NFL Free Agency 2011: Top 5 Free Agents That Could Soar for the Falcons

John PhenAnalyst IIIMarch 3, 2011

NFL Free Agency 2011: Top 5 Free Agents That Could Soar for the Falcons

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    ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 15:  A giant flag with the Atlanta Falcons logo is seen on the field against the Green Bay Packers during their 2011 NFC divisional playoff game at Georgia Dome on January 15, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty I
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    The Atlanta Falcons, along with every other NFL team, player and fan, eagerly await the new collective bargaining agreement. Once a new CBA is reached and signed, you can bet your bottom dollar that free agency feathers will fly. 

    With the annual free foray into free agency looking to continue for the Atlanta Falcons, the question can really become, what position would be best addressed?

    Is it running back? A secondary wide receiver? Secondary help? Is it help along the defensive line? Any of those options will fit and make plenty of sense for the Dirty Birds.

    Building through the draft remains the team's primary focus, but here are the top five impact free agents the Falcons could sign.

    Franchise Designation: Despite many media outlets reporting the "franchise" tag being applied to some of the names on this list, that doesn't hold much water. 

    The NFLPA says the designations has zero validity under the current CBA, which is set to expire March 3rd. That, of course, means that a team cannot designate a player as “franchise” without having a new CBA in place.

    Please keep that in mind when reading and having said that, let's begin! 

Darren Sproles

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    SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 5:  Darren Sproles #43 of the San Diego Chargers looks on from the field against the Oakland Raiders during their NFL game at Qualcomm Stadium on December 5, 2010 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)
    Donald Miralle/Getty Images

    We've gone over the benefits of bringing aboard an electrifying player such as Sproles, who would make a huge difference on offense. To prevent being redundant and revisiting the many points and facets that Sproles would bring to the offense, I have merely included the link to the original article.

    The Chargers and GM A.J. Smith are going to be busy trying to keep the core of their team intact for 2011. With several key linebackers needing long term deals, such as Weddle, Burnett and Cooper, defense isn't the only side of the ball needing attention.

    One simply has to look back at the Charger season and wonder what could have been if not for the lengthy holdouts. Having already placed the franchise tender on Vincent Jackson, Floyd, Clary, Tolbert and Sproles will all need new deals to keep them in Southern California.

Mathias Kiwanuka, DE

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    EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - SEPTEMBER 12:  Matt Moore #3 of the Carolina Panthers is sacked in the fourth quarter by Mathias Kiwanuka #94 of the New York Giants on September 12, 2010 at the New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Giants defe
    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Kiwanuka had a rough year, as he missed 13 games late for the New York Giants. He had to endure some questions about his commitment to football and a litany of problems stemming from a neck injury. After being cleared for his return to the NFL, the Giants placed a second-round tender on the impending free agent.

    Kiwanuka is an extremely versatile defensive end and was enjoying a breakout season before being injured. Recording four sacks in his first three games and even playing some outside linebacker, he's one defensive lineman that can do it all.

    With an already crowded and talented group headed by such names as Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre Paul, and Osi Umenyiora, Mathias figures to be available as a free agent.

    However, there are some legitimate concerns regarding his neck injury and that he's played alongside some fantastic talent. He's still relatively young at 28, and can provide an immediate upgrade as well as boosting depth along the Falcons' front four.


Charles Johnson, DE

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    CHARLOTTE, NC - AUGUST 21:  Quarterback Mark Brunell #8 of the New York Jets throw under pressure from Charles Johnson #95 of the Carolina Panthers during their preseason game at Bank of America Stadium on August 21, 2010 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Ph
    Mary Ann Chastain/Getty Images

    Coming into last year, Johnson had the sizeable shoes to fill with Julius Peppers leaving via free agency. He answered the call, even if his teammates along the defensive line failed to live up to their expectations. Johnson tallied 11.5 sacks on a team that lacked depth up front and couldn't alleviate pressure, with little in the way of any help.

    The Panthers are hopeful to re-sign him and have placed a RFA tender on Johnson, but this year's class of defensive ends in the draft is deep. With income issues, an ownership group not always known for spending and a deep DE draft class, Johnson could walk.

    Like Kiwanuka, Johnson is versatile and can play the run as well as rush the passer, posting 51 solo tackles.

James Jones, WR

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    ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 15:  James Jones #89 of the Green Bay Packers scores a 20-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter against Atari Bigby #20 of the Atlanta Falcons during their 2011 NFC divisional playoff game at Georgia Dome on January 15, 2011
    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    I'll admit I have a soft spot in my heart for James Jones, who along with Christopher Owens is a San Jose State alum. He's a big strong receiver and has can also contribute to the running game. Jones does suffer from a lack of concentration at times and has dropped several big time passes in his career.

    Who can forget the one he dropped right before halftime of the Falcons' playoff loss versus the Packers?

    He's also caught more than his fair share of big game balls as well, including this catch over Grimes.

    I think Falcon fans can all remember another receiver that struggled early in his career with a case of the dropsies. A receiver that was almost a universally agreed upon bust, who is now among the league's very best.

    Matt Ryan needs another target and Jones could make an impact in the slot, taking over for Harry Douglas. Although the Packers may keep him, Jones would fare quite a bit better on the open market.

Malcolm Floyd, WR

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    SAN DIEGO - NOVEMBER 22:  Malcolm Floyd #80 of the San Diego Chargers catches an 18-yard pass against the Denver Broncos at Qualcomm Stadium on November 22, 2010 in San Diego, California.  Chargers defeated the Broncos, 35-14. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/
    Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

    With the Chargers' focus on V-Jax, the Chargers will have their work cut out for them if they want to retain Floyd. A big, athletic receiver who is one of the best jump ball targets in the league, his presence would open things up in the red zone.

    This home run ability, coupled with his speed, will take the lid off the defense and allow more room for Turner, Douglas and Gonzalez underneath. 

    Floyd has mentioned wanting to test the free agent market, but with so many other areas, A.J. Smith will be hard pressed. For a breakdown of Charger needs or contracts, check back on the Darren Sproles slide.

    Floyd's a stretch, but would transform the Falcons offense overnight with his playmaking ability. 

Ray Edwards, DE

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    MINNEAPOLIS - SEPTEMBER 26:  Quarterback Shaun Hill #14 of the Detroit Lions is pressured by Ray Edwards #91 of the Minnesota Vikings during the second half at Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome on September 26, 2010 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  The Vikings defe
    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    Ray Edwards, along with the rest of the vaunted Viking defensive line, took a collective step sideways last year. Although he still picked up eight sacks along with 37 tackles, Jared Allen's drop off the face of the earth hurt Edwards' numbers overall.

    He's a complete defensive end and is incredibly athletic for a man of his size at 6'5" and 270 pounds. He's also very young (26) and should be coming into the peak of his playing career. 

    Many experts believe that the Vikings will not be able to keep both Edwards and Sidney Rice, but have placed first-round tenders on both players.

    With Sidney Rice promising to test the open market, Minnesota has a multitude of needs with limited choices.

The Stretch : Nnamdi Asomugha, CB

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    SAN FRANCISCO - OCTOBER 17:  Nnamdi Asomugha  #21 of the Oakland Raiders breaks up a pass intended for Michael Crabtree #15 of the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park on October 17, 2010 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Sure nice to dream, isn't it? In any number of Falcon fans' dreams, we can see the combo of Dunta Robinson and Nnamdi Asomugha creating a dream-team cornerback duo.

    In reality, however, it would most likely cripple the Falcons from a salary cap perspective and cause some serious complications in other areas of the team. It doesn't look like he'll be returning to the Oakland Raiders, and his agent has reported that Nnamdi is determined to test the open market.

    After signing Richard Seymour and giving Stanford Routt a huge extension, the Raiders are going to be making some tough decisions.  

    You are talking about a franchise that needed to keep Asomugha, but just spent $42.5 million on two players. 

    Make no mistake, as far as needs go, Nnamdi provides an ultimate impact both on the field and off. He's a consummate professional, class act, huge in his community works and a franchise player that you build a team around.

    On the field, he's simply a terror in coverage, can play the run and lead the defense by example. For a guy that's been stuck on a pretty bad team the last seven years, the Falcons would be a refreshing change.

    For a team long in tradition of cornerback talent, Asomugha would headline the top of many All-Time Falcon lists before long.

In Conclusion

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    ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 15:  Tyson Clabo #77 of the Atlanta Falcons runs onto the field during player introductions against the Green Bay Packers during their 2011 NFC divisional playoff game at Georgia Dome on January 15, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo
    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Even if the Falcons did not make their annual foray into the free agency market, this team is still loaded for bear. With an incoming draft class and continued development of the team's youth and talent, the sky's the limit for the Atlanta Falcons.

    Playing in the NFC South is no small chore, but the Falcons have a winning team whose style of play travels well. Without the luxury of playing the NFC West this upcoming year, however, the Falcons will have their work cut out for them.

    However, with so much uncertainty about the CBA and labor issues regarding the NFL, any number of these players may have their status change.

    With an extension to the labor deadline in the works, rumors of NFLPA decertification, lawsuits and federal courts talking lockout and anti-trust laws, nothing is certain but one thing.

    And that is that one of these key free agents may make the difference in taking the next step forward, step sideways or even backwards.

    We'll see soon enough.

    Go Falcons.