The Atlanta Falcons cutting John Abraham signals that the move to the 3-4 will be happening. It makes the most sense based on the current personnel and the investment they will have to make this offseason.
John Abraham getting cut after seven years and 68.5 sacks in Atlanta was a huge shock to the Falcons fanbase. However, all is not lost. Abraham was 35 years old and isn't a great fit for a 3-4 defense that would have him drop into coverage a ton.
Mike Nolan prefers more versatility out of his defensive ends and outside linebackers than Abraham could provide at this point in his career. Nonetheless, the move to a 3-4 was something that was held up only by having Abraham on the roster.
Now the Falcons can go with more speed, additional linebackers on the team for special teams help and additional bulk in the middle of the defense. The 3-4 switch could help the Falcons' two biggest defensive issues—getting to the quarterback and stuffing the run.
After the releases of Dunta Robinson and Abraham, the Atlanta Falcons currently have just 21 defensive players under contract for the 2013 season. According to Spotrac, the Falcons currently have the following players under contract on the defensive side of the ball:
Defensive linemen: Jonathan Babineaux, Peria Jerry, Corey Peters, Travian Robertson, Micanor Regis and Cliff Matthews
Linebackers: Stephen Nicholas, Sean Weatherspoon, Akeem Dent, Jonathan Massaquoi, Robert James, Kroy Biermann and Pat Schiller
Defensive backs: Asante Samuel, Dominique Franks, Terrence Johnson, Peyton Thompson, Robert McClain, Thomas DeCoud, Shann Schillinger and Charles Mitchell
This group doesn't look super talented on the surface. Nor does it look like a great fit for the 3-4, again on the surface. Digging deeper into it, though, you see a ton of guys with projections into the 3-4 or 4-3 on their draft-pick scouting bios.
There's a ton of versatility to run either scheme, and as far as the depth chart is concerned, I'd expect it to look something very similar to this in the 3-4 using just players currently under contract:
Strong-side defensive end: Corey Peters starting, Travian Robertson backing up.
Nose tackle: Peria Jerry starting. No backups.
Weak-side defensive end: Jonathan Babineaux starting, Micanor Regis backing up.
Strong outside linebacker: Stephen Nicholas starting, Kroy Biermann backing up.
Strong inside linebacker: Akeem Dent starting, Robert James backing up.
Weak inside linebacker: Sean Weatherspoon starting, Pat Schiller backing up.
Weak outside linebacker: Jonathan Massaquoi starting, Cliff Matthews backing up.
Left cornerback: Asante Samuel starting, Peyton Thompson backing up.
Right cornerback: Dominique Franks starting, Terrence Johnson backing up.
Nickel cornerback: Robert McClain starting, no backups.
Free safety: Thomas DeCoud starting, Charles Mitchell backing up.
Strong safety: Shann Schillinger starting, no backups.
There are a couple of small holes in the team—mainly at pass-rusher, strong safety, right cornerback and nose tackle. Ideally, the Falcons re-sign William Moore at strong safety and Brent Grimes at right corner to fill those holes.
They have some really good pass-rushers on the team currently, but adding some in the draft should be expected. The nose tackle situation is one that needs to be explored even further. There are some main takeaways from the possible 3-4 switch:
D-Block will have a larger membership
This one is more for the fans. This past season, "D-Block"—the Atlanta Falcons official website show centered on the Falcons linebacker corps—had just six members. However, with a switch to the 3-4, the linebacker corps would include at least another two members.
Of those two to three guys, they'd have to include "Hollywood" Kroy Biermann, Cliff Matthews and Jonathan Massaquoi at a minimum. They likely would also include a high draft pick or big-name free agent this season as the Falcons need another outside pass-rusher.
As we learned last season, D-Block can be a fun time and has a huge following among the Falcons fanbase. Adding in the draft picks and combination of Biermann, Matthews and Massaquoi will only make it much more fun to watch this season.
Biermann is much more valuable in the 3-4
Despite never being thought of as a starter by most analysts, Kroy Biermann has earned his spot in the lineup both in 2010 and 2012 as the starter over more expensive and higher investment options like Ray Edwards and Jamaal Anderson.
In Mike Nolan's defense in 2012, he proved to be a valuable asset in all sets. But the biggest advantage that he gave Atlanta was in the "amoeba" sets as someone who would drop back after the snap into the free safety's role.
He's no more than a four- or five-sack performer, but he can set the edge against the run and would be the best fit at strong outside linebacker in a move to the 3-4. He has potential to be on the level of Jarret Johnson in the role.
NT is a huge need on the defense
When the starting nose tackle in the defense would be Peria Jerry, it's a huge need. The Falcons are very lucky that this year's draft is extremely deep on the defensive line and with pass-rushers. They should spend three picks in the front seven to complete it as far as talent is concerned.
Nonetheless, the biggest spot they need is nose tackle. This could be the true dark horse for the first-round pick. The Falcons would do best to take a guy who could play either the 0-technique, 1-technique or even 2-technique, though.
The best fit would be a player like Jesse Williams of Alabama or Kawann Short of Purdue. Those players have great fits in the 3-4 scheme that Mike Nolan would run in 2013. Unfortunately, they would require the Falcons' first-round pick.
It may be too much of an investment to bring in the key part for the switch. But in the end, if Thomas Dimitroff, Mike Nolan and Mike Smith feel building toward a 3-4 is the best plan of action, it gives everyone a great idea of what the Falcons' first-round pick will be.
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.