Ranking the Biggest Free Agent Priorities for the Atlanta Falcons

Mike FosterCorrespondent IFebruary 22, 2013

Ranking the Biggest Free Agent Priorities for the Atlanta Falcons

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    The Atlanta Falcons are weeks away from entering the free agency period. While general manager Thomas Dimitroff is more known for making blue-collar moves, he always seems to make at least one blockbuster move an offseason.

    Atlanta was quite an impressive team in 2012, but a few key areas must be addressed if the Falcons are going to take the next step and hit New Jersey in 2014 for the Super Bowl.

    Here are five important free agent moves the dirty birds will need to make this offseason.

Guard

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    With the impending retirement of Todd McClure, the Falcons will be left with literally zero centers to fill the spot.

    Peter Konz, who saw starting time in 2012 as a guard, filling in for the injured Garrett Reynolds, was actually drafted out of Nebraska last offseason to eventually take over at center.

    Konz will likely shift over, as could fellow guard Joe Hawley, leaving the Falcons with Mike Johnson and Justin Blalock at guard. 

    Reynolds is a free agent, and should be re-signed to ensure depth at the position heading into the Fall.

    Signing priority: Garrett Reynolds

Outside Linebacker

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    Many criticized Stephen Nicholas during the postseason for seemingly failing to cover the tight end, but in reality that was just as much as a scheme issue as a personnel problem.

    In fact, Nicholas has always been a raw, upside player, and in 2012 he led the team in tackles for the first time in his career. Nicholas is a versatile linebacker and vastly underrated.

    However, Mike Peterson will likely not renew his contract with the Falcons, leaving space for depth needs at the position. And, yes, if a new signing at outside linebacker helps the Falcons fans gripe with Nicholas, more power to it. 

    Signing priorities: Ernie Sims, Keith Rivers, Chase Blackburn

Defensive End

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    Atlanta saw a nice year from John Abraham, who recorded 10 sacks in a resurgent role in 2012.

    However, Abraham is aging and the other end position has been manned by Kroy Biermann since Ray Edwards was released by the Falcons midway through the season. Biermann is a very useful utility, but Atlanta could see an upgrade at the opposite end position. 

    Lawrence Sidbury will likely not be re-signed this offseason, as 2012 draftee Jonathan Massaquoi should fill in. Atlanta will want to add depth and playmaking ability at the position.

    Signing priority: Michael Johnson, Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril

Tailback

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    Michael Turner is likely going to be released to help empty cap space. Turner has struggled as a runner in recent years and does not fit offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter's system in Atlanta. 

    A Turner release will leave Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling as the primary backs for the Falcons. Rodgers and Snelling are actually nice options, but Atlanta could use a fresh face at the position. 

    Signing priorities: Reggie Bush, Ahmad Bradshaw, Chris Ivory, Rashard Mendenhall

Tight End

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    Tony Gonzalez is apparently 50-50 on retiring, but the Falcons need a contingency plan in place. 

    The truth is, as great as Gonzalez is, he wasn't much when it came to stretching defenses in the past few seasons. In fact, many optimists believe Atlanta could find a tight end who could be more of a weapon than Gonzalez.

    That's quite a claim. Yes, Gonzalez in the redzone is pure gold, but most of his catches since arriving in Atlanta have come within 15 yards. He's not a speedster, nor does he stretch a defense.

    Falcons fans might want to see a more fleet-footed, versatile tight end, even if that means losing quality in the redzone. That could even mean adding a tight end this offseason, even if Gonzalez returns. 

    Signing priorities: Martellus Bennett (wants to play with brother, Michael), Jared Cook, Fred Davis