This offseason should be one of optimism and excitement for the Atlanta Falcons and their fans. The team had an excellent season and hopes are high that the young team will only get better in '09.
The strategy for this offseason will probably follow the blueprint that the team followed last year. That blueprint was simple, yet very effective.
The Falcons found three starters in free agency last year in Turner, Hartsock, and Coleman. All of these guys are young players who didn't cost the Falcons a huge amount of money.
The Falcons main needs are at TE, DL/DE, LB, and S. However, with Todd Weiner retiring and lack of depth in the secondary I think they could also look for a OT and CB either in FA or the draft.
If they follow the same path from last year then some players that should be on the Falcons radar screen are as follows: Karlos Dansby (OLB-5th yr. player), Oshiomogho Atogwe (S-4th yr), Sean Jones (S-5th Year), and Bo Scaife (TE-4th year).
This year there are a number of good free agent offensive tackles so the Falcons may look in that direction as well. Also, rumor has it that Detroit is set to cut CB Leigh Bodden so he may be an option at CB.
The Falcons will look to bolster the linebacking corps especially since they played awful last year and Brooking and Boley are both probably gone. It would not make sense for the Falcons to draft two linebackers to start next year...Especially since Curtis Lofton will only be entering his second season.
Given this, the Falcons will probably look to either starting Stephen Nicholas or picking up one LB in FA and one (or more) in the draft. Given how horrible the linebackers played last year, if Nicholas was the answer then he would have probably played more. I think the Falcons will look at Karlos Dansby from Arizona.
I thought they might give Leroy Hill of Seattle a look but he just got busted on a misdemeanor drug charge. Given the Falcons wanting character players then that probably rules him out. Dansby could be franchised so signing him may not happen either.
At safety there are a few guys Atlanta could look at in free agency. One that I didn't mention previously is Jermaine Phillips from Tampa Bay. He is a seventh-year player who played college ball at Georgia. I didn't mention him above because I think the Falcons will look more toward Atogwe or Jones.
They are both younger and should be cheaper to sign. Atogwe is probably where the Falcons will look first since they got to see him play against them in the last game of the season. He had a really good game...I know I was impressed.
The Falcons could re-sign Milloy to a one year deal but will probably still look to upgrade the position. The only x-factor here is if Thomas DeCoud is ready to come in and start...if so they may just add depth at this position instead of going after starting-caliber talent.
Ah...now we get to the defensive line. Jamal Anderson is probably done at DE...rumor has it that he is going to be tried at DT. Another pass rusher is sorely needed but may not be the priority. There aren't very many good free agent defensive ends this year so this will probably be addressed during the draft.
Re-signing Chauncey Davis should be a priority...especially since they lack depth at the position anyway. Davis and Biermann both outplayed Anderson last year and weren't even starters. Defensive tackle will be a position that must be upgraded. Grady Jackson has played well for the Falcons but is getting older and is not much of a pass rushing threat.
One factor here could be the return of DT Trey Lewis, who was out all of last year. Word has it that the Falcons staff likes Lewis and this could be a big boost if he can return healthy. Still the Falcons will definitely look to bolster the position. Albert Haynesworth is the prize of the free agent defensive tackle crop.
I personally think the Falcons will pass on Haynesworth due to the money he will cost and problems he has had in the past. After Haynesworth there is a significant dropoff in the free agent DT pool so the Falcons will probably look to address this need in the draft.
Tight end is also an area that needs upgrading. The Falcons were never happy with the tight-end situation last year as evidenced by picking up players all through the season.
Many mock drafts have the Falcons taking a TE in the first round (Pettigrew), but TE is not a position that is used extensively in Mularkey's system so I'm not sure I agree. The problem with the team last year was not on offensive...it was on defense.
Don't get me wrong...a good TE would help the offense but spending a first round pick on one is going to do nothing for the defense. Look for the Falcons to pick up a free agent like Bo Scaife or LJ Smith, or pick one up later in the draft.
The Falcons may also look to add another OT. Atlanta's offensive line looked pretty good last year but definitely needs more depth. Resigning Clabo and Dahl should be a priority but look for another offensive tackle to be picked up as well.
If the Falcons feel this is a position of dire need then they could look to the deep crop of free agent offensive tackles. Jordan Gross headlines the group but would probably cost the Falcons too much. Look for them to take another prospect here or in later rounds of the draft.
This is one position that doesn't seem like a great need but depends on how the Falcons view it.
Finally the draft...at this point it is really hard to speculate who the Falcons will draft. Given the Falcons blueprint and what is available in free agency, I think the position of S, TE, and possibly LB and OT could be filled there.
That would still leave needs in the draft for DT, LB, DE, and CB (of course this solely depends on what they pick up in FA). If the Falcons pick for needs like they did last year then the first and second round picks should be used on LB and DT.
The positive outlook on all this is the Falcons should hopefully be able to get everything they need this offseason. Good luck to the Falcons in free agency and the draft! Things are looking good for this offseason and season to come! GO FALCONS!!!!!!