MOBILE — Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff is gearing up for free agency.
With no lockout this offseason, there will be a return to normalcy in the NFL. Free agency will come first, followed by the draft.
After last year’s labor dispute was settled, a frenzied free-agency signing period began in late August.
The Falcons, who are projected to be about $28 million under the salary cap when it’s announced this week at the Super Bowl, are working on a few contract extensions that could keep some of their 17 unrestricted free agents off the market when it opens March 13.
“That’s going to be important for us to really analyze what’s in free agency and really dig into where we are with the draft,” Dimitroff said in an interview with the NFL Network. “It just allows us to be a little bit more creative; whether if we want to make moves and how we are going to approach things.”
Dimitroff’s main offseason focus is to improve the offensive and defensive lines. All of the positions on the offensive line will be open for competition, and the defense could lose the team’s top pass-rusher in John Abraham, who’s set to turn 34 in May.
“We need to continue to establish ourselves on both fronts,” Dimitroff said. “That’s very, very important for us going into this year. That’s not the only thing we’re focused on, believe me, we have a lot that we are looking into. We’ve talked very openly about looking at every aspect of our football operations.”
Here’s an analysis of where the Falcons’ prospective unrestricted free agents stand:
John Abraham, DE: After an early-season groin injury, the Falcons placed Abraham on a play-count for most of the season. They increased his number of plays late in the season and for the playoffs.
He had a base salary of $8 million and led the team with 9.5 sacks. He essentially was the team’s pass rush. If he returns, it likely will be at a reduced salary and as a designated pass-rush specialist.
Kroy Biermann, DE: He has been solid while playing in the rotation at defensive end. The Falcons will want to pay him as a rotational player. If he gets to the open market, some 3-4 teams may covet him as a stand-up linebacker because of his athleticism.
Kirk Chambers, OT: He likely will not be re-signed.
Thomas DeCoud, FS: He’s a strong candidate for an extension and may not hit the open market. The Falcons would like for him to take charge of the defense so that strong safety William Moore can be free to attack the ball and become a menacing force.
Harry Douglas, WR: This one could get tricky because some teams may view Douglas as a No. 2 receiver. With the Falcons, he’s the No. 3 and will remain that as long as Roddy White can keep rolling along and Julio Jones keeps developing.
If he gets a lucrative offer, Douglas could leave for another team. Eric Weems would then be elevated to the No. 3 position. A wide receiver-starved team such as Cleveland or Jacksonville could swoop in and sign Douglas.
Brent Grimes, CB: Grimes arguably has been the team’s best corner over the past two seasons.
He’ll point to the six-year, $57 million contract that the Falcons gave Dunta Robinson in March 2010. Robinson was 27 at the time. Grimes is set to turn 29 in July, so the team likely would want to do a four-year deal.
They could keep Grimes from the open market by using the franchise tag, which would guarantee him about $10.2 million for one season.
Kelvin Hayden, CB: A serious turf-toe injury ended his season. He could be brought back at a reasonable price if healthy.
Reggie Kelly, TE: He likely won’t be re-signed. The Falcons like their young tight ends Michael Palmer and Ryan Winterswyk and probably will draft a tight end.
Curtis Lofton, MLB: Lofton’s camp probably will point to the four-year, $36-million deal that inside linebacker David Harris signed with the New York Jets in August.
While Lofton has played on third downs, the Falcons may consider him a first- and second-down linebacker. The Falcons were tied for 29th in the NFL on third-down conversions (93-of-211) last season.
Since being selected in the second round of the 2008 draft, Lofton has made more than 100 tackles in each of his four seasons.
Todd McClure, C: The veteran wants to return for at least two more seasons. He’ll have to compete to retain his starting spot, and the Falcons will have to consider how he would handle a reserve role if he gets beat out. McClure has been a mainstay on the line since making the team as a seventh-round draft pick in 1999.
Mike Peterson, LB: He ended the season on injured reserve. Before that he provided some quality depth and could return.
Chris Redman, QB: He wants to return, and the team likely will work out a reasonable deal.
Brett Romberg, C/G: He likely will not be re-signed.
James Sanders, S: He was a solid backup and likely will return with a reasonable deal.
Jason Snelling, RB: He will look for a deal elsewhere as his opportunities were reduced last season, and the team wants to get Jacquizz Rodgers more involved in the offense.
Eric Weems, WR: He’s a valuable special-teams player who could step up as the third receiver.
Joe Zelenka, LS: He likely will be re-signed.
–D. Orlando Ledbetter, The Atlanta Falcons beat blog