Could there finally be an end to the NFL lockout? After all the blustering and attacks, it appears that the loss of money may curtail the labor dispute just in time for there to be no missed time. Reports are coming out that a deal could be agreed to, voted on, and accepted by Thursday. Many believe that the free agent market may open as early as Monday. There will be an insane avalanche of deals flying all around and now its your turn to make all the decisions for the Falcons extremely shortened season. Give your breakdown of Falcon free agents, unrestricted free agents, and you can even dip into the undrafted free agent pool if you like.
Re-sign the Pro Bowl tackle. In a story by Falcons guru D. Orlando Ledbetter, Clabo said that he wants to remain in Atlanta assuming the Birds do what’s needed. This changes things a good bit as initially it seemed he wanted to max out and head out of town. DOL thinks a contract worth $35 – $45 million would keep him here and the Falcons will do it. A 6 year, $42 million dollar should keep Clabo here and it gives the Falcons a ton of options with the young guys on the roster.
Let him walk. It’s a given the Falcons won’t re-sign all three and may not even keep two, but Dahl looks the most expendable. Even though some believe he’s the most valuable lineman on the OL, he’s expendable with the drafting of Mike Johnson and progress of Jose Valdez. Justin Blalock is younger, more versatile, and has more upside.
Keep him. Blalock is the youngest of the free agent Falcons and has gotten better and better after coming and starting as a rookie in 2007. Blalock has built up a nice combination with Sam Baker and could even move back to his college position of right guard. Of all three, Blalock is probably the one that is most likely to be re-signed due to his upside, youth, and versatility.
A no-brainer here. All the fantasy talk of moving Grimes to nickel or letting him go to get Nnamdi Asomugha are just that: fantasy. They placed a first round tender on him and will gladly pay him after rising through the ranks the hard way and proving he deserves a starting spot. Grimes is already rising up the charts of all-time Falcons in terms of interceptions and just made his first Pro Bowl in his first full year of starting.
The Falcons will probably try to do everything they can to keep Snelling, but they simply won’t be able to keep Snelling when he’s being offered a max contract to go start on a team that desperately needs a proven threat in both the running and passing game. Someone like Washington, Cleveland, or Seattle will be ready to take the risk on a back who has had limited hits on his young career. Snelling goes where the money is.
This one’s also easy. Norwood will be a proto-typical low risk, potentially high reward re-signing. Norwood will have very low market value after two injury riddled seasons and can be kept for a minimum price, at least on a one-year deal. He knows the playbook and can be a great insurance policy to Snelling leaving. If Norwood were able to get back to pre-injury form, a Turner/Norwood/Jacquizz Rodgers could be an insanely lethal trio. He knows the playbook and the is comfortable with the organization. Norwood comes back on a one year deal.
For all his boasting of the Lions potential upswing, he came back and said how much he enjoys Atlanta and the Falcons need him as much as he needs a starting contract. Simply put, Nicholas has a huge advantage in this debate. Although Nicholas needs some continued work in his coverage skills, he gives the Falcons their most athletic starting linebacker corps in a long time when paired up with Curtis Lofton and Sean Weatherspoon. Throw in the fact that the Falcons basically have limited to no alternative options, and Nicholas is a much bigger signing than some believe. Mike Peterson is 35. Akeem Dent won’t be ready, nor should he be counted on as a rookie. Coy Wire is a great backup and Spencer Adkins/Robert James are doubtful on being the answer. May have to overpay a little, but the alternative is not good.
He wants to come back and the Falcons want him back……albeit in a backup role and a continued great presence of mentor and leader in the locker room. He still has some gas left in the tank, but he can no longer be relied on as a full-season, 16 game starter. Peterson comes back on a 1 or 2 year deal.
Another no-brainer. Bryant is no spring chicken at 36 years of age, but he added a much needed level of consistency and clutch-kicking to the Falcons special teams. He alone was able to win several games with his foot in the closing seconds. Not sure what kind of deal he gets, but it’s an almost lock of him returning while they see what they have in Matt Bosher.
After getting the franchise tag in 2009, Koenen had much lower productivity and made $2.731 million last year. After getting panned by many fans, the 6th round selection of Matt Bosher was a strategic strike to add their newest punter and kickoff specialist. It’s a huge risk, but Dimitroff was readying for Koenen to either ask for the moon or bolt. Koenen goes.
He may not be active or productive in the pass game, but his special teams play alone earned him a trip to the Pro Bowl, even though not as a returner. He is one of the better kick returners in the game and had two kickoffs returned for a touchdown, one of which led to huge comeback win in Tampa Bay. The Falcons have a tough call on what to do with Kerry Meier, but Eric Weems has earned a roster spot and then some. It’s up to Mike Mularkey to get him involved in the offense. His speed and ability is too great to go unused on offense.
Will they or won’t they? That’s the big question regarding what the Falcons will do about the defensive end position. Some believe that Edwards is as good as on his way to Atlanta, while others believe that this has been all smoke. If both are available, the Falcons probably would elect to go with Charles Johnson since he is younger, Georgia bred, played for Brian Van Gorder, and had 11.5 sacks. That being said, though, Johnson has a 1st round tender on him and the Falcons not only would pay it, but they can’t since they traded their 2012 1st round pick to Cleveland for Julio Jones.
Edwards has had 8+ sacks the last two years, has excellent size and speed, and would not only give the defensive end position consistency and production, but would also be ready to take over for Abraham while allowing the Falcons to continue to develop Kroy Biermann, Lawrence Sidbury, and rookie Cliff Matthews when Abraham slides toward retirement. According to ProFootballFocus.com, Edwards is one of the best young DE’s in the game and does a great job in other areas besides sacks. The worst kept secret finally comes to fruition.
The Falcons won’t be getting Nnamdi Asomugha or even going after other starters like Jonathan Joseph because they have their two locked up in Dunta Robinson and Brent Grimes. They feel good (at least publicly) about Chris Owens taking over the nickel back spot, never mind the painful playoff memory seared in fans brains. He did take over and start well at the end of 2009, so the talent is there. Dominique Franks is the big x-factor, but holds a ton of potential and appears to have a huge upside.
The Falcons only have 4 cornerbacks on the roster and could sign several more for competition. Oliver started 8 games for the Chargers last year and proved he has ability both at UGA and San Diego. He would be given a great opportunity to return home and compete for the nickel back spot (which is essentially a starting spot with its frequent use).
Much like the draft itself, trying to guess which players the Falcons will sign as undrafted free agents is like throwing darts in the dark. That being said, Thomas Dimitroff has done an excellent job of mining this talent pool. Two of the players, John Parker Wilson and Michael Palmer, are firmly entrenched Falcons. Brandyn Harvey, Tim Buckley, Rafael Bush, Rafael Priest, and Bear Woods are still on the Falcons practice squad. Obviously, these are dream candidates, but something to have fun with.
QB Adam Weber
The Falcons scouted Weber and may be looking for an eventual replacement for John Parker Wilson at 3rd string QB, who in turn would be looking to move in as the Birds backup QB in 2012.
RB Derrick Locke
The Falcons could go crazy at this position since Snelling will likely be leaving. They would love to get their hands on all the top RB undrafted free agents, but many teams will be honed in on this position. The Falcons scouted Locke and he fits the mold of a Thomas Dimitroff player (extremely productive at Kentucky, senior), is very fast, and excellent in both the running and passing game. They may instead go with a pounder to replace Snelling as well.
WR Ricardo Lockette
The Georgia grown player is lightning fast, but needs some serious work to get up to speed. May not be the best fit for the Falcons since they are more than stocked at WR with Roddy, Julio, Jenks, HD, Weems, Meier, and Harvey, but he was interviewed by the Falcons and his pure speed is something that can’t be taught.
TE Schuylar Oordt
The Falcons are set for this season with Tony Gonzalez, Justin Peele, Michael Palmer, and Robbie Agnone, but Oordt’s ability to stretch the field, production, and speed had some taking him in the regular draft. Couldn’t hurt.
OL Willie Smith and Zach Hurd
With the likely departure of some of the OL free agents, the Falcons will have to get some more o-linemen in the pipeline. Jose Valdez was signed as a UDFA and he is on the verge of not only a permanent roster spot, but maybe even a starting spot. Smith could project to a starting OT one day and Josh many thought Hurd would be gone much, much earlier.
DE Ryan Winterswyck
Became a late favorite among Bird Cage members. Reminds many of Kroy Biermann with his toughness, work ethic, and high motor. Even though they drafted Cliff Matthews and may sign a FA DE, Abraham is nearing retirement and the status of Jamaal Anderson, Chauncey Davis, and Lawrence Sidbury are all in doubt.
DT Blaine Sumner
Another Bird Cage member favorite. Nicknamed the “Vanilla Gorilla,” played fullback and defensive tackle among several other positions. You can never have too many DT’s, especially ones that are 6’2, 331 and can actually run the football.
LB Mark Herzlich
What’s not to like about this guy. He beat cancer for goshsake. Maybe not the most athletic of LB’s, but his tenacity and high motor could earn him a spot. Surely worth a look at a potential position of need.
CB Kedrick Burney
Much like the RB position, the Falcons can go crazy here as well since they only have 4 cornerbacks on their roster and usually carry five. A productive CB at UNC who could find his way on the practice squad and follow the Brent Grimes route.
S Joe Lefeged, Jerrard Terrant, and/or Jeron Johnson
Take a chance on a local guy at a position of need. It sure worked out well for Vance Walker, who has firmly earned himself a spot on the roster and in a rotation at DT. This spot is wide open after the departure of Erik Coleman to the Detroit Lions. Complete shock that Johnson fell all the way out of the draft when some scouting services had him as high as the 5th round. Lefeged will be at the top of every teams lists as he is one of the best available free agents on the market.
K Kai Forbath
Sure the Falcons drafted Matt Bosher and he’s probably penciled into a roster spot, but competition never hurts. Forbath was one of the better FG kickers in the country and could make an NFL team given the chance.
53 Man Roster
QB: Ryan, Redman, Wilson (3)
RB: Turner, Norwood, Rodgers, Mughelli, G. Johnson (5)
WR: White, Jones, Jenkins, Douglas, Weems (5)
TE: Gonzalez, Peele, Palmer (3)
T: Clabo, Baker, Svitek, Reynolds (4)
G: Blalock, Johnson, Valdez (3)
C: McClure, Hawley (2)
DE: Abraham, Ray Edwards, Biermann, Davis, Sidbury (5)
DT: Babineaux, Peters, Jerry, Anderson, Walker (5)
LB: Lofton, Weatherspoon, Nicholas, Dent, Peterson, Wire (6)
CB: Robinson, Grimes, Owens, Paul Oliver, Franks (5)
S: DeCoud, Moore, Schillinger, Rafael Bush (4)
ST: Bryant, Bosher, Zelenka (3)
QB: Adam Weber
TE: Robbie Agnone
LB: Robert James
OL: Andrew Jackson
WR: Kerry Meier
CB: Rafael Priest
WR: Brandyn Harvey
DE: Cliff Matthews