stated that he would like to finish his career in Minnesota, which is understandable as he's played for the Vikings since 2003.
He may not be brought back, though, and Atlanta may also need a talented middle linebacker for next season.
Curtis Lofton is clearly one of the main concerns for the Falcons this offseason, but it's uncertain if he will be back for the 2012 season. In the unfortunate event that Lofton does leave, Henderson would provide an experienced middle man that just finished his ninth season with 110 total tackles.
Henderson was a Pro Bowler in 2010. As much as I would hate to see Lofton leave, they would have to quickly figure out how to keep their linebacking corps at the top of the NFL.
Henderson would be a solid replacement.