5 Free Agents the Atlanta Falcons Should Avoid at All Costs
Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff owes part of his success to some of the moves that he's chosen not to make during his time in Atlanta. For example, in 2008, he chose to draft Matt Ryan with the third overall pick of the draft instead of selecting Glenn Dorsey in Ryan's spot and waiting until the second round to draft a quarterback like Brian Brohm or Chad Henne. Last year, he chose to pass on making a run at Bills defensive end Mario Williams.
As we look ahead to March, the 2013 free agent class features some intriguing names for Atlanta. However, there are a few players who Thomas Dimitroff and the Falcons would be better off without.
Let's take a look at five pending free agents that play positions the Falcons will probably be looking to upgrade and analyze why some Falcons fans may want the team to pursue each player before discussing the reasons why Thomas Dimitroff should choose to pass on making a move like he did with Mario Williams and Glenn Dorsey.
Peyton Hillis, Running Back
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Why Some Falcons Fans May Want Atlanta to Sign Him: Atlanta needs to improve its running game to add some balance to the offense. Hillis' popularity went viral back in 2010 when he had a career year with the Cleveland Browns and rushed for 1,177 yards. He's only 27 years old, and at 6'2"and 250lbs, there are some fans who may see Hillis as an upgrade over Michael Turner as a complement to Jacquizz Rodgers in the backfield based on Hillis' size and the potential he showed two seasons ago.
Reasons Atlanta Should Stay Away From Him: Hillis isn't an upgrade over Michael Turner at all. He hasn't played in all 16 games in either of the last two years, and he's averaged a meager 3.6 yards per carry during the same time span.
By comparison, Michael Turner averaged 3.6 yards per carry this past season with the Falcons, and that was his lowest average since he arrived in Atlanta in 2008. Since 2008, Hillis' yards per carry have gove down every year he's been in the league. He is not the solution to Atlanta's backfield issues, Hillis would only slow Atlanta's offense down.
Better Option: The free-agent running back market isn't great. The Falcons shouldn't replace Turner with another veteran back like Hillis or Steven Jackson. Atlanta would be best served by addressing the running back position in April's draft. Thomas Dimitroff and his staff got Jacquizz Rodgers in the 5th round in 2011. They should be able to find a quality back in the first three rounds.
If there is one back worth a look in free agency for Atlanta, it's Reggie Bush (if he's over being a feature back). He could impact the return game, and he'd give opposing defenses another weapon to be concerned about in the screen game.
A combination of Rodgers, Bush, Snelling (playing his role as a utility back), and a rookie back selected early in April would give Atlanta a formidable backfield going into 2013.
All Stats Courtesy of ESPN.com
Cliff Avril, Defensive End
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Why Some Falcons Fans May Want Atlanta to Sign Him: Atlanta hasn't had a legitimate pass-rush threat opposite John Abraham since Patrick Kerney's departure following the 2006 season. Their efforts to add another defensive end have failed in the draft (Jamaal Anderson, Lawrence Sidbury) and in free agency (Ray Edwards). Avril, 26, had 9.5 sacks this past season, and 11 sacks in 2011.
Reasons Atlanta Should Stay Away From Him: Avril will probably command more money on the open market than Atlanta needs to invest in one defensive end. Avril is a solid player, but he's also been playing on a defensive line with Ndamukong Suh and Kyle Vanden Bosch. His sack numbers could be a little inflated because of that. Atlanta cannot afford to make another Ray Edwards decision here.
Better Option: Atlanta needs to acquire pass-rushers the way San Francisco acquired receivers in last year's offseason.
The Falcons should spend an early pick on a pass-rushing DE/OLB, as well as bringing in a veteran or two at a much better rate than Avril will demand. Osi Umenyiora may be a good option if he hits the open market, but one name to pay close attention to is Richard Seymour.
Atlanta has almost as much of a need at defensive tackle next to Johnathan Babineaux as they do at defensive end opposite John Abraham. Seymour still has some good football left in him, and he would help Atlanta's pass rush and run defense from the inside.
All Stats Courtesy of ESPN.com
Martellus Bennett, Tight End
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Why Some Falcons Fans May Want Atlanta to Sign Him: Bennett showed glimpses of his potential in Dallas and New York. He has the size (6'6", 265 lbs) and athletic ability to be a Pro Bowl-caliber tight end. It's a big if, but if he hits the market there will certainly be Falcons fans calling for Thomas Dimitroff to pursue him.
Reasons Atlanta Should Stay Away From Him: Bennett had 15 catches for 185 yards and three touchdowns in his first three games this past season, but only 40 catches for 441 yards and two touchdowns in the remaining 13 contests. Bennett also struggled with dropped passes for part of last year. Atlanta doesn't need to take a chance on Bennett by giving him a sizable contract and hoping he becomes a consistent threat.
Better Option: Jared Cook or Delanie Walker on the free-agent market, along with drafting a tight end like San Diego State's Gavin Escobar in the middle rounds.
All Stats Courtesy of ESPN.com
Anthony Spencer, Linebacker
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Why Some Falcons Fans May Want Atlanta to Sign Him: With Atlanta sounding like they may be even more multiple on defense next year, to some Spencer would offer Atlanta a versatile player who can immediately improve the team's pass-rush as a stand up outside linebacker or from a three-point stance. Spencer had 11 sacks in 2012 with Dallas.
Reasons Atlanta Should Stay Away From Him: Like Avril, Spencer will probably demand a little more than he'd be worth to the Falcons on the open market. The Falcons certainly have a need at linebacker, but Spencer isn't the right fit for Atlanta's need.
The Falcons need a rangy linebacker who won't get lost in space in the passing game and who isn't hesitant about filling his gaps in run support. The playoffs proved that there is a significant drop off from Sean Weatherspoon to Stephen Nicholas.
Better Option: Draft an athletic linebacker early (for those keep track at home, that means I want a DE, RB, LB somewhere in the first three rounds). However, if Baltimore lets Dannell Ellerbe hit the market then Atlanta would be wise to go after him.
Jake Long, Left Tackle
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Why Some Falcons Fans May Want Atlanta to Sign Him: Sam Baker is a free agent, and while he improved from his poor 2011 season, many fans would still feel more comfortable with someone else protecting Matt Ryan's blind side. When healthy, Jake Long has been amongst the best left tackles in the league since 2008.
Reasons Atlanta Should Stay Away From Him: How often do elite left tackles hit the open market in free agency? If Miami lets Jake Long go, he likely has some real injury issues that are cause for concern. An injured Jake Long isn't an upgrade over a healthy Sam Baker in light of what Atlanta would have to pay to sign Long.
Better Option: Re-sign Sam Baker. Sam Baker wasn't the problem on Atlanta's offensive line in 2012. Matt Ryan faced the most pressure from right up the middle and not on his blind side. Don't forget that Atlanta moved up to get Lamar Holmes last year too. If Baker returns to 2011 form, then Holmes could get an opportunity at left tackle.