Atlanta Falcons: State of Franchise at the Start of the 2014 Offseason
The Atlanta Falcons aren't in a great state of affairs. Atlanta has issues with the lack of talented depth on the roster. But more than that, they need to make sure they upgrade their starters in quite a few spots while also planning for the future years past 2014.
Atlanta has already made some coaching changes. But outside of the coaching staff, there's still the cap situation, free agency and the draft to worry about this offseason. Atlanta could look in quite a few places to fix the team. And it all starts here.
2013 Season in Review
The Falcons' 2013 season didn't go as planned. It was Tony Gonzalez's final season, but the Falcons were unable to bring him to the promised land of a Super Bowl title. It all came crashing down in the second game of the year when both Sean Weatherspoon and Kroy Biermann went down and the defense fell apart.
After that win brought them to 1-1, the Falcons won just one of their next nine games. Just when it looked like it couldn't get worse, the Falcons strung together two wins in a three-game span to bring them out of contention for a top-three pick.
The only real bright side to the season was the ability to get rookies and second-year players snaps that were needed to develop them. Paul Worrilow, Jonathan Massaquoi, Joplo Bartu, Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford all showed flashes that could lead to them being starters in 2014.
Coaching Changes and the Current Staff
While most of the staff from 2013 was kept intact, two spots needed a change: offensive line and defensive line coach. Ray Hamilton, Pat Hill and Paul Dunn were rightfully fired. Then, the Falcons decided that toughness was the biggest thing each line needed.
Bryan Cox, New DL Coach
When it comes to a relentless defensive line, Bryan Cox is the man you want running it. His tutelage has helped multiple teams develop a top-tier pass-rusher like Cameron Wake of the Miami Dolphins or Gerald McCoy of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. His hiring should be extremely beneficial for Atlanta's league-worst pass rush.
Mike Tice, New OL Coach
Mike Tice's last stop in Chicago isn't a great example of what he can really do as an offensive line coach. The nastiness the Falcons need to protect Matt Ryan will be brought out by Tice. Ideally, they bring in a pass-blocking mind to team with him for better protection schemes.
2014 Cap Situation
Currently, the Falcons are $13.8 million under the cap by my calculations. On top of that, they are over $50 million under the 2015 cap and over $70 million under the 2016 cap. Because of that, they can use this offseason to go big in free agency.
They can also start working on re-signing some of their best talent long term in guys like Julio Jones and Weatherspoon. The Falcons need to make sure they can keep their talent long term, and they have the cap needed to make that possible.
Impending Free Agents and Likely Cuts
With the Falcons going 4-12 in 2013, a huge change to the veteran landscape needs to happen. While some of these guys have been worth keeping, Atlanta needs to focus on the future. It can't do that with the following guys on the roster:
CB Asante Samuel ($4.5 million savings)
He's the king of swagger in the Falcons secondary. However, the Falcons need to get younger and already have his replacements on the roster in Alford and Trufant. Asante Samuel isn't worth the $4.5 million at this point.
DE Osi Umenyiora ($3.5 million savings)
Osi Umenyiora will never be the premier pass-rusher the Falcons thought that he could be entering 2013. While he's still talented at his age, he's not "$3.5 million worth of savings" talented. Atlanta should cut him and take the money to put toward a legitimately awesome pass-rusher.
DE/LB Kroy Biermann ($3.05 million savings)
See: Umenyiora for the value that Biermann has right now. He's just not worth $3.05 million worth of savings. Combining Umenyiora and Biermann's savings would be enough to put toward a legitimate defensive end like Brian Orakpo, Greg Hardy or Michael Johnson.
S Thomas DeCoud ($3 million savings)
Thomas DeCoud needs to learn how to tackle. That, and he needs to take a pay cut or get cut. The Falcons can't afford to pay him $4.8 million when they could put that same money toward Jairus Byrd on the market.
If they can land Byrd, DeCoud is as good as gone.
LB Stephen Nicholas ($2 million savings)
Stephen Nicholas has been already usurped as the main backup for the linebacking corps. On top of that, he's not worth the $4 million cap hit he has this year. By saving $2 million this season and $5.5 million next, Atlanta can put that money toward some better defensive linemen.
RB Jason Snelling ($1.375 million savings) and OG Garrett Reynolds ($1.329 million savings)
Neither of these guys is on the upslope of his career, and they have both shown that they are nothing more than a third-string player at their current positions.
Snelling is 30 and as a running back just isn't worth $1.375 million anymore. Garrett Reynolds has been cut-worthy for two seasons now.
2014 Impending Free Agents and Who Should Be Brought Back
When it comes to building a team well, keeping your own free agents is a huge part of the equation. Atlanta doesn't have any big money guys on the team that are scheduled to leave. Out of the following guys, there's maybe one guy who should get a contract over $2 million a year.
Exclusive Rights Free Agents: WR Kevin Cone, WR Drew Davis
Restricted Free Agent: CB Robert McClain
Unrestricted Free Agents: TE Chase Coffman, OL Mike Johnson, OL Sean Locklear, OL Jeremy Trueblood, OL Joe Hawley, DT Jonathan Babineaux, DT Corey Peters, DT Peria Jerry, LB Omar Gaither, CB Dominique Franks
WRs Kevin Cone and Drew Davis
Since both of these guys are exclusive rights free agents, re-signing them should be easy to do. Because of that, Atlanta could easily keep this pair of special teams aces and backup receivers. They fill roles on the team and, at minimal contracts, are more than worth keeping.
TE Chase Coffman
Yes, he's been a complete draft bust. However, the Falcons would be wise to keep the Joker-style tight end in their offense, as he could play a Brian Finneran circa 2008 role if they need him to. He's got the frame and hands but has a good bit more size and blocking ability needed to be a backup tight end.
OLs Joe Hawley and Mike Johnson
While neither guy has earned a starting role outright, they have both shown enough in four years to get Reynolds-style contracts that would keep them under Falcons control for two seasons. They have also shown enough to compete legitimately for starting jobs in the new offensive line scheme under Tice.
DTs Corey Peters and Jonathan Babineaux
The Falcons have been weak at defensive tackle because they've been playing Babineaux out of position and putting Peria Jerry there. This should stop in 2014 with better defensive ends. With Babineaux and Peters playing their natural spots, they should perform quite a bit better.
CB Robert McClain
He's shown that he's a talented nickel corner in 2012. But in 2013, he had a down year and had a ton of trouble with the larger slot receivers. He did improve his coverage later in the year to where it was in 2012, and he could really give the Falcons a great performance in his contract year.
2014 Free-Agency Targets
With the Falcons still having some holes on the roster, they need to make the following five guys top priorities going into the offseason. Each one would fill a starting role and upgrade whoever was at the position before hand.
DE Michael Johnson
While Hardy and Orakpo are the big names and have the high sack numbers, Johnson is a hometown guy who would fit in very well in Mike Nolan's defense. He could play a role similar to what John Abraham played in 2012 and provide more pass-rush ability than Abraham did.
S Jairus Byrd
DeCoud has just missed too many tackles. The Seahawks have shown what a great defensive line and great secondary can do. For the Falcons to improve that secondary, they need to replace a Pro Bowler with an All-Pro in Byrd.
OT Eugene Monroe
While offensive tackle isn't the biggest need on the team, upgrading from Sam Baker to Eugene Monroe would be a huge first step for the protection of Ryan. Monroe is a top-five left tackle in the game and would allow Lamar Holmes to slide over to the right side and compete at his more natural spot.
OG Geoff Schwartz
With how bad the line was, the massive Geoff Schwartz would be a huge upgrade. He is only around league average at right guard, but his size combined with Holmes on that side would create a pair of massive road graders for the run game.
DT Linval Joseph
The combination of Linval Joseph and Peters on run downs should really help plug up the middle and keep Worrilow clean. On top of that, they would create a better pass rush on early downs than what was there in 2013 by taking up double-teams on the inside and pushing the pocket.
2014 Draft Preview
The Falcons always focus on needs in the draft. In going over their biggest needs in the draft, there's a ton of talent for the Falcons to look at. This isn't just in the first few rounds, either; it's through the entire draft.
Breaking it down by position, the Falcons could easily improve their team tremendously.
Defensive End/Primary Pass-Rusher
The big name here is Jadeveon Clowney. However, if he's gone, Atlanta could go with Khalil Mack or Anthony Barr at No. 6 overall. In the second and third rounds, guys like Trent Murphy, Dee Ford and Jeremiah Attaochu are the names to look out for as they could make incredible impacts early.
The biggest need on the team is at right guard. A free agent will likely be looked at first. But if the Falcons decide to go with a tackle instead, they have a plethora of options at right guard. Greg Robinson could be the pick in the first, but it's more likely they looked past the first round to address this need.
The need at offensive tackle is for someone to usurp Baker at left tackle. The Falcons have a ton of options on the right side, and 2013's left tackle in Holmes is probably a better fit there. Ideally, they look at a guy who can compete on both sides like Morgan Moses or even Cyrus Kouandjio.
Outside of an edge-rusher, the defensive tackle spot needs to be addressed. Peters was solid, but he is coming off of injury. The Falcons need someone to rotate in with him as well as a big body to put next to him. Guys like Stephon Tuitt and Ra'Shede Hageman could be early targets.
This is the dark horse for an early-round draft pick. The loss of Gonzalez is going to be rough. If Atlanta can get the big holes patched through free agency, names like Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Jace Amaro and even Eric Ebron could be legitimate possibilities in Rounds 1 or 2.
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He covers the Atlanta Falcons, College Football, NFL and the NFL draft. He also runs DraftFalcons.com.
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