The Atlanta Falcons may have come very close to reaching the SuperBowl, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t strive hard in the off-season to make improvements to their roster that could finally take them that one step further.
The major problem in all this is the limited cap space they have available, which currently stands somewhere between $4.9- $6.3 Million. With that in mind, some moves made need to be made and contracts re-structured in order to achieve anything worthwhile in free agency.
Lets start with tight end Tony Gonzalez, although he stated that he is 95% sure that he will retire, we have yet to hear any official word as to if we will in fact retire. That said it would be a major surprise albeit a very pleasant one if he was to come back for one more year. Replacing the greatest tight end to ever play the game is not really possible in itself but the current group of tight ends on the roster are not good enough to fill that void. A replacement would likely come through the draft as although there is a good group of free agents available, led by Fred Davis (Redskins) the Falcons simply cannot afford any of them at this point in time.
The Falcons first concern, that they can at least control, will be to re-sign safety William Moore, despite a few injury problems Moore has proved to be one of the top safeties in the game and after fellow safety Thomas DeCoud was resigned last year it would be a major surprise if Moore was even allowed to hit the open market and you would have to think that the only reason he would is if he wanted a lot more money than the Falcons were willing to offer.
The Falcons other concern will be whether to re-sign corner Brent Grimes, who missed the season after an Achilles injury in week 1. The injury and the fact that the Falcons coped without him would work in the favour of the Falcons and Grimes would get a bigger contract if he hit the open market. The emergence of Robert McClain could also be a factor here but the Falcons are short in the defensive backs department.
Other notable unrestricted free agents are defensive tackle Vance Walker, left tackle Sam Baker, and centre Todd McClure. The Falcons also have a number of restricted free agents such as defensive back Robert McClain, who should be re-signed. The majority of the restricted free agents are back ups and although the Falcons won’t want to rip up the roster a number of these players could be allowed to leave, such as defensive lineman Lawrence Sidbury and defensive back Dominique Franks.
Current Team Needs.
1. Defensive End .2. Tight End (should Gonzalez retire) .3. Linebacker .4. Defensive Back .5. Defensive Tackle .6. Running Back .7. Offensive Line.
Unless the Falcons can save some money somewhere and expand their cap space they will not be a big player in free agency although they can still plug some holes here. Therefore any potential free agent will have to be a realistic option rather than the best possible option.
Free Agency & Draft options.
1. Defensive End
There is really no stand out pass rusher in the free agent market this year and judging by the extra large contract the Bills gave to Mario Williams last year the Falcons would not be in a position to make a big time move in the area that they need the most help. The Falcons could look short term and sign Osi Umenyiora or Dwight Freeny but this would mean that they would have 2 Defensive Ends on the wrong side of 30. The second option would be to draft one as there is some depth to this position in this years draft. General Manager Thomas Dimitroff could trade to move up from their current draft position of 30th in the first round to somewhere near the top 10 to bag one of the top prospects, Bjoern Werner, Damontre Moore or Barkevious Mingo.
2. Tight End
This is all dependant on whether future hall of famer Tony Gonzalez retires as expected or decides to come back for one more year. Given that the Falcons can’t afford to make a play for free agents such as Fred Davis or Jared Cook, they will either give Michael Palmer or Chase Coffman a shot at it or draft either Zach Ertz or Tyler Eifert who could both be around late in the first round.
The Falcons went in short handed at this position due to the gamble they took on Lofa Tatupu not paying off. Akem Dent started slowly but did improve as the season went on but the jury is still out on him and Stephen Nicholas form has been indifferent of late. Jacksonville’s Daryl Smith may be an option here but the draft is the mostly likely scenario for a new addition.
4. Defensive Back
The importance of this position will be determined as to whether Brent Grimes re-signs with the team although Dominique Franks may not be brought back and anthoer free agent Chris Owens has had a few injury issues. The Chargers Quentin Jammer could be an option to replace Grimes as could Stanford Rout (Texans) however the Falcons could move Robert McLain to corner if need be and draft a younger defensive back to play in nickel situations. Even if Grimes comes back the Falcons will still need a body or two here.
5. Defensive Tackle
Atlanta had trouble stopping the run for the most part last season although Travian Robertson looks like he could be an asset and should get more playing time next year. That said the Falcons may want to add a big body that can close gaps and requires a double team leaving others free to mop up. Again it is more likely that this position is filled via the draft and not free agency.
6. Running Back
There is no doubt that Michael Turner’s production is down and that he is not hitting holes with the speed that he used to, that said cutting Turner when there is no real alternative does not make much sense. The Steelers Rashard Mendenhall would be the only decent option in free agency as the Falcons could not afford Stephen Jackson (Rams) but is this enough of an upgrade to make the move worthwhile? If the Falcons can see value in the 3rd or 4th round of the draft in the same way the Buccaneers did last year with Doug Martin then they may pull the trigger, other wise this is a problem that won’t be solved until 2014.
7. Offensive line
Sam Baker possibly had his best year in 2012, which is lucky for him as he is due to be a free agent in 2013. Offensive Line is probably the strongest group of all in free agency although some like Ryan Clady in Denver are unlikely to hit the open market. One player of interest though could be Miami’s Jake Long should the Falcons not re-sign Baker. The Falcons will probably have to sign at least one free agent here as Will Svitek, Garrett Reynolds and Todd Mclure are all free agents; Brandon Albert of the Chiefs is also a possibility.