10 Big Moves the Atlanta Falcons Could Make in 2014 NFL Free Agency
When a team goes 4-12 like the Atlanta Falcons did, a big move in free agency is almost guaranteed—especially since the Falcons have a ton of cap. They have multiple options throughout free agency, but they have to make sure they pick up at least one defensive tackle.
Other spots that make a ton of sense are along the offensive line, at defensive end and a guy who can play Kroy Biermann's role but is more athletic. The dark horse would be someone who could play free safety and is an upgrade over Thomas DeCoud.
But in order to do this, the Falcons will have to increase from their approximately $17.0 million in cap space that they are looking to start with. Easy cuts (money-wise) would include the aforementioned DeCoud and Biermann as well as Stephen Nicholas, Osi Umenyiora and Asante Samuel.
However, this is more about who they can bring in with a surplus of cash and lack of re-sign targets that they will have for the first time since the 2008 offseason. So let's see who are the top targets for a big-name move this offseason.
TE Jimmy Graham
The top player on the free-agent market this offseason is also the one who will be franchised first. That is, if the Saints can clear enough cap to handle the tag that Jimmy Graham will handle. If they can't, Atlanta needs to make him priority No. 1.
Jimmy Graham following Tony Gonzalez is like having Terrell Owens follow Jerry Rice—only without the attitude that Owens has. Graham wins in more ways than Gonzalez did. This would only help Matt Ryan long-term, as it would open the edges for Julio Jones and Roddy White even more.
2013 Stats: 16 Games Played, 86 Catches, 1,215 Yards, 16 Touchdowns
2013 PFF Grades: +13.4 Overall, +19.8 Pass, -0.2 Pass Block, -1.0 Screen Block, -6.1 Run Block, +0.9 Penalty
OT Eugene Monroe
When it comes to the top priority for the Falcons, protection of Matt Ryan is right at the top of the list. However, they should look towards free agency instead of the draft. The top left tackle on the market is Eugene Monroe, and he would be a massive upgrade for the whole line.
Not only would he upgrade the left tackle spot, this would upgrade right tackle. It would allow Lamar Holmes to play a more natural position for his talents on the right side and by upgrading both tackle spots, Atlanta would instantly add more protection for their $100 million man.
2013 Stats: 15 Games Played, 15 Games Started, 1,069 Snaps Played, 5 Sacks Allowed, 7 Hits Allowed, 27 Hurries Allowed
2013 PFF Grades: +24.0 Overall, +14.5 Pass Block, 0.0 Screen Block, +6.1 Run Block, +3.4 Penalty
C Alex Mack
Alex Mack is another franchise tag-likely player. However, if he does hit the open market, Atlanta should offer him quite a bit of cash, as he could upgrade one of the Falcons' biggest weaknesses into one of its biggest strengths.
The 6'4", 311-pound center plays how the Falcons wanted Peter Konz to play. Unfortunately, Konz looks more like a benchwarmer than a legitimate center in the NFL. Mack would be the intelligent leader the line was missing for most of the 2013 season.
2013 Stats: 16 Games Played, 16 Games Started, 1,150 Snaps Played, 2 Sacks Allowed, 5 Hits Allowed, 18 Hurries Allowed
2013 PFF Grades: +17.8 Overall, +5.9 Pass Block, -0.5 Screen Block, +10.0 Run Block, +2.4 Penalty
DT Linval Joseph
When it comes to the Falcons run defense, the biggest issue is that their 3-technique couldn't draw double-teams to help take the pressure off of the linebackers. While Linval Joseph isn't a 3-technique player, he does play the 1-technique and has better size than Corey Peters does for it at 6'4" and 323 pounds.
By bringing in Joseph, the Falcons could move Peters to a more natural 3-technique role where he could draw double-teams in the run game and take advantage of single teams in the pass rush. Joseph would be able to provide his three to five sacks worth of interior pressure while Peters could add another four to eight to that total.
2013 Stats: 16 Games Played, 59 Tackles, 6 Tackles for Loss, 3.0 Sacks, 8 QB Hits, 11 QB Hurries, 1 Fumble Forced, 1 Fumble Recovered
2013 PFF Grades: +9.9 Overall, +8.0 Run Defense, +0.9 Pass Rush, +0.5 Pass Coverage, +0.5 Penalty
DT/DE Lamarr Houston
With Jonathan Babineaux as a free agent, the Falcons need to find someone who can play a 3-technique, 5-technique and 6-technique better than he can for similar money. That top player is Lamarr Houston. He's a 6'3", 300-pound under tackle from Oakland who would be perfect for Mike Nolan's multiple schemes.
He can create pressure from anywhere he lines up but would be ideal as the 3-technique. With Atlanta looking to upgrade both defensive tackle and defensive end this offseason, Houston should be priority No. 1 on the boards to help create that interior pass rush.
2013 Stats: 16 Games Played, 69 Tackles, 6 Tackles for Loss, 6.0 Sacks, 16 QB Hits, 41 QB Hurries, 2 Fumbles Forced, 1 Fumble Recovered
2013 PFF Grades: +11.4 Overall, +14.9 Run Defense, -1.6 Pass Rush, +1.5 Pass Coverage, -3.4 Penalty
DE Greg Hardy
The Kraken Greg Hardy is one of the best pass-rushers who could possibly hit the market this offseason. He's also the most likely to be franchised. However, if he would allow the Falcons to give him an offer and would legitimately consider it, he could be the premier pass-rusher for Atlanta.
He has the potential to be the best pass-rusher in the NFL. He gladly moves between the 6-, 7-, 9- and 3- techniques to create pressure and does it well. The only question here is whether he is the next Albert Haynesworth only trying to get paid.
2013 Stats: 16 Games Played, 59 Tackles, 5 Tackles for Loss, 15.0 Sacks, 25 QB Hits, 44 QB Hurries, 1 Fumbles Forced, 1 Pass Deflections
2013 PFF Grades: +27.0 Overall, +12.6 Run Defense, +15.4 Pass Rush, +0.5 Pass Coverage, -1.5 Penalty
DE Michael Johnson
The best possible option in some analysts' eyes is Michael Johnson. While he doesn't have a ton of sacks, he does create a massive amount of pressure on quarterbacks and sets the edge better than almost any other defensive end against the run.
The Falcons could use both aspects of his game in base sets. However, Johnson would be excellent in 3-4 sets as well as a 6-technique on the strong side. But Atlanta will have to pay the Georgia Tech graduate from Selma, Ala., a good bit to come home.
2013 Stats: 15 Games Played, 56 Tackles, 3 Tackles for Loss, 3.5 Sacks, 16 QB Hits, 40 QB Hurries, 1 Interception, 2 Fumbles Forced, 9 Pass Deflections
2013 PFF Grades: +25.9 Overall, +21.2 Run Defense, +3.0 Pass Rush, +0.5 Pass Coverage, +1.2 Penalty
DE Jared Allen
If Atlanta wants to stick in their 4-3 base defense most of the time in 2014, Jared Allen would be ideal. While the last Minnesota defensive end they brought in just didn't work out, Allen has been nothing but a model of consistency his entire career.
In fact, Allen's last year without hitting 10 sacks was in 2006. With a change of scenery and better health in a rotation in Atlanta, Allen could be primed for an even better year. The issue comes down to his contract, which might have to be lower than he would want.
2013 Stats: 16 Games Played, 52 Tackles, 6 Tackles for Loss, 11.5 Sacks, 18 QB Hits, 34 QB Hurries, 2 Fumbles Forced, 6 Pass Deflections
2013 PFF Grades: -4.0 Overall, +1.6 Run Defense, -4.1 Pass Rush, -3.5 Pass Coverage, +2.0 Penalty
DE/OLB Brian Orakpo
There are guys out there who just live to ruin the opposing quarterback's day. Brian Orakpo is one of them. He's a guy who would be ideal for Mike Nolan's scheme as a weak-side pass-rusher who could also line up as a linebacker in certain sets.
If the Falcons do decide to bring in the talented weak-side defender, he would cost a pretty penny but would allow them to release Osi Umenyiora for the extra cap. Orakpo is a world destroyer. And the Falcons need more of those on their defense.
2013 Stats: 15 Games Played, 60 Tackles, 9 Tackles for Loss, 10.0 Sacks, 11 QB Hits, 29 QB Hurries, 1 Interception, 2 Fumbles Recovered, 4 Pass Deflections, 1 Defensive Touchdown
2013 PFF Grades: +24.9 Overall, +10.1 Run Defense, +8.6 Pass Rush, +4.2 Pass Coverage, +2.0 Penalty
S Jairus Byrd
The biggest surprise here would be the Falcons signing Jairus Byrd and subsequently cutting Thomas DeCoud. While the move is both logical and brilliant, the Falcons would have to convince Byrd that coming to Atlanta is the right move for his career.
With a contract similar to what they gave William Moore, that could be very possible. But if Atlanta can't do that for the top-tier safety, they don't deserve the upgrade both in playmaking ability and in tackling ability over DeCoud.
2013 Stats: 11 Games Played, 48 Tackles, 1.0 Sack, QB Hits, QB Hurries, 4 Interceptions, 1 Fumble Forced, 6 Pass Deflections
2013 PFF Grades: +9.9 Overall, +2.3 Run Defense, -1.0 Pass Rush, +9.5 Pass Coverage, -0.9 Penalty
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He covers the Atlanta Falcons, College Football, NFL and NFL draft. He also runs DraftFalcons.com.