Best and Worst Moves of Atlanta Falcons' Free Agency So Far
As the NFL finishes its second week of free agency, the Atlanta Falcons appear to be following their stated game plan to focus on retention of their own players as opposed to wooing outside free agents.
Tony Gonzalez, William Moore and Sam Baker have all re-signed with the team.
While the Falcons added to their good start by signing ex-Rams running back Steven Jackson, they still have significant holes at linebacker, defensive end, cornerback and defensive tackle.
With that in mind, let's recap the first week-and-a-half of the free agency from the Falcons' perspective and find out the best and worst moves of Atlanta's offseason thus far.
Best Move: Convincing Tony Gonzalez to Return
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Tony Gonzalez's decision to postpone retirement for another year breathed new life into the Falcons' fanbase. Although he'll be 37 at the start of next season, the future Hall of Famer proved that he had more than enough left in his tank in 2012 when he hauled in 93 passes for 930 yards and eight touchdowns.
With Gonzalez back in the fold, Atlanta is no longer under an obligation to draft a tight end early on in April's draft and is assured that Matt Ryan's explosive receiving triumvirate of Gonzalez, Roddy White and Julio Jones will remain intact.
Moreover, the Falcons signed Gonzalez to a cap-friendly two-year contract that keeps the team relevant on the free-agent market.
Worst Move: Failing to Re-Sign Vance Walker
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Vance Walker may not be a household name, but astute Falcons fans were disappointed to see the ex-Georgia Tech product sign with the Raiders last week.
Walker was a valuable part of Atlanta's rotation along the defensive line. With his departure, the Falcons will currently have to rely on injury prone tackles Peria Jerry and Corey Peters, as well as second-year man Travian Robertson behind Jonathan Babineaux.
I expect the Falcons to add a defensive tackle in the draft. In Atlanta's defense, it sounds like Walker was looking for an opportunity to be a full-time starter, so money may not have been the only issue.
At the moment, however, failing to retain Walker has to be one of Atlanta's worst moves thus far this offseason.
Best Move: Re-Signing William Moore and Sam Baker
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William Moore has emerged as a force on the back end of the Falcons defense after struggling with injuries early in his career. His game has everything you want from the strong safety position, as he can lay the wood in the run game and make plays on the ball in pass coverage. You just don't find young safeties who do everything that Moore does on Atlanta's defense very often.
That's why Thomas Dimitroff was wise to keep Moore from hitting the market. Other than Gonzalez, I think it's safe to say that keeping the 27-year-old safety was the team's top priority.
William Moore wasn't the only draft pick from the Dimitroff regime who earned a contract extension. Sam Baker rebounded from his worst showing as a pro in 2011 with a strong 2012 campaign.
Despite what some fans want to believe about him, Baker has turned out to be one of the better left tackles from his draft class and was rarely the blame for any pressure that Matt Ryan faced in 2012.
The Falcons were aggressive in their efforts to re-sign Baker and Moore, and both moves should pay dividends for the team in 2013 and beyond.
Worst Move: Releasing John Abraham...For Now
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While there were obvious reasons to release Dunta Robinson and Michael Turner, there's a reasonable argument to be made that the Falcons should have found a way to keep John Abraham.
Yes, 2013 was going to bring Abraham's highest cap hit (via Spotrac.com) from the three-year deal he signed in 2012, but Abraham was still the team's most consistent pass-rusher last season.
Jonathan Massaquoi and Cliff Matthews are solid prospects, but Atlanta will be placing a tremendous amount of faith in them if the team doesn't add a defensive end in free agency or draft one or two in April.
Brent Grimes is still on the market as well. It could be argued that the Falcons' inability to re-sign him is a bigger mistake than cutting Abraham was.
However, I'm inclined to believe that Grimes may be seeking more money than the Falcons are willing to invest in a corner whose calling card was his leaping ability when that same corner is coming off of an Achilles' heel injury.
Also, Brent Grimes had been waiting all year to test the market after getting franchised, while John Abraham was already under contract for 2013 and 2014.
This slide could change if the team is able to land Osi Umenyiora as a veteran insurance for its young group of pass-rushers, but presently the decision to release John Abraham is among the worst moves the team has made this offseason because of the uncertainty it has created at defensive end.
Best Move: Signing Steven Jackson
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Initially, I was opposed to the team signing Steven Jackson because I didn't believe that he was much of an upgrade over Turner. However, after watching more film on Jackson, whom most fans didn't get to see enough during his years toiling in St. Louis, I can see why Atlanta chose to sign him over drafting a young back.
Jackson's violent running style and ability to contribute in the passing game on a consistent basis are the two main factors that separate Jackson from Turner. The Falcons no longer have to tip their hands pre-snap by bringing in Jacquizz Rodgers on passing plays.
Instead, Steven Jackson can stay in the game and hold defenses accountable.
While there are some decent options at running back in the draft, I think the Falcons brought in Jackson because they truly believe that he can help get them to the next level.
We'll find out if they're right in September.