Falcons General Manager Thomas Dimitroff and Owner Arthur Blank
Atlanta Falcons General Manager Thomas Dimitroff has proven he is not afraid to bet the farm to land the golden calf. In 2011, he made the controversial decision to give up five draft picks for Alabama wide receiver Julio Jones, but it was a decision that helped propel the Falcons to the NFC Championship Game.
Sunday’s loss to San Francisco proved there’s more holes to fill on this roster. The defense’s inability to hold a 17-point lead brings into question both depth and endurance. The offense’s inability to establish a run game brings into question the talent of a few offensive linemen and whether running back Michael Turner's best days are behind him.
For Atlanta to take the next step, from perennial playoff contender to championship winner, risks—like the ones that landed Jones—will need to be taken. The theme in Atlanta this offseason will be aggressive, in both the NFL draft and free agency.
We will have to wait and see whether their aggressiveness gives them the boldness to make the following four big moves in free agency.
Left tackle Sam Baker labored through injuries in 2011 before being benched after a back procedure. His health and decline in production raised many questions heading into 2012. Most notably, would this be his last season in Atlanta.
Baker answered the health question by starting every game this season. The production questions were answered by only allowing 3.5 sacks on the year, which was the fewest since his rookie year when he only played in eight games.
A quarterback is only as good as his backside protection. And for Matt Ryan and the Falcons their future lies in re-signing Baker—before he hits the open market.
The glare from Atlanta’s lack of a pass rush was no more evident than in its two playoff games. Against Seattle it allowed Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson to overcome a 21-point deficit. In the NFC Championship Game, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat comfortably in the packet and erased a 17-point Falcons lead.
Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora prepped at Auburn High School and played his college ball at Troy, both of which are just a few hours down the road from Atlanta. His offseason home is in nearby Cleveland, Georgia. Umenyiora knows the expectations of the Falcons franchise and fans. That knowledge combined with playing near home could rejuvenate both a player and a team without a pass-rusher.
Umenyiora played in all 16 regular-season games in 2012, recording 43 combined tackles and six sacks.
At 31, he provides the ability to immediately produce while the Falcons groom a young pass-rusher selected in the draft.
Thirty is the magic number for running backs in the NFL. It’s an age where the pounding and punishment takes its toll. Michael Turner is 31. Although his carries were reduced in 2012, Turner showed the signs of a back who has worn down—and maybe out.
Kansas City’s Peyton Hillis is only 26. He’s proven he can be a legitimate short-yardage back after rushing for over 1,000 yards in 2010 for Cleveland. With a reduced workload over the past few years in Kansas City, Hillis has a chance to be productive for years to come.
Signing Hillis will give Jacquizz Rodgers the rest he needs to stay fresh. More importantly it will give the Falcons a legitimate one-two punch in the running game.
A midseason demand to be traded let the secret out of the bag. Titans tight end Jared Cook is very unhappy in Nashville. And after the demand, his season took a turn for worse in Week 14 with a torn rotator cuff.
Expectations were high for Cook in 2012. In 2011, he caught 49 passes for 759 yards and three touchdowns. Before being injured this season, he had 42 receptions for 523 yards and four touchdowns.
Cook’s assertion about his role in the Titans offense is debatable. His chemistry with the team and its front office is not. And neither is his ability to be a dependable tight end on 3rd-and-5.
It will take more than one player to replace the departing Tony Gonzalez. Signing Cook will make the task easier.