While the NFC has turned into an all-out arms race this offseason, the Atlanta Falcons signing of defensive end Osi Umenyiora should keep the reigning NFC South champions near the top of the list of Super Bowl contenders next season.
In fact, the move marks the third smart decision of the last month to come down from general manager Thomas Dimitroff, who has also signed running back Steven Jackson and lured tight end Tony Gonzalez out from retirement.
Umenyiora's signing finally became official Wednesday, when Jay Glazer of FOX Sports reported the two sides had agreed to a two-year deal. ESPN's Adam Schefter had the contract details, which included a potential max value of $12 million and $5 million guaranteed.
The two-year deal the Falcons gave former Giants DE Osi Umenyiora is worth $8.5 million, max value of $12 mil, and includes $5 million gtd.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 28, 2013
The deal makes sense in both football and financial terms.
While John Abraham, who registered another double-digit sack season for the Falcons in 2012, was released before the start of free agency, the Falcons are minimizing risk by replacing him with Umenyiora.
Abraham will turn 35 years old in May, and the chances of him finally hitting the wall have been increasing every year for the past several years. The potential of Abraham taking a few huge steps back in 2013 wasn't a risk a Super Bowl-contending team should make.
Inserting Umenyiora doesn't eliminate the risk of production at defensive end dropping off, but it does give the Falcons a much younger pass-rusher who also arrives with an impressive record of getting quarterbacks on the ground.
Over nine seasons with the New York Giants, Umenyiora produced 75 sacks and 32 forced fumbles. In comparison, Abraham registered 53.5 and 19 over six seasons with the New York Jets before joining Atlanta in 2006.
Umenyiora's numbers have slipped in each of the last three seasons, but injuries and playing time have been mostly to blame. He played just nine games in 2011 (but still registered nine sacks), and then was pushed to third defensive end duties behind Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul last season.
The Falcons should offer Umenyiora a chance to play full-time, which has historically produced numbers for the former second-round pick. In seasons where Umenyiora has played at least 70 percent of the defensive snaps, he's averaged over 10 sacks a year.
Signing in Atlanta should also have special meaning to Umenyiora, who has a home in Atlanta and typically spends most of his offseasons there, according to Yahoo! Sports.
Last Friday, Umenyiora told an Atlanta radio station (via ESPN New York) that helping the Falcons win a Super Bowl would be better than the two he's won with the Giants.
There was nothing better than being able to win there [in New York]. The only thing I can think of, for myself personally, [better] than being able to win in New York would be if I was able to win here at home in Atlanta. So we’ll see how that plays out. Hopefully, it will work out in a positive direction.
The financials also work out in the Falcons' favor.
Even with $1.5 million in dead money as a result, cutting Abraham saved the Falcons almost $6 million in available cap space in 2013. If he was kept on the roster, Abraham would have cost $7.25 million next season.
Umenyiora's deal should cost less money.
His average salary will be just $4.25 million per year, and the $5 million in signing bonus should prorate to $2.5 million over two years. Umenyiora's resulting total of $6.75 million is still cheaper than what Atlanta was going to pay Abraham.
The savings aren't significant, but every dollar counts when trying to fit Jackson, Gonzalez and Matt Ryan's eventual extension under a strict salary cap.
And speaking of Jackson and Gonzalez, the Falcons trio of signings (we'll still count Gonzalez as a signing, because he was dead-set on retiring for most of 2012) have to now be considered one of this offseason's better series of acquisitions, at least in the top-heavy NFC.
Which team has had the better offseason in the NFC?
The Seattle Seahawks certainly did fine for themselves in dealing for versatile receiver Percy Harvin and signing pass-rushers such as Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett.
But the Falcons have added three veteran players guaranteed to make a significant impact in 2013.
Jackson, still only 29, is the physical battering ram that can win inside the tackles on every snap. Gonzalez, the game's best ever tight end, proved in 2012 that he still has plenty left in the tank.
Umenyiora is the final free-agent piece of the puzzle. At 31 years old, he can still provide the Falcons with the same pass rush that Abraham gave so capably for the better part of the last seven seasons.
Dimitroff and the Falcons still have work to do in April's NFL draft—most notably at cornerback—but their trio of moves made in free agency has certainly kept Atlanta near the top of potential Super Bowl contenders for next season.