The Falcons struck quickly in free agency, locking up three major pieces along both lines, definitely adding some beef and girth and, hopefully, some toughness as well. The front office’s buzz words for this off-season are “recalibration” and “grittiness.” They seemed to follow that theme in the beginning, but there remains just as many questions about the 2014 version as there are holes on the current roster. This from a team that was a true bottom dweller in 2013. It’s a decent start, but there’s a ton left to do before this team is ready to rise up the NFC and one draft seemingly won’t do the trick. A fan’s instinctive look at the Falcons moves to date……….
Nothing to see here. These were all moves that had to be made and everyone saw the writing on the wall well before the season was over. Samuel turned out good for a year after only giving up a 6th rounder, but was already 31 years old when the Falcons acquired him.
Keeping Nicholas at the time (2011 / Age: 28) made enough sense due to his “unrealized potential” to pair with Sean Weatherspoon for an athletic LB duo. Unfortunately, when they talk about “unrealized potential” it’s usually code for “soon-to-be-never-was.” And that’s exactly what happened. When you lose your spot to an undrafted free agent, that’s a pretty good indicator.
Even though cutting Garrett Reynolds wasn’t necessarily surprising, it wasn’t one that saved a ton of cap space. And most assumed that he’d at least get a shot with new OL coach Mike Tice. It wasn’t meant to be and perhaps Reynolds was the ultimate sacrifice under Smitty’s ridiculous “cross-training” system that moved players away from their natural (and best) position. We’ll never know if Reynolds would have been decent at RT, but he definitely wasn’t a right guard. Gut Reaction – Nothing to see here. All expected.
Front office folks like Thomas Dimitroff and Co. like to use the term “low-risk / high reward,” but it should really be deemed “low risk / low reward.” If he’s another reclamation project, actually makes the roster as a backup, or contributes in any way, they can claim victory. However, if they pass on a franchise offensive tackle and this competition for RT between Carimi, Lamar Holmes, Ryan Schraeder, and Mike Johnson was their plan all along, this would be a key component in a front office “post mortem.” Gut Reaction – If they don’t draft an offensive tackle in first two rounds and Holmes/Schraeder/Carimi don’t suddenly morph into Joe Thomas, then ready the pitchforks.
Most every fan was happy to see Jonathan Babineaux come back to likely finish his career a Falcon. Maybe it’s being burned by letting John Abraham go or just that he’s been one of the few sources of strength on an otherwise deplorable DL, keeping Babineaux at a reduced rate feels to be the right move, especially with the other free agency signings (Peters, Soilai, Jackson) to complement. Gut Reaction – Feels right, but maybe it’s a case of the 2013-John-Abraham-Pro-Bowl-Blues.
In terms of Mike Johnson, see the description for Gabe Carimi above. Except this time, the front office are desperately hoping that the former Alabama product can pull a hail mary and make fans think about what he truly was / is: another one of Dimitroff’s major OL busts. This one of 3rd round variety. Gut Reaction – Another last chance hail mary to redeem Dimitroff OL bust.
Falcons did what was right and for both the team and for Corey Peters: re-signed him to a one year “prove it” deal since they obviously view him as a major cog going forward and he suffered a pretty bad injury at the worst possible time (1 game left until free agent market). One of the few (see only) defensive linemen they’ve actually developed in 6 years. Too bad they didn’t heed this same advice with Brent Grimes. Gut Reaction – Good, solid, upstanding move. Mutually beneficial to both parties.
The worst kept secret in the entire Falcons organization: bringing back OC Joe Hawley. Of course this is put in the context of “competing” for the starting job with fellow OL underachieving draftee Peter Konz, but he signed a contract for starting money. It’s true he’s better than Konz, but that’s the same of 97% of all centers in 2013 (Pro Football Focus ranked Konz as next to dead last among all OC’s). The Falcons front office is clinging to Hawley’s misfortunes being a product of weak RG play, and a scapegoated OL coach for good measure. Signing Hawley isn’t terrible in a vacuum, but the Falcons could have signed OC Evan Dietrich-Smith for a grand total of $500k more a year. Dietrich-Smith was light years better than Hawley ever thought about being, even though he started only one year. If nothing else, Hawley was beat out at center by Peter Konz (see above). Gut Reaction – Feels like the same old, same old: letting arrogance and hubris of “proving” their draftees weren’t busts. They didn’t even look at other OC’s.
This makes total sense in keeping McClain. When the Falcons tendered McClain as a 7th round pick, any team would have to give up a 7th round pick to sign him and the Falcons would have had the chance to match any offer. It’s a little surprising they tendered him so low, as they obviously feel he’s expendable. This isn’t a “certain sign” the Falcons don’t plan to keep him, but it appears that way. Gut Reaction – He’ll be here another year, but maybe not beyond that. Can the Falcons not build and keep a young and promising CB corps (along with Trufant and Alford) together for a change?
This move has to be measured in two parts. The first part is obvious glee and jubilation. There’s not a ton of downside to cutting arguably your worst starting player. Even though DeCoud had a few decent years, it became painfully apparent that DeCoud would never be anything more than average at best, especially considering his contract. But, if part one is clearly a great move, then part two is just as paradoxically vexing. The original thought was that if they cut DeCoud, then they would pursue one of the many quality safety free agents, even if that meant moving William Moore to free safety. That didn’t happen and after all the quality safeties are gone, the Falcons are essentially left with two options: develop either Ishmael or Motta into a starter or draft a safety in the first two rounds. Can the Falcons really afford to spend a 1st or 2nd round pick on a safety with so many other areas in need (OT, Pass Rusher, TE)? The Falcons likely have a plan, but right now it seems like a completely scattershot, punch-drunk move. Gut Reaction – Let’s hope they know what they’re doing here.
The best free agent guard on the market, at least consistently. Asamoah ranked as one of the best overall guards (left or right) in the NFL the last 3 years. Some will negatively point to him “losing his job” last year, but there’s always more to the story than someone “forgetting how to play.” But even if he’s not the next Gene Upshaw, he’s still galaxies better than anything the Falcons have had since Harvey Dahl left. He was signed at a very reasonable price as well. Gut Reaction – Homerun. The RG turnstile likely finally ends.
Perhaps no other free agent signing has been roundly praised since Michael Turner was signed. The former Dolphin casts away 6 years of light-in-the-tail, underweight DT’s in one fell swoop. The Falcons defensive tackles may have been decent individually, but collectively they have been manhandled and pushed around for years by bigger and tougher offensive lines. Soliai is already 30 years old, but he immediately makes everyone around him better (other DT’s, LB’s, secondary). The Falcons didn’t just break their “underweight, less than 300 lbs” stereotype, they destroyed with a 6’4, 340 lbs mountain of a man. Fans would love to see another one taken in the draft as icing on top. Gut Reaction – If Asamoah is a homerun, than Soliai is a grand slam.
Fans wanted girth and toughness to the two lines, but some either turned their nose up or deeply questioned the signing of DE Tyson Jackson. Admittedly, it was a pretty big contract, but Jackson appears to be a good signing on many fronts. First, he gives the Falcons a major cog to run more 3-4 defenses. They now can play around with the other 5-technique DE since Jackson has one side locked down. Your defense isn’t going to have 11 All-Pros and sometimes you have to have pluggers to absorb blocks so others can make the plays. Jackson also brings a possibility of playing DT in a 4-3 defense as well. Since he weighs about the same as most of Mike Smith’s 4-3 DT’s (between 290 and 300), he could shift inside if needed. He is a piece that would have otherwise been missing in a conversion to the 3-4. Finally, he adds size and toughness to a defensive line in sore need of it. Jackson opens up a lot more opportunities for his teammates and also for the front office in the draft. They now won’t feel the need to “force a pick” to get a 3-4 conversion underway. The contract is pretty big, but let’s give him a chance before immediately hating it. Gut Reaction – Yes, the contract’s a little high, but Jackson should provide many others a lot more chances to make plays, as well as opening up many more draft possibilities.
The third former Chief to join the Falcons roster and it’s obviously no coincidence with Scott Pioli manning the Assistant GM post. Arenas had a very good career while at Alabama and was taken in the 2nd round. He’s had a middling career, both in terms of being a return specialist and a backup defensive back. The timing was what gave this signing a bad taste. The Falcons were meeting with return ace Devin Hester and a few hours later, this signing comes across the board. If he was signed as a replacement for Dominique Franks in the 4th CB role, than it’s a definite upgrade. While you can’t blame the Falcons for not paying Hester his reported $4 million a year salary demand, Arenas isn’t the answer for return specialist either. Gut Reaction – Major upgrade over Franks, but no returner.
Whatever. (Insert negative comment here). See Hawley and Johnson re-signings. Enough said. Gut Reaction – The more things change,………..
The Falcons had seemed to be heading for a pigeon hole in their draft strategy before these moves took place. They would have to draft for needs since there were so many holes. The signing of Soliai, Jackson, and Asamoah definitely cut down the sheer amount of needs they had to fill and replace. A given move to more of a 3-4 also increases the effectiveness and sense of taking a pass-rushing OLB suited for the 3-4, such as Khalil Mack or Anthony Barr. As well, the Falcons are no longer hamstrung to being forced into draft picks out of pure necessity. While not the biggest of splashes, the Falcons surely filled a lot of less-than-glamorous gaps.
Some feel that these moves means it’s almost a definite possibility that Jadaveon Clowney comes to Atlanta, either at #6 or by trading up and away even more picks. Others, however, feel that it actually decreases the likelihood of drafting Clowney at all, whether or not he’s there at #6 or not. It’s still hard to fathom the Falcons passing on him if he’s sitting there at #6, but the possibility at least cracks the surface. A move to the 3-4 doesn’t seem to fit Clowney as well, either as a 3-4 DE five technique, or a standup OLB rusher given coverage responsibilities. It would be a huge risk drafting a guy that high and feeling the need to convert him to a new defense, and he’s already the riskiest player in the draft. While it may not decrease the likelihood the Falcons would take him, it does seem to cut down on the chances the Falcons will now trade up and away to get Clowney. Maybe that’s just wishful thinking.
The Falcons moved quickly to “recalibrate” their broken lines by bringing in a hoss NT, the best RG on the market, and a DE five-technique plugger. Of course there’s the draft left, but the Falcons still have major holes to fill between now and the beginning of September. They have major needs at offensive tackle, free safety, tight end, and a pass rusher. And they also have big issues at depth with either aging,ineffective, or oft-injured starters penciled in (running back, wide receiver, fullback, left tackle, outside linebacker). This is a deep draft, but judging on Dimitroff’s miserable 3rd round draft history (Chevis Jackson, Chris Owens, Mike Johnson, Akeem Dent, Lamar Holmes), than he’ll be lucky to get two holes filled. And that’s not even mentioning a few less-than-stellar first round picks (Sam Baker, Peria Jerry, Sean Weatherspoon).