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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    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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    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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    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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    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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    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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    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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    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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    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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    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.