Picking a Free Agent to Fill Each of the Atlanta Falcons' Holes
The Atlanta Falcons made a big splash in the past 72 hours. General manager Thomas Dimitroff has successfully acquired Steven Jackson, wooed Tony Gonzalez back for one more year and locked up key unrestricted free agents William Moore, Garrett Reynolds and Sam Baker.
Falcons fans should also note that a new contract for Matt Ryan could actually create more cap space to work with this offseason.
Dimitroff has been known for making one big free-agent signing each year since he arrived in Atlanta in 2008 and helped turn the franchise completely around.
While it's very likely the Falcons will elect to fill the rest of their holes through the draft, it should be noted that Atlanta's biggest concern going into the offseason was defense.
There's still a fighting chance that Dimitroff plucks one more free agent, though it probably won't be a big-ticket one.
Here's three possibilities left in the fold.
Off the board: Michael Bennett (Seahawks), Cliff Avril (Seahawks)
Notable players left: Dwight Freeney, Osi Umenyiora, Israel Idonije
It was a convincing argument two weeks ago that the Atlanta Falcons were going to go after either Dwight Freeney or Osi Umenyiora. Both veterans are on the downside of their careers and won't be able to leverage big bucks. Umenyiora is probably the more put together of the two in terms of physicality.
But, the release of John Abraham indicated that age is likely not something the Falcons want at that position. That turned eyes toward Michael Bennett, but Bennett jumped the plane to the West Coast with seemingly every other NFL free agent, including the other big-name defensive end on the market, Cliff Avril.
Avril was going to be too much money for the Falcons anyway, but with Bennett gone their options are a little goofy with a thin position currently manned by Kroy Biermann and Jonathan Massaquoi.
Dimitroff likes building the base of his teams with youth, but he also likes padding that nucleus with a veteran crust.
Freeney still has value here because he has the potential to play the "amoeba" position that defensive coordinator Mike Nolan uses to much success. Worst-case scenario, Atlanta could reel Freeney in on a modest, late-career deal and let him platoon the defensive rotation with some budding youngsters.
Best choice: Dwight Freeney
Alternative: John Abraham
Draft alternate: Margus Hunt (SMU)
Notable players left: Daryl Smith, Shaun Phillips, Michael Boley, Kevin Burnett
Atlanta will need to replace the hole left by Mike Peterson, which isn't that daunting of an order. This is an interesting position because of how defenses, especially Nolan's, have evolved from a personnel standpoint in the past few seasons.
A more base defense is featuring two linebackers and three cornerbacks, one being the nickel. Atlanta isn't in that bad of shape here. Robert McClain is a fantastic nickelback for the Falcons, and Sean Weatherspoon and Stephen Nicholas were an even more impressive linebacking group in 2012.
Yes, Nicholas was a scapegoat in the playoffs because tight ends were getting wide open, but many experts agree that was more of a scheme issue that every NFL defensive coordinator needed an offseason to deal with.
With Akeem Dent also coming on strong as a backup linebacker, Atlanta should feel comfortable finding ways to upgrade this area. Nolan, who's an advocate of a 3-4, could go with a hybrid player or more of a pass-coverage guy to bulk up the position.
Shaun Phillips sounds like a good pick here, but he wasn't very good against the run last year, and that was actually Atlanta's bigger problem at linebacker (again, lay off of Nicholas, will ya?).
Michael Boley, a former Falcon, will only be in his ninth year. He's a solid pass-defender and could at least add depth to the rotation for a cheap rate.
Best choice: Michael Boley
Alternative: Daryl Smith
Draft alternate: Khaseem Greene (Rutgers)
Notable players left: Aqib Talib, Brent Grimes, Kyle Arrington, Captain Munnerlyn
Aqib Talib is really the only young, big-name free agent left on the market besides Brent Grimes. Talib, unfortunately, does not fit the blueprint of a Dimitroff disciple.
Some might argue putting his entropy-riddled personality in a stable locker room could end up to be a genius move, but that's basically another way of saying it's a high-risk, high-reward move.
Grimes could very likely get locked back up in Atlanta, which would make Dimitroff four-for-four in signing key players from the 2012 squad that were scheduled to become free agents.
Grimes was a big-market name last year and was franchise-tagged by the Falcons. In the season opener he tore his Achilles' heel, which could have been a blessing in disguise.
Instead of dipping out of town for more money, Grimes will have trouble leveraging a lucrative deal. He might end up choosing to come back to Atlanta under a modest deal and work his way back up to elite status, even though many are ranking him that way.
Best choice: Brent Grimes
Alternative: Captain Munnerlyn
Draft alternate: Sanders Commings (Georgia)