2011 NFL Free Agency: 5 Pass-Rushers Atlanta Falcons Should Sign
With the Atlanta Falcons basically trading away the farm for Julio Jones, the Falcons have yet to address their number one concern: pass-rushing woes. John Abraham is 33 years old and Kroy Bierman does not seem to be the long term answer at defensive end. The Falcons did draft South Carolina defensive end Cliff Matthews in the 7th round, but Matthews seems to be a long term project that won't have much of an immediate impact. Here is a list of potential free agent defensive ends that the Falcons must pursue if they want any chance of making it to the Super Bowl.
5. Cliff Avril
Avril is a young defensive end that put up solid numbers with the Lions this past year. The main question with Avril is whether he can continue to rack up the sacks without a dominant defensive line around him. There is no coincidence that Avril put up a career high in sacks with 8.5 once Defensive Rookie of the Year Ndamukong Suh joined the Lion's line. Suh gave Avril single teams off of the edge, but the same could be said for Avril playing alongside John Abraham. Avril might be enticed to remain a Lion with newly acquired defensive tackle Nick Fairley joining the squad.
4. Jason Babin
As a former first round pick, Babin finally lived up to his selection, compiling 12.5 sacks, 58 tackles, 2 forced fumbles and was named to the AFC Pro Bowl roster. Babin is a prototypical 4-3 end, listed at 6'3 260 lbs. The one question with the Pro Bowler is whether or not he can sustain the production. Babin is looking for a long term deal and is willing to take less money for a longer contract. I have Babin only ranked #4 on this list, because I wonder how productive he will be in the future. The chances of Babin being a bust are greater than the usual Pro Bowl defensive end. We could be looking at a one hit wonder.
3. Mathias Kiwanuka
Being the third defensive end on the New York Giants, Mathias Kiwanuka is a bit of an unknown. Coming into the league as an outside linebacker, he has made a smooth transition to defensive end. Kiwanuka is an explosive pass-rusher that uses good leverage to get to the quarterback. The 27 year old has battled injuries throughout his career and had a season ending herniated disk after 3 games. Even though he lost a huge chunk of his season, Kiwanuka was productive compiling 4 sacks and a forced fumble. Kiwanuka would add needed depth to the Falcons defensive line and is versatile as both a right and left end.
2. Charles Johnson
Charles Johnson was simply a beast last season. The Georgia product was the shining star on a terrible 2-14 Carolina Panthers squad that lacked any other pass rushers. At only 24 years old, Johnson will be a staple for any defensive line for years to come. Last season, Johnson had 11.5 sacks and one forced fumble. The only reason he is not number one on this list is because of the price it would take for the Falcons to obtain him. I just do not see the Panthers letting Johnson walk to a division rival; especially after enduring the loss of Julius Peppers to the Chicago Bears last season. The only way I see the Falcons snagging Johnson would be if he gave them a hometown discount and is looking to play for a contender.
1. Ray Edwards
Minnesota Viking Ray Edwards has been a staple for arguably the top defensive line of the past five years. Currently a free-agent, Edwards is reportedly unhappy with his situation in Minnesota and looking for a fresh start. The Falcons would welcome the 26 year-old with open arms. Atlanta can offer Edwards a lucrative deal and an abundance of playing time. Edwards has been the most consistent player on this list, having notched 8 and 8.5 sacks the past two seasons. If Atlanta General Manger, Thomas Dimitroff could pull off this signing, the Falcons would be among the favorites to reach the Super Bowl next season.