Back on Jan. 10, Falcons owner Arthur Blank stated:
“Our goal is to win rings, to get championships and eventually win a Super Bowl for this community. That’s our goal.”
Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff stated:
“We know that we need to get better in many, many areas. It is my job to make sure that I step back with coach [Mike] Smith and obviously, Mr. Blank, and look at all aspects of the football operations and determine where we need to make changes and where we need to adjust going forward.”
Dimitroff noted that there would be no “sacred cows” on the roster. “I don’t care where we drafted them or how we acquired them in free agency,” Dimitroff said.
With free agency underway, a clearer picture is starting to form. Three key starters — center Todd McClure, defensive end John Abraham and middle linebacker Curtis Lofton — became free agents.
The Falcons will have gutted the defense if Lofton and Abraham find big money deals out on the open market. They have a plausible plan for replacing Lofton, but right now Ray Edwards and Kroy Biermann are the starting defensive ends.
The offense will move in another direction without McClure, whom quarterback Matt Ryan calls one of the “cornerstone stones” of the offense and franchise.
It’s also clear that the Falcons will not be a major player in free agency and will shift their focus to the draft and getting cornerback Brent Grimes to either sign the $10.281 million franchise tag or agree to a new long-term contract.
Here’s the story on McClure, Abraham and Lofton becoming free agents:
Three key contributors to the Falcons’ success over the past four seasons became unrestricted free agents Tuesday.
Center Todd McClure, defensive end John Abraham and middle linebacker Curtis Lofton helped the Falcons reached the playoffs in three of the past four seasons and win the NFC South title in 2011.
The three players all played key roles as the Falcons amassed a 43-21 record, the fifth-best mark in the league over that period. They are now free to negotiate contracts with all 32 teams after the NFL’s new business year started at 4 p.m. Tuesday.
The team reached contract terms with quarterback Chris Redman (one year) and wide receiver Harry Douglas (four years) about five hours into free agency.
Douglas, of Jonesboro, has been the team’s No. 3 receiver. He has caught 84 passes for 1,112 yards in three seasons. He missed the 2009 season because of a knee injury.
Also, offensive tackle Kirk Chambers, cornerback Kelvin Hayden, tight end Reggie Kelly, linebacker Mike Peterson, center/guard Brett Romberg, safety James Sanders, wide receiver Eric Weems and long snapper Joe Zelenka became unrestricted free agents.
Defensive tackle Vance Walker, a restricted free agent, received a tender offer of $1.26 million Tuesday. He’s a restricted free agent.
Over the past week, the Falcons re-signed three of their players and placed a $10.2 million franchise tag on cornerback Brett Grimes. They also signed linebacker Lofa Tatupu and offensive guard Vince Manuwai.
After those dealings, the Falcons didn’t have enough room under the $120.6 million salary cap to accommodate the contract demands of Lofton, Abraham and to a lesser degree McClure.
“Every player is going to want as much money as they can get,” general manager Thomas Dimitroff said recently in an interview of 790 The Zone. “That’s human nature.”
McClure, who turned 35 in February, had his team-record streak of 144 consecutive starts snapped last season. He broke the franchise record for consecutive games during the 2010 season, surpassing Keith Brooking’s mark of 128 (2000-08).
The Falcons drafted Joe Hawley as his heir apparent in 2010.
Near the end of the season, quarterback Matt Ryan credited McClure for much of his early success.
“For me, personally, he’s been huge in my development,” Ryan said. “He carried me the first two years in terms of pass protection and getting things set in the run game. He took a lot off my plate.”
Abraham, who turns 34 in May, has been the team’s top sacker since being acquired in a trade in 2006. In 2008, he had 16.5 quarterback sacks. He currently has 112 career sacks, 58.5 in six seasons with the Falcons.
Lofton, the team’s leading tackler over the past four season, was drafted in the second round of the 2008 draft. He had 577 tackles, four sacks, two interceptions and seven forced fumbles.
The Falcons will attempt to replace Lofton with Tatupu, who did not play last season. Also, Akeem Dent will get a chance to win playing time.
–D. Orlando Ledbetter, The Atlanta Falcons beat blog