What to Expect from These Atlanta Falcons in Contract Years

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What to Expect from These Atlanta Falcons in Contract Years
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
With a Super Bowl win, guys like Todd McClure and Tony Gonzalez might hang up their cleats.

When it comes to giving it all during a contract year, there are times when a player steps up his game in an effort to get paid moving forward on his next contract. It's almost cliche when career numbers come from a guy in the final season of his contract, but it happens.

It's a possibility that there will be some extra effort given in 2012 by some of the Atlanta Falcons in contract years.

There are also a few unique cases such as careers coming to an end or careers at crossroads. For two of these Falcons, personal accolades and effort are only signs of desire to make a run at a Super Bowl.

For two more, injuries have played a key role in the early development of their careers. In this contract year of 2012, they could be playing as much to prove their health as for future salary.

The Falcons are in "win-now" mode as this team has been set up to achieve in this moment. Each player on this roster is playing in an effort to finally get that playoff monkey of their back and then make a deep playoff run. There are some who are in the final year of their contract.

Here's what you may expect from some of those Falcons in contract years:

 

Tony Gonzalez, TE

Tony Gonzalez re-signed with Atlanta last season and will be playing for $3.9 million in 2012 with some other bonus opportunities. More important than money—and that couldn’t be a more true statement when speaking about Gonzalez—would be winning a title.

In his 15 seasons in the NFL, Gonzalez has never played on a team that won a playoff game. That almost seems like a travesty for what might be the best tight end to ever play in the NFL, but it's true.

He's already said that 2012 will likely be it—a Super Bowl run could mean a ride off into the sunset afterward. Even if the Falcons don't make it that far, it's not far-fetched to imagine Gonzalez calling it a career after 2012.

Prior to that announcement, Gonzalez has a few football games to play and plenty of gas left in the tank. He's averaged just under 78 catches per season since arriving in Atlanta and there's no reason to believe that he won't put up those kinds of numbers again.

It's not out the realm of possibility, at 36 years old, for Gonzalez to catch six touchdown passes, either.

 

Todd McClure, C

Todd McClure is in a very similar situation to Gonzalez when it comes to a career winding down. Even though McClure has been on a playoff-winning team, his 13 consecutive seasons with the Falcons started in 1999, the year after the team went to the Super Bowl.

McClure re-signed a one-year deal with Atlanta in the offseason and recently said he was glad to be back because of the camaraderie being in the locker room provided. While I'm sure that's 100 percent true, McClure knows this team is close to putting it all together. And since he's physically able, why not join on for one more year to make a run.

Expect McClure to battle for the starting job at center during training camp and likely come out on top, at least to start the season. The offensive line works really well with him in the middle, and quarterback Matt Ryan is very comfortable under center with McClure in the game.

 

Sam Baker, T

Can Sam Baker revitalize his career in 2012 and hold down a starter's role?

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To call Sam Baker's career to this point a disappointment wouldn't be stepping out of bounds at all. Taken in the first round of the 2008 draft (the same draft where the Falcons took Matt Ryan) after an All-American season at Southern California, Baker has battled injury and the demons of many wondering if he was drafted too high.

He lost his job last year after sitting out with back issues, but came into offseason workouts in an open competition for the job at left tackle.

When healthy, Baker is a viable option at tackle. He's been a part of very successful units that spanned long streaks without giving up a sack to Ryan. The biggest key is his health.

If Baker is, and can stay, 100 percent healthy, he can win the job at left tackle, and probably deserves it. If that happens and he plays well in 2012, it won't be because it's a contract year—it'll be because he's finally healthy enough to live up to expectations.

 

William Moore, S

William Moore is another Falcon who has had troubles with injury. He lost the majority of his rookie season to a knee and hamstring injury and battled a quadriceps injury in 2011 and missed four games.

When Moore is healthy, he's a hard-hitting beast that puts fear in anyone coming across the middle of the field. Staying on the field has been the challenge.

Moore enters the 2012 season healthy and with a much bigger role in Mike Nolan's new defense in Atlanta. It's quite possible that he could put up career numbers in both tackles (72 in 2010) and interceptions (five in 2010). The question after that would be what happens in contract negotiations?

 

Lawrence Sidbury, DE

Grant Halverson/Getty Images
Lawrence Sidbury finished with four sacks in 2011 but played a very limited role.

Lawrence Sidbury has had lots of trouble getting onto the field. In his three years with the Falcons, he's played in 38 games but never started one. In 2011, Sidbury only played on 214 snaps (subscription required) for the Atlanta defense but registered four sacks, the second-highest total on the team.

Because of this efficiency when on the field, Sidbury will get an expanded role in 2012. He'll likely notch 50 percent more snaps on defense—maybe more—and if that sack efficiency stays high, he'll continue to grow his role in the defensive line rotation.

Sidbury could easily approach six sacks in 2012, and that might be a low prognostication. If that happens, Falcons fans should enjoy the fun and savor it because it could lead to Sidbury's departure.

There's not a lot of chance that Sidbury passes Ray Edwards and John Abraham on the depth chart. If he puts up six or more sacks and is ready to take it to the next level, that level may be elsewhere in the NFL.

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