It’s not quite practicing all week with games on Sunday, but when the NFL calendar resets at 4 p.m. ET Tuesday and free agency begins, there will be a flurry of NFL activity.
But Atlanta still has to improve its roster after releasing Michael Turner, Dunta Robinson and John Abraham, and it also needs to make the necessary tweaks to show Atlanta’s fanbase it’s prepared to make a return trip to the NFC Championship Game and beyond.
How will the Falcons get that done?
Consider this your daily buffet (and here you don’t have to pay or leave a tip) featuring everything you could ever want to know about the Falcons in free agency. When players are added, released or when the rumor mill starts buzzing, check back here for the news. Check back frequently because we’re going to be keeping score.
March 20: Defensive end Osi Umenyiora visited the Falcons on Wednesday, according to USA Today.
March 17: Cornerback Brent Grimes is expected to begin narrowing down his choices of NFL destination spots in the next few days, according to the Plain Dealer.
March 14: The Tony Gonzalez contract was inked Thursday, according to Howard Balzer of 590 KFNS. Financial terms have not been released.
March 13: The Falcons are talking to defensive tackle Richard Seymour, according to Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports. Seymour played in just eight games last year for the Oakland Raiders and had three sacks.
March 13: The Green Bay Packers might not be as close to signing free-agent running back Steven Jackson as earlier thought, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. It seems the Packers don't want to get in a bidding war or give Jackson a huge contract offer so he can then leverage that offer with the Falcons, or any other contending team looking for a running back.
March 13: Long-time Falcons center Todd McClure will announce his retirement at a press conference on Thursday, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. McClure has played with Atlanta for 13 seasons and his presence will be missed in the middle of the offensive line. Replacing him will much-debated topic in the coming months. Do the Falcons slide second-year lineman Peter Konz to center or use Joe Hawley? Could Atlanta go in a different direction completely?
March 12: Tony Gonzalez has given his agent, Tom Condon, the green light to talk to the Falcons about a new contract, according to USA Today Sports. Jay Glazer of Fox Sports made the move official. The deal isn’t done, but Gonzalez confirmed he’s coming back.
March 11: D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that the Falcons could go after Steven Jackson who voided his contract with the St. Louis Rams. Jackson makes sense schematically with Dirk Koetter’s new offense that utilizes running backs in the passing game.
March 10: Michael Silver of Yahoo! Sports citing several sources reports that tight end Tony Gonzalez could return to play in 2013 if the Falcons paid him $7 million and let him miss some or all of training camp.
March 14: The Falcons announced they had reached a three-year deal with running back Steven Jackson, who immediately electrifies Dirk Koetter's offense. The contract is worth $12 million, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, with $4 million guaranteed.
March 12: LT Sam Baker: Six-year deal; $41 million with $14.25 million guaranteed, according to Spotrac.
March 9: RG Garrett Reynolds: Two-year deal; $3.4 million, according to Spotrac
March 9: SS William Moore: Five-year deal; $32 million, according to the Atlanta Journal-Cnstitution
March 5: RB Antone Smith: Two-year deal; $1.425 million, according to Spotrac
DT Vance Walker: Walker signed with the Oakland Raiders on Monday, according to the team's website. Walker emerged as a solid defensive lineman in 2012 with the Falcons with some pass-rush capabilities.
DE Lawrence Sidbury: After losing favor with the coaching staff in Atlanta, defensive end Lawrence Sidbury signed with the Indianapolis Colts Tuesday, according to Paul Kuharsy of ESPN. Sidbury was an unrestricted free agent.
RB Michael Turner: Turner was scheduled to make $6.9 million in 2013.
CB Dunta Robinson: Robinson was slated to make $9 million in 2013, but a good portion of that was in prorated bonuses. The move saved Atlanta $3.75 million.
DE John Abraham: Releasing Abraham saved the Falcons $5.75 million.
Locking up William Moore was an absolute must for the Atlanta Falcons.
Most of the Falcons fanbase loves Moore for his innate and bone-jarring ability to punish ball carriers. But his explosive hits are only part of the reason Atlanta made the move and paid Moore $32 million over five years. And quite honestly, Moore’s affinity to attack the guy carrying the football wasn’t the biggest reason general manager Thomas Dimitroff opened the check book.
Moore and Thomas DeCoud have flourished in defensive coordinator Mike Nolan’s new system and the two working together moving forward—remember the 2012 season was just their first under Nolan—should bring even better results.
No safety tandem in the NFL had more interceptions last year than the Falcons’ 10. And because Moore and DeCoud did such a bang-up job of confusing quarterbacks (don’t forget the three picks off Peyton Manning in the first quarter of Atlanta’s Week 2 game), I expect Nolan to give them more tools and freedom to stir up trouble in 2013.
The only knock on Moore is his early inability to stay healthy. Only once in his four-year tenure in Atlanta has Moore played 16 games. And this is the only aspect of this transaction keeping it from a perfect score.
The Atlanta Falcons announced they had reached an agreement with left tackle Sam Baker Tuesday. Financial terms were made public after the team announced the deal. Baker will make $41 million over six seasons with $14.25 million guaranteed, according to Spotrac.
Baker was taken in the first round of the 2008 draft (he was Atlanta’s second pick in the first round after Matt Ryan was taken earlier) and underachieved for the first four years of his tenure with the Falcons. But Baker turned things around last season.
Not only did Baker start all 16 games for the Falcons, but he wasn’t flagged at all year, according to Pro Football Weekly. He allowed six sacks of quarterback Matt Ryan and nine hits and was rated as the No. 26 offensive tackle by Pro Football Focus (Subscription required - $$) in their Pass Blocking Efficiency rating.
While No. 26 doesn’t sound like a first-round grade (and it definitely isn’t), it’s a marked improvement over his 2011 ranking (No. 112), his 2010 ranking (No. 71), his 2009 ranking (No. 74) and his 2008 ranking (No. 32).
After seeing the financial terms of the deal it’s seems like the Falcons overpaid just a bit. He was the fifth-ranked offensive tackle available via free agency, according to NBC Sports’ ProFootballTalk, and the tackle directly ahead of him, Jermon Bushrod, signed with the Chicago Bears for five years and $35.965 million.
Because Baker’s deal approached Bushrod’s, I’ll grade the transaction low for the Falcons. Baker's only good season was 2012 and it appears the Falcons forgot about 2009 through 2011.
As potent as the Atlanta Falcons were on offense last year with Matt Ryan throwing the ball and a trio of Pro Bowl caliber receivers in Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez, the unit was lacking.
The Falcons ranked 29th in the league in rushing and aging running back Michael Turner churned out just 800 yards on the ground and dropped below four yards per carry for the first time in his nine-year career.
Turner was released after the season and the Falcons had two options moving forward. Atlanta could give third-year running back Jacquizz Rodgers more touches and have Jason Snelling increase his role as a backup, or the team could sign a free agent.
General manager Thomas Dimitroff made a huge free-agency splash and signed Steven Jackson to a three-year, $12 million deal. Not only are the financials favorable, according to ESPN, the upgrade from Turner could push Atlanta’s offense to new heights.
Jackson rushed for 1,042 yards last season in less favorable running conditions than Turner enjoyed, and caught 38 passes. Expect both Jackson’s rushing yards and receptions to rise in Dirk Koetter’s offense in 2013.
The Atlanta Falcons were terrifically successful in 2012 because quarterback Matt Ryan had three top-notch options in the passing game: wide receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones and tight end Tony Gonzalez.
Gonzalez spent the 2012 season thinking he was 97 percent sure he was going to retire, but the quest for a Super Bowl ring changed his mind.
Gonzalez signed a two-year, $14 million deal with the Falcons on Friday, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and ensured that Atlanta’s offense would be powerful for at least another season.
Defying the rules of age, Gonzalez caught 93 passes last year at the age of 36. He’s a physical specimen that’s in great shape, enough to play for a few more years at least. His presence in Atlanta means opposing defenses must pick one or possibly two options to cover in the passing game because it’s proven impossible for defenses to cover all three.
Convincing Gonzalez to re-sign with the Falcons was a huge piece to the Super Bowl puzzle foe general manager Thomas Dimitroff.