Atlanta Falcons' Bargain Guide to the 2014 Offseason
In regard to free agency, most fans are under the impression that if their team doesn't acquire the most expensive player available, it isn't "winning" the offseason—so to speak.
For a team with multiple gaping holes like the Atlanta Falcons, spending the majority of your cap space on a couple of free agents usually only leads to more problems further down the road.
As a great American linguist, The Notorious B.I.G., once said: "Mo Money, Mo Problems!"
For a team like the Washington Redskins, whose fans can attest, winning the offseason doesn't always translate in the win column. In fact, more times than not it's usually a player that's cost-effective that pans out the most.
High-dollar free agents are usually burdened with the task of saving franchises which places lofty expectations on their play. Players that are cost-effective are usually afforded the benefit of the doubt, which in turn allows them to come along at a slower pace.
The NFL is filled with quality players who will come at a great bargain. Let's take a look at a few who could assist the 4-12 Atlanta Falcons in their attempt to restore respectability.
Wide Receiver/Kick Returner Brandon Tate
With Roddy White, Julio Jones and Harry Douglas all slated to return, the Falcons don't have much need for another receiver. But Cincinnati Bengals receiver Brandon Tate is much more than a receiver. He's one of the most explosive kick returners in the NFL.
When the Falcons were undoubtedly one of the best teams in the NFL they excelled at three things: running the ball, forcing turnovers and creating ideal field position in special teams. After finishing 4-12, it's not much of a coincidence that they now struggle in all three aspects.
By signing Tate the return game would receive a major infusion, one that it can't afford not to have. Running back Jacquizz Rodgers is a decent returner but lacks the explosiveness to be a legit difference-maker.
While Rodgers managed 575 yards on 25 attempts, Tate generated 914 yards on just 35 tries. Giving an explosive offense—like Atlanta's—great field position is the stuff of nightmares...for the opposition.
Tate is not a big threat in the normal confines of an offense, but his electrifying speed makes him a 9-route nightmare. Having another receiver who can occasionally stretch the field would be worth its weight in gold.
Tight End Garrett Graham
With the retirement of future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez, the Falcons are looking at a possible void in the middle of the field. Second-year tight end Levine Toilolo looks the part physically, but it's hard to rely on a player that simply doesn't have much production to speak of.
That's why they should take a long look at Houston Texans tight end Garrett Graham. After spending the first season of his career behind Owen Daniels and Joel Dreessen, Graham (6'3", 243 lbs) established himself as a valuable No. 2 in Dreessen's stead.
He caught 49 passes for 545 yards with five touchdowns this season. He's an athletic player with extremely soft hands. With the emergence of rookie tight end Ryan Griffin it's feasible that Graham won't be re-signed.
Graham has the ability to be a No. 1 tight end. Although he doesn't possess the skills of Gonzalez, he's a bargain that could pay serious dividends in the grand scheme of it all.
Offensive Tackle Eric Winston
At one point in time Arizona Cardinals tackle Eric Winston was considered one of the very best in the league. For years he helped anchor the Houston Texans' ground game—that's been perennially one of the best for years.
After getting released by Houston and signing with the Kansas City Chiefs (where he was acquired by current Falcons' assistant general manager Scott Pioli), Winston played this season with the resurgent Arizona Cardinals.
Winston is equally adept in man- or zone-blocking schemes, and he would fit really well in Atlanta as he's a natural right tackle (a significant position of need for Atlanta). Incumbent left tackle Sam Baker looks to be a lock to man his normal spot (unfortunately), but Winston's presence would help solidify one of the least effective lines in all of football.
Winston is a known pillar in the community and an overall good guy, but he's a monster between the lines. And we all know the Falcons offensive line is in need of those types of players.
Defensive End Arthur Jones
The Falcons are looking for tough, physical linemen that are versatile enough to operate between multiple schemes. Baltimore Ravens defensive end Arthur Jones fits the bill. Playing in Baltimore, he's roamed all over the line.
His natural position is at the 5-technique, but he's athletic enough to play the 3-technique (in spots) and large enough (6'3", 315 lbs) to even play the nose tackle. Considering the Falcons are horrendous against both the run and the pass, acquiring a one- and two-gap lineman is paramount.
Jones enjoyed his best season with 53 tackles (28 solo) and four sacks. His ability to draw and beat double-teams would go a long way in solidifying the Falcons defense. At just 27 years old, Jones would be the diamond in the rough for the Falcons' pseudo youth movement.
FS Malcolm Jenkins
For a free safety to excel in defensive coordinator Mike Nolan's scheme, He must be able to operate in the deep quadrant, cover slot receivers and tight ends alike as well as deliver bone-jarring hits on a snap-by-snap basis.
Fans of the Red and Black have their sights set on a former college corner who has developed into one of the best safeties in the league in Jairus Byrd (Buffalo Bills). The only problem with that is Byrd might be one of the most coveted free agents period and has a direct link to his former college coach Chip Kelly and his Philadelphia Eagles.
If the Falcons are unable to reel in Byrd, New Orleans Saints safety (and former college and NFL corner) Malcolm Jenkins would be an ideal target. Schematically speaking, he may be the best option in the first place.
Jenkins fits the scheme better for the fact that he's much more physical than Byrd. He's a great blitzer and an extremely physical hitter. He also has good range and man-cover skills. Jenkins enjoyed a breakout season (68 tackles, two interceptions, 2.5 sacks and two forced fumbles) under new coordinator Rob Ryan and his aggressive multi-faceted scheme.
Jenkins has familiarity with the division and would have a bit of extra motivation going against the hated Saints. This would undoubtedly be a win-win situation for Atlanta.
RB Felix Jones
At one point in time Pittsburgh Steelers running back Felix Jones looked like a budding star. Blessed with unbelievable speed, Jones was a threat to take it the distance out of the backfield, in the screen game as well as in the return game.
Injuries have seemingly sapped Jones of his blinding speed, but he's still faster than most backs and has added muscle to aid with his between-the-tackles prowess. At 5'10", 215 pounds, Jones is an excellent change-of-pace back who can get to the edges. He's also powerful enough to move the chains and punish defenders.
He works best in rotation, and hasn't missed a game in two straight seasons. He'd instantly upgrade the return game and give an added spark to the backfield where the fastest back in the regular rotation is probably the 240-pound Steven Jackson—which isn't saying much.
For all he's been through, Jones will just be 27 years old when the season starts. Atlanta would be the an excellent place for him to continue his career resurgence.
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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