2011 Atlanta Falcons Offseason: Breaking Down the Falcons 15 Free Agents
The Atlanta Falcons ended the 2010 campaign with a disappointing end with a blow-out loss to the Green Bay Packers.
But looking forward, the Atlanta Falcons have to decide what to do with the 15 free agents that they have. Some of these should be no-brainers, like Tony Gonzalez and Brent Grimes, but others will be tough to decide.
Three starters on the offensive line are going to free agency and I think that the Falcons need to go after all three of them. I am a strict believer that you win games in the trenches and it is imperative that the Falcons return their offensive line starters.
Other offensive players include running backs Jason Snelling and Jerious Norwood, along with wide receiver Brian Finneran.
But the biggest question mark will be whether the best tight end in the history of football returns. Tony Gonzalez will either retire or return for the Falcons in 2011. The Falcons, if they want to make a serious run at a Super Bowl, will need to sign Gonzalez.
On the defensive side, two starters are up for free agency in addition to four backups. This is the one area of their team where they can afford to not sign some of these players.
For the Falcons to compete at a higher level next year they will have to improve on the defensive side of the ball.
The punter, Michael Koenan, and kicker, Matt Bryant, are also up for free agency and I see no reason why the Falcons shouldn't sign them to contracts.
With that being said, here is a slide-by-slide look at all of the Falcons' free agents as well as a verdict on whether Atlanta should keep them or let them go.
But first, realize that with no collective bargaining agreement, no players can sign anywhere. So free agency won’t start until after the agreement is signed between the NFL and the NFLPA. This could have an impact on what teams make moves and where some players go.
But there is no doubt in my mind that an agreement will be made. For these executives and players to allow a football season not to be played would be the stupidest thing they could do. So I am not worrying, and neither should you.
Tony Gonzalez, TE
2010 Stats: 16 games started, 70 receptions, 656 yards, six TDs
Summary: On the Falcons side this should be a no-brainer. If Tony Gonzalez wants to return to football, they have to sign him. The only questionable thing is whether the future Hall of Famer wants to hang it up or give it another go round.
Gonzalez is a huge threat in the Falcons offense. He gives Matt Ryan a third-down target and when he's not catching the ball he is a great blocker and opens up seems for Michael Jenkins and Roddy White.
There is absolutely no reason for the Falcons to even think about signing him or not. If he returns, they need to get him, plain and simple.
Verdict: Keep if he keeps playing
Brent Grimes, CB
2010 Stats: Five interceptions for 84 yards, 70 tackles
Summary: With 11 interceptions in the last two years this should be another no-brainer for the Atlanta Falcons. Grimes is young, only 27-years-old, and even though he stands at 5'10'', he is someone the Falcons need to bring back.
With key interceptions this year against Baltimore and New Orleans, he is someone the Falcons can't let get away. Yes, the Falcons secondary was picked apart when they played the Packers, but he is still someone they have to sign.
Jason Snelling, RB
2010 Stats: 87 attempts, 324 yards; 44 receptions, 303 yards; five total touchdowns
Summary: Jason Snelling has done a great job being a backup running back behind Michael Turner. Although he hasn't had that many opportunities, he has stepped in when Turner goes to the sideline.
I see this player as another one the Falcons need to keep. With Michael Turner continuing to be the feature back, the Falcons need a No. 2 that can be ready to step in should Turner go down with an injury.
I think Snelling is that guy. He's not going to make the biggest or best plays, but he will do enough for the Falcons offense should Turner go down.
Jerious Norwood, RB
2010 Stats: Two attempts, eight yards; one reception, nine yards
Summary: After suffering a knee injury in the second week of the season against the Arizona Cardinals, Jerious Norwood spent the rest of the season on the sideline.
I don't think injury should be a valid reason for letting someone go, but the Falcons should part ways with Norwood due to the emergence of Jason Snelling.
Sure, Norwood offers that burst of speed that the Falcons don't have on offense, but Norwood just hasn't produced in his last two seasons with the Falcons. He only has one touchdown in the last two years.
It is time to let him go, but only if you can find someone that can be a valuable asset as the third string, which shouldn't be hard to do.
Verdict: Let Go
Tyson Clabo, OT
2010 Stats: Started 16 Games
Summary: Tyson Clabo has started every game for the Falcons in the last three years. Other than that, there really aren't stats to back up what he has done, other than to see the amount of yards the running backs have rushed for.
One of the biggest keys to football, is unity on the offensive line. If you have guys that know how the other guys will block then you will have a great offensive line.
If the Falcons want to continue that, they will have to sign Clabo, along with the other two free agents on the offensive line. It shouldn't even be a question.
Harvey Dahl, OG
2010 Stats: Started 16 games
Summary: How do you not sign a guy named Harvey Dahl? That has to be one of the greatest names on this Falcons team, but it's not why they should re-sign him.
He has started in 43 of the Falcons 48 games in the past three seasons. Just like Clabo, continuity on the offensive line is the key to winning football.
So I see no reason at all the Atlanta Falcons do not sign Dahl along with the other offensive linemen.
Justin Blalock, OG
2010 Stats: 16 games started
Summary: Just like Tyson Clabo, Justin Blalock has started every game in the past three years for the Atlanta Falcons. I don't think I can stress enough how important it is to have an offensive line that has played together.
The game of football is not won with quarterbacks, linebackers, or running backs. It is won in the trenches, and if the Falcons want to keep Matt Ryan clean and open up holes for Michael Turner the Falcons will need to sign Justin Blalock.
Bottom line, the Falcons need to sign Clabo, Dahl and Blalock, and this shouldn't be a hard decision.
Brian Finneran, WR
2010 Stats: 19 receptions, 166 yards, three touchdowns.
Summary: This is probably the hardest decision the Falcons will have on the offensive side of the ball.
The No. 1 and No. 2 receivers are set in stone with Roddy White and Michael Jenkins. The three spot is where it is up for grabs.
The Falcons have Harry Douglas and Eric Weems listed as backups at the WR spot.
Finneran will hit the age of 35 next year which could have an impact on the decision the Falcons make. If the Falcons can get him at a reasonable price they should keep them. But at the same time, it wouldn't be that big of lose.
Because if Finneran leaves I would expect Harry Douglas and Eric Weems to step up and fill the void.
Verdict: Let Go
Mike Peterson, OLB
2010 Stats: 13 games started, 16 games played, one sack, two interceptions, two forced fumbles, 39 tackles
Summary: Mike Peterson is another player that will be in his mid-30s that the Falcons will have to make a decision on.
Peterson's numbers fell off after his great 2009 season where he had more than double the tackles he made in 2010.
The defensive side of the ball is where the Falcons need to make improvements and linebacker is one of those positions.
If they don't sign Peterson, I don't see it as that big of a loss because the Falcons need to get a stud linebacker to improve their defense.
I see Peterson being the one to let go, because I think the potential of Curtis Lofton, Stephen Nicholas and Sean Weatherspoon is greater than that of Peterson's. So in the end, I think the Falcons part ways.
Verdict: Let Go
Stephen Nicholas, OLB
2010 Stats: 11 games started, 16 games played, one interception, 58 tackles
Summary: Because I think Mike Peterson won't be re-signed, I think the Falcons will be forced to sign Stephen Nicholas.
I think that Nicholas can have potential in this Falcons' defense, but he can't be the star, just a supporting role.
One of the most important things on the defensive side of the ball is depth. You can never have too much of it and I think Nicholas is a valuable piece to this defense.
Just remember the play he made when he made Donald Driver fumble in the playoffs against the Packers.
Coy Wire, MLB
2010 Stats: 15 games played, four tackles, one fumble recovery
Summary: Coy Wire is the backup MLB behind Curtis Lofton and has received limited action with the Falcons in his last three years.
Wire is the type of player where you don't mind having him on your team because he is a backup and his salary doesn't affect much.
But the Falcons can get a Coy Wire-type player in the NFL draft. Not signing Wire would allow the Falcons the opportunity to sign a draft pick, which is something they need.
With Wire not being a starter, and since he is certainly not looking to become a starter, I think the Falcons don't re-sign him.
Verdict: Let Go
Brian Williams, CB
2010 Stats: One game started, 16 games played, one sack, 21 tackles
Summary: Brian Williams is the Falcons nickel defensive back and I think it showed in the game against Green Bay when he wasn't in.
The Falcons need to make improvements on the defensive side of the ball, but I don't think Williams needs to go.
He doesn't start and you can afford to pay him accordingly, unless some other team wants him as a starter. If the money is right, the Falcons should re-sign Williams, but it wouldn't be a huge loss if the Falcons don't get him.
But in the end, I think the Falcons should strongly consider bringing him back and I think they do.
Trey Lewis, DT
2010 Stats: One game started, two assisted tackles.
Summary: Of all the players the Falcons have to make decisions on, I think this should be the easiest one in which they will let a player sign elsewhere.
Lewis hasn't made much impact in his three seasons with the Falcons, only having 25 tackles and playing in 18 games.
With Peria Jerry, Jonathan Babineaux, Corey Peters and Vance Walker all being defensive tackles, I don't see Lewis making much of an impact in the future.
The Falcons should wish Lewis well with his next team because I don't see them signing Lewis. Unless of course they can get him at a reasonable price, but he won't be someone that will really be missed if he goes to another team.
Verdict: Let Go
Michael Koenan, P
2010 Stats: 74 punts, 40.7 average, 61 yard long.
Summary: Michael Koenan is a punter and he's done a great job. There is no reason the Falcons shouldn't re-sign him.
And yes, this summary is about as interesting as the punter position.
Matt Bryant, K
2010 Stats: 11/11 in 20-29 yards, 8/9 in 30-39 yards, 8/10 in 40-40 yards, and 1/1 in 50+ yards field goal attempts. 44/44 in PATs.
Summary: How do you not sign a kicker that has kicked three game-winning field goals in the previous season?
I don't know.
After kicking game winning field goals against New Orleans, San Francisco and Green Bay, the Falcons have no reason not to re-sign him.
Recap: The Falcons 15 Free Agents
Keep: Tony Gonzalez TE, Jason Snelling RB, Tyson Clabo OT, Harvey Dahl OG, Justin Blalock OG, Brent Grimes CB, Stephen Nicholas OLB, Brian Williams CB, Michael Koenan P, Matt Bryant K.
Let Go: Jerious Norwood RB, Brian Finneran WR, Trey Lewis DT, Coy Wire MLB, Mike Peterson OLB.
Bottom line is that I think this Falcons' offense should stay together for the most part, there really shouldn't be that many changes.
But the defensive side of the ball is where the Falcons can afford to let some players go and take some chances on some defensive free agents, especially at the linebacker position.
Another thing is that I think the Falcons will add depth to their defense through the NFL Draft, which might cause them to release a couple of other players.
In the end, I think if the Falcons can improve on the defensive side of the ball through the addition of key players, they will end the 2011 season with different results.
What do you think?
Where are the Falcons' areas of concern?
Do you disagree with the players I think the Falcons should keep or let go?
Who should the Falcons go after in free agency?
I have expressed my opinion, time to hear yours.