Atlanta Falcons Final Free Agency Outlook and Predictions
After adding personnel gurus Scott Pioli (assistant general manager) and Billy Devaney (regional scout), to go along with Thomas Dimitroff (general manager) and Lionel Vital (director of player personnel), the excuses for making personnel gaffes will now fall upon deaf ears.
Fans are in a frenzy at the thought of Atlanta acquiring top free agents, but the reality of the situation is there are 31 other teams that will be vying for the same talent. With big name free agents coming off the board after being re-signed by their own respective teams, you can see how this period is a crapshoot at best.
Nevertheless, this is one of the most exciting times in the NFL, and the Falcons do have a chance to make upgrades at a number of positions. Let's take a look at where the Falcons are currently and where they possibly stand to go.
Current Free Agents
Sometimes the best move a team can make is re-signing its own talent. There's something to be said for drafting and developing your own, as opposed to paying for someone else's product.
The Seattle Seahawks are a prime example of what having a top-notch personnel department and coaching staff will do for a team. They have low-round picks that look like future Hall of Famers and have the type of depth that ensures they will be a formidable outfit for the foreseeable future.
Notable Free Agents
DT Jonathan Babineaux
"Babs", as he's affectionately known, has been one of the most consistent players on the Falcons roster for a long time. He's played everything from the 5-technique defensive end to the 1-technique defensive tackle. For an Atlanta team that lauds itself on versatility, re-signing Babineaux should be a high priority.
DT Corey Peters
Peters was closing out a breakout season when he tore his Achilles in Week 16 against the San Francisco 49ers. His 46-tackle, five-sack season performance ensures he gets re-signed. Here's hoping he doesn't miss any time next season.
C/G Joe Hawley
Hawley is an ornery and talented player. It can be argued that he was the best lineman last season—which isn't saying much with the type of season the line had as a whole. Hawley deserves to be the starting center next season.
It's not that Jerry is a bad player. Nah, I'm kidding. I couldn't even type that with a straight face. But in his defense, he did have a 33-tackle, 3.5-sack season in 2013. At times he looked like he'd finally turned the corner. But that doesn't erase the fact that Jerry recorded zero sacks in 30 games in 2011-12.
If he played like he did last season, he would provide quality depth.
OLB Stephen Nicholas
Nicholas gets a bad rap. He's athletic, savvy and willing to initiate contact. He's had some very productive years, but nothing earth-shattering. Second-year backer Joplo Bartu's ascension may signify the end of Nicholas' tenure in Atlanta.
Note: Peters was signed to a one-year contract on March 5, 2014, according to Chris Wesseling of NFL.com. Nicholas was already released but is an excellent candidate to return if the Falcons can't find quality depth.
Additional Cuts That Need to Happen
Very few teams have the ability to admit a mistake with personnel. Atlanta is a team that's been known to hang onto players a few seasons too long, opposed to a team like the New England Patriots, who have cut unproductive second-round picks within the first couple of years of being selected.
To move forward with your franchise sometimes you have to trim the fat, so to speak.
Players That Need to be Jettisoned
DE Osi Umenyiora
Umenyiora was expected to fill the lofty shoes of former star end John Abraham. It's now safe to say that he could fit two of his feet into just one of Abe's shoes. Umenyiora did lead the team with 7.5 sacks, but four came against rookie quarterbacks, Mike Glennon (Tampa Bay) and Geno Smith (New York Jets). The Falcons could count on Abraham to be at at his best against the best competition and make clutch plays.
Jackson has been a great player throughout his entire career. His number will be retired in St. Louis where he had eight consecutive 1,000-yard seasons for the St. Louis Rams. But with 2,553 carries, Jackson isn't quite the player he used to be.
A team coming off 4-12 seasons don't need veteran backs on its roster. The Falcons are better off both drafting and acquiring younger backs.
DE/OLB Kroy Biermann
Biermann is a fan favorite for reasons that are unknown. His career high in sacks is five, which came way back in the 2009-10 season, and he doesn't do anything particularly well. He's known as a hybrid front seven player, someone who can rush the quarterback and drop back into coverage. Still, he has only three passes defensed for his entire career.
It's time to stop the madness, Atlanta. If Atlanta Hawks fan favorite Zaza Pachulia can be let go after doing not much of anything, Biermann should receive the same fate. Not to mention he's coming off a season-ending injury that limited him to two games in 2013.
Cutting Biermann would save the Falcons $3,050,000 in cap space, according to OverThe Cap.com. Use that money towards free agency.
S Thomas DeCoud
In my first official article covering the Falcons, after being switched by Bleacher Report from covering the New Orleans Saints, I made an argument as to why the Falcons should release starting safety Thomas DeCoud.
Others in the media have echoed that notion. And it appears, according to ESPN's Adam Caplan, letting DeCoud walk might be coming to fruition.
But the longer he stays on the team, the scarier it is! It's like Fright Night for fans of great safety play. It's time to collect on the $3 million in cap space DeCoud's jettisoning would provide.
Note: An addendum was applied to this article as running back Jason Snelling abruptly retired, according to Jay Adams of AtlantaFalcons.com. Snelling was a solid player throughout his tenure, but his time in a Falcons uniform should've been up regardless. The Falcons need to get more explosive at the position while also getting younger.
There's a common misconception that the Falcons are looking for a defensive end to rush the passer. While that is theoretically true, an edge-rusher could also come in the form of a two-point stance linebacker in the mold of an Aldon Smith (San Francisco 49ers) or Von Miller (Denver Broncos).
Interior Defensive Linemen
The Falcons would do well for themselves by acquiring a bigger interior player who specializes in two-gapping and run defense. Fans think the Falcons will improve by rushing the passer, it can be argued that they were worse at defending the run.
If you can't stop the run, you won't be able to win the Super Bowl in this day and age.
The Falcons could use an overhaul of the entire offensive line. But since that's not possible, they should target a right guard and a swing tackle.
Security blanket Tony Gonzalez has retired...we believe. Second-year player Levine Toilolo is coming back, but who knows if he's actually any good. This situation is scary when you think about it.
When the line is retooled, the Falcons don't have a playmaking back on the roster who can flip the field or be a threat to take it the distance anytime he touches the ball.
DeCoud is a starter...enough said!
The Falcons have already seen possible targets Brian Orakpo (Washington Redskins) and Greg Hardy (Carolina Panthers) receive the franchise tag from their current teams. Now they run the risk of reaching for talent. They absolutely have to nail this free-agency period.
DE Michael Bennett
Seattle Seahawks end Michael Bennett is a bad dude! He has a terrific motor and a vast array of pass-rush moves. Fans were glad to see him leave the NFC South, as he was one of the best players on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Those same fans would be uber-excited to see him land with the Red and Black.
DE Michael Johnson
Johnson played on a dominant Cincinnati Bengals line, yet he has averaged only five sacks per season in his NFL career. He's a physical specimen (6'7", 270 lbs) but lacks the production, sans one season, to warrant the status of a top free agent. But chances are he wants to be paid like one.
DT/DE Lamarr Houston
Houston has the type of versatility that could make him a star in Atlanta. He played defensive end, in certain instances for the Oakland Raiders, but he'd be more adept at playing on the interior of the line in Atlanta. If Babineaux is not re-signed, the 6'3", 300-pound Houston would make a great 3-technique.
NT Paul Soliai
The Falcons need a player who can occupy blocks while playing the 0- and 1-technique. Miami Dolphins nose tackle Paul Soliai (6'4", 340 lbs) is that guy. He played for Falcons coordinator Mike Nolan when Nolan was DC in Miami, so the big tackle is a scheme-specific fit. Atlanta needs a player who can affect the run game.
DL Ziggy Hood
Hood was been seen as a disappointment since being drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers. It can be said that he was simply a misfit for their scheme. His size (6'3", 300 lbs) and athleticism would fit well in the multialignment scheme the Falcons run. It doesn't hurt that he played at the University of Missouri with current Falcon defenders William Moore and Sean Weatherspoon.
S Jairus Byrd
Buffalo Bills safety Jairus Byrd seems to be the apple of everyone's eye heading into the 2014 free agency. Despite Atlanta seriously needing help along both the offensive and defensive lines, Byrd's presence would go a long way toward solidifying the back end of the Falcons' defense. When you factor in Byrd's range and superb ball skills, you can plainly see why his availability would have some NFL fanbases in a frenzy.
S Chris Clemons
Clemons played for Nolan in Miami and would fill in quite adequately should DeCoud be released. Clemons is rangy and is a supremely good tackler. He could slide over and play strong safety in most of Nolan's schemes as well. His versatility would allow him and Moore to work well together.
S Malcolm Jenkins
Jenkins is the best cover guy out of all the available safeties. He's the only one who has played corner in the professional ranks, too. He's better as a hybrid rather than a traditional safety—which works well with what the Falcons are trying to accomplish on defense.
OT Eugene Monroe
It's hard to believe the Baltimore Ravens didn't hit Monroe with the franchise tag. He's a good pass-blocker and can flat-out get the job done in the run game. The Falcons need to make signing Monroe a priority.
OT Jared Veldheer
At 6'8", 320 pounds, Oakland Raiders tackle Jared Veldheer is an imposing figure. He has a nasty disposition that's reminiscent of former Falcons tackle Tyson Clabo. If the Falcons want to get tougher up front on offense, signing Veldheer is an excellent place to start.
The pain Falcons fans will feel when Byrd signs with either the Philadelphia Eagles (where his college coach is now the head coach), or the Cleveland Browns (where his former defensive coordinator is the coach) will be unbearable.
That is, until they sign Clemons and his teammate Soliai. Both of these players have working knowledge of the intricacies of Mike Nolan's defensive system. Clemons can play both free and strong safety, so his versatility will give the Falcons a much-needed boost.
Atlanta also reels in Hood. While Hood was miscast as a 5-technique in the Steelers defense, he will flourish as a 3-technique in the Falcons' multiple-front alignment. He is adept at two-gapping and excelled at shooting gaps at the collegiate level.
To strengthen its run game, Atlanta signs tight end Michael Hoomanawanui from the New England Patriots. "Hoo Man" is the best blocking tight end in the league and is very good in the pass game as well.
They finish off the offensive side of the ball by bringing in former Georgia Tech star running back and current Steeler Jonathan Dwyer. Dwyer is a clone of former Atlanta star running back Michael Turner and could end up being the best addition in free agency.
This leaves the Falcons room to acquire and edge-rusher in the draft, perhaps Jeremiah Attaochu (Georgia Tech) if they decide to take an offensive tackle like Greg Robinson (Auburn) with the first pick.
Or if they select University of Buffalo outside linebacker Khalil Mack with their top pick, the Falcons could just roll with incumbent left tackle Sam Baker, much to the chagrin of most the people reading this (unless you're Sam).
They also need help at right guard, but something tells me incumbent guard Peter Konz will get another shot to win the starting job.