5 Big Splashes the Atlanta Falcons Could Realistically Make in Free Agency
With D. Orlando Ledbetter of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporting that the Atlanta Falcons are expected to enter the offseason $14.6 million under the cap, they have the resources to make some pretty significant moves in free agency.
When you factor in that they have a few underperforming veterans that could be cut loose in an effort to create more cap relief, then the situation becomes even more intriguing for the red and black.
The Falcons' three-headed monster of Thomas Dimitroff (general manager), Scott Pioli (assistant GM) and Lionel Vital (director of player personnel) is comprised of some of the most accomplished minds in the business.
The trio worked together with the Cleveland Browns and New England Patriots under future Hall of Fame coach Bill Belichick—the master of the "quiet rebuild." It now faces its staunchest challenge in turning around a 4-12 team whose owner has designs on winning big next season.
Let's take a look at some free agents the Falcons could realistically target to help with the reconstruction.
OLB Brian Orakpo
It's no secret that the Falcons lacked consistent pressure coming off the edges on defense. Finishing 29th in sacks, it's hard to pinpoint one player currently on the roster who can be penciled in to get double-digit sacks next season.
Actually there aren't any.
It's been widely speculated that Atlanta will target a pass-rusher with its first-round pick in the draft, but if it doesn't, Washington Redskins hybrid linebacker Brian Orakpo would be a perfect schematic fit.
The Falcons currently run a 4-3-based defense with 3-4 principles in certain packages and situations. When the odd-front alignment is in play, the Falcons are missing two key elements: a large 0-technique and a rush linebacker.
Orakpo is one of the best at the latter position. To be an effective "two-point stance" linebacker, you must be able to drop into coverage in addition to your pass-rush duties. Furthermore, you must be stout enough to set the edge in the run game and funnel plays back inside to the traffic.
Not only does Orakpo excel in all those aforementioned aspects, he is also just as good as a hand-in-the-dirt 4-3-based defensive end. There's nothing the Falcons currently run, or may run in the future, that Orakpo wouldn't be outstanding at.
At just 27 years old, this 6'4", 257-pound monster is going to change the landscape of some team's defense.
Here's hoping it's the Falcons'.
RB Knowshon Moreno
You'd be hard-pressed to find too many Falcons fans that weren't at one point in time mesmerized by the exploits of Denver Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno. After all, he may be one of the most exciting players to ever hit the Peach State.
While at the University of Georgia, Moreno was virtually a human highlight film. Playing with future No. 1 pick Matthew Stafford (Detroit Lions), Moreno was the thunder to his own lightning. His propensity for running defenders over, outrunning them and even hurdling them made him an instant fan favorite.
It also made him a first-round selection in the 2009 draft.
While Moreno went through a stretch of rough patches in his young career, most notably his benching in 2012, this season has seen a complete resurrection of the back many once saw as a budding star.
Moreno generated 1,038 yards on the ground (4.3 yards per carry) and an additional 548 receiving yards. Furthermore, his 13 total touchdowns demonstrate his overall effectiveness.
At 5'11", 220 pounds, Moreno is a feature back that never has to leave the field.
He's savvy in pass protection and understands blitz concepts. Denver has other young backs on the roster, most notably Montee Ball, and could conceivably let Moreno walk away in free agency. At just 26 years old, his prime years would all be spent in Atlanta.
Bring him back to his second home, Dimitroff.
NT Paul Soliai
While most fans are concerned with how the Falcons will generate a pass rush, they shouldn't overlook the fact that the Falcons are equally horrendous against the run.
In fact, at an average of 4.8 yards per rush allowed, the Falcons were the 31st-ranked outfit in the league. This virtually parallels their ranking in sacks (tied for 29th).
Atlanta can improve its rush all it wants, but if it can't stop the run, it will be behind the proverbial eight ball once again for the foreseeable future. The Falcons need to think extremely hard about transitioning to an odd-front alignment as the basis of their scheme.
To do so, they need a large 0-technique nose tackle that specializes in two-gapping. The Miami Dolphins' Paul Soliai couldn't be any more perfect. Not only would he be a scheme-specific fit, he played for Falcons coordinator Mike Nolan when the pair was together in Miami.
Soliai is a 6'4", 340-pound behemoth who can move mountains...literally! Well, maybe that's stretching the truth, but Soliai eats ball-carriers for lunch and will occasionally have QBs for dessert. His presence would free up the Falcons' group of athletic linebackers to virtually operate with a clean path.
Not to mention he'd look scary in doing so.
FB Greg Jones
One thing missing from the Falcons' rushing attack that usually goes unnoticed is the absence of a dominant lead blocker. It can be argued that the rushing attack went downhill as soon as fullback Ovie Mughelli was released after the 2011-12 season.
When Mughelli was jettisoned, perennial 1,000-yard rusher Michael Turner ran as though he had two flat tires and was subsequently let go the following season. Although the Falcons have transitioned to a more pass-oriented offense, they don't possess a difference-maker at fullback when they do make use of "21 personnel."
Enter Greg Jones.
Jones is a throwback in the sense that he will shorten your neck upon impact. He's athletic enough to catch passes and stout enough to act as a lone back on clear passing downs.
With the Falcons' muddy offensive line situation, having a fullback that can clear a path would be worth its weight in gold.
Incumbent fullback Bradie Ewing is like the walking version of the game Operation and H-back Patrick DiMarco is as finesse as a baby's bottom. Adding a smashmouth back like Jones should be in the cards for Atlanta if it's truly looking to get tougher.
The 6'1", 251-pound Jones would be a major step in the right direction.
OL Richie Incognito
Now, before you exit this slideshow in a blind rage, hear me out. Before former Miami Dolphins guard Richie Incognito was known as a bully, due to his role in the Jonathan Martin scandal, he was a hard-nosed player that got underneath the opposition's skin at an inordinate clip.
In fact, Incognito would remind Falcons fans of former guard Harvey Dahl, who played with the same type of nasty disposition. When the Falcons possessed one of the very best offensive lines in the league, they had three Incognito-like players: center Todd McClure, left tackle Tyson Clabo and Dahl.
Now the Falcons have none.
Incognito is only one season removed from a Pro Bowl nod and would be relatively inexpensive next to comparable options on the market. You can expect Incognito to be, well, incognito in regard to locker-room exploits.
However, Atlanta is a veteran-laced outfit with plenty of players who would police such behavior. The Falcons are tailor-made to get the best out of Incognito.
Moreover, he's a much better option than, say, Peter Konz...
After covering the rival New Orleans Saints for the 2013-14 season, Atlanta native Murf Baldwin returns home to cover his hometown team in 2014. Follow Murf on Twitter and welcome him home.
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