Atlanta Falcons Free Agency: Moneyball Options to Fill Crucial Roles
Despite the Falcons being mentioned as part of the Darrelle Revis Sweepstakes (h/t Manish Mehta of The New York Daily News), they won't be flashy with their free agent moves at all this year. Honestly, they'll more than likely go with the comrade, Thomas Dimitroff's own Moneyball for football style-approach.
Unlike the big money approach employed by other teams in the NFL, comrade's approach to free agency and the offseason is very simple:
1. Keep all of your own free agents.
2. Supplement with minor signings around the NFL.
3. Draft well, but keep an eye on the trade market.
So far the results have worked out quite well. Atlanta has gone 11-5, 9-7, 13-3, 10-6 and 13-3 in the five years Dimitroff has run the organization. In order for him to continue the success, he'll take a look into some more Moneyball-style supplemental signings.
Here's a look at who those players could be.
QB Brady Quinn
Projected contract: Two years, $2 million
Role with the Falcons: Backup quarterback
Last season, the Falcons had Luke McCown as their backup quarterback. Let that sink in. He's not very good and could easily be replaced by almost any quarterback out there.
Brady Quinn on the other hand has a lot of talent and potential. He's also just 28 years old. And we're also talking a backup quarterback here. This isn't a guy who is expected to lead the franchise.
Quinn won't have any pressure on him to be the leader of the Falcons and would be ideal for the scheme as it's similar to what he ran in college under Charlie Weis. He would also be a very good bargain if he signed for the deal projected, as it's slightly over the minimum for his experience level.
FB Mike Cox
Projected contract: One year, veteran minimum
Role with the Falcons: Competition for starting fullback
Yes, a fullback is important. Just ask any grinding running back how much it means to them when they have a guy who can lead them through a hole.
Mike Cox is an underrated player and has proven his worth year in and year out for the Falcons. While he isn't the best fullback in the league, he's still a solid contributor and should be brought back at the minimum to compete with Bradie Ewing for the starting role.
WR Steve Breaston
Projected contract: One year, veteran minimum
Role with the Falcons: Slot receiver and competition for the No. 3 option
Even though the Falcons re-signed Harry Douglas this past season to be a No. 3 wide receiver, it never hurts to bring in someone who can also compete for that role.
Steve Breaston had 1,000 yards just a few seasons ago out of the slot and could be a valuable weapon for the Falcons' offense even though his skills have declined since then. He also has some return abilities and a minimum contract would be well worth it for his play.
TE Dallas Clark
Projected contract: Two years, $4 million
Role with the Falcons: No. 2 tight end and H-back
Despite the Falcons needing a starting tight end, it wouldn't shock me to see them go for a No. 2 guy to either Tony Gonzalez, Chase Coffman or Michael Palmer. Adding an H-back like Dallas Clark will give the Falcons more offensive flexibility.
Add in that his contract is likely to be a smaller deal that would allow him to mentor Atlanta's younger receivers and this looks like a win-win. Even if Gonzalez comes back, the Falcons would be wise to bring him in as a solid option for their 12 and 22 personnel packages.
OT Sam Baker
Projected contract: Five years, $20 million
Role with the Falcons: Starting left tackle
When a guy has started at left tackle for you for the past five years, you tend to want to take care of him. However, if that guy has a history of back issues, you don't want to give him too big of a deal as he's still a big risk.
Sam Baker was a borderline Pro Bowl talent for Atlanta in 2012, but his ability to stay healthy was the biggest component to that. It'd be wise for the Falcons to bring him back on a deal that is structured similarly to Thomas DeCoud's, that way they can get out of it if he proves to be a bust again.
DE Wallace Gilberry
Projected contract: Three years, $6 million
Role with the Falcons: Situation edge rusher
This one is the real dark horse. Wallace Gilberry is an excellent situational edge rusher. However, he could have an Elvis Dumervil-level breakout for Atlanta. He had 6.5 sacks, three hits and 10 pressures on just 209 pass rushes last season.
That's a clip of one quarterback disruption for every 10.45 pass rushes. It would rank him near the top 15 in the league in that metric. Give him twice the amount of snaps in Atlanta and use him similar to Dumervil, and the Falcons have a top-notch pass rusher.
Pay him three times what he was getting paid and reap the benefits when he proves to be one of the top 10 pass rushers in the NFL when given a shot as an every day player. Gilberry is the next great pass rusher in the NFL if a team will just give him a shot.
OLB Philip Wheeler
Projected contract: Three years, $5 million
Role with the Falcons: Coverage linebacker
Atlanta was horrible against tight ends in 2012 and need someone who can come in as a coverage specialist. Enter Philip Wheeler from Columbus, Ga., who went to Georgia Tech in downtown Atlanta.
Wheeler could come in and challenge Stephen Nicholas for a starting role and at $5 million over three years would be a true steal for the Falcons. He could help in covering tight ends and has experience in covering the zone read quarterbacks from his college days.
It would be a mutually beneficial move, and Wheeler would enjoy playing closer to home. Atlanta could get a true steal and a leader in the 28-year-old coverage linebacker. Oh, and did I mention he could blitz? He had three sacks last season in a limited blitzing role.
CB Chris Houston
Projected contract: Four years, $12 million
Role with the Falcons: Starting right cornerback
Pay Brent Grimes $6 million a year or pay Chris Houston $3 million a year without having to worry about his achilles?
It's not like Houston was bad last season. His only bad game was against the Falcons, where Roddy White owned his former practice partner to the tune of 72 yards and two touchdowns and a 147.2 rating.
Outside of the Falcons game, Houston allowed 49 catches on 88 targets (55.7 percent) for 557 yards and just one touchdown allowed. He also had two interceptions. That's good for a passer rating allowed of just 69.7.
If Atlanta could get the same production, they wouldn't have to worry about White lining up across from him to skew his overall numbers. They'd also have a steal at their starting cornerback spot.
S William Moore
Projected contract: Five years, $35 millon
Role with the Falcons: Starting strong safety
William Moore has been the starting safety for the Falcons for the past three seasons and just made his first Pro Bowl this year. However, he won't be cheap for the Falcons to keep despite injuries and inconsistency in his play.
Expect the Falcons to keep Moore as he is the best option for them on and off the field at safety. He is also worth every penny as Pro Bowl safeties don't tend to sign for deals like what Thomas DeCoud signed for in 2012.
Moore making $35 million will be more than fair, and his long term contribution to the team will be worth every penny.
All stats used are either from Pro Football Focus's Premium Stats, ESPN, CFBStats or the NFL. All contract information is courtesy Spotrac and Rotoworld. All recruiting rankings come from 247Sports.com.
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He covers the Atlanta Falcons, NFL and NFL Draft. He is also the Falcons analyst at Drafttek, runs the NFL Draft Website ScarDraft.com and hosts Kvetching Draftniks Radio.