(This is the third in a series of blogs in which I’ll focus on some high-profile Falcons’ veterans and their respective uncertain future with the team.)
The Falcons might try to find some solace in the fact that they lost in the playoffs two straight years to the ultimate Super Bowl champion.But that somewhat falls into the lipstick-on-a-pig category. That defense would carry more weight if the team had played like a legitimate contender in the playoffs and not lost by lopsided scores of 48-21 (Green Bay) and 24-2 (New York).
In this corner in the past few weeks, we’ve focused on a few possible ways the Falcons can fix their roster. We debated the future of running back Michael Turner and whether his salary ($5 million) and his age (30) next season and signs of wear merited him being brought back.
We also focused on five high-profile acquisitions (two draft, three free agency) the front office has made and what direction to go with them. (Conclusions: Cut tackle Sam Baker and fullback Ovie Mughelli; keep Ray Edwards and Dunta Robinson; stall and assess defensive tackle Peria Jerry.)
Today’s topic is free agents. How the Falcons view their own free agents is the first step to setting their offseason strategy (free agency and draft). General manager Thomas Dimitroff and coach Mike Smith will prioritize their 17 players who are on the verge of hitting the open market. We’ll find out what their priorities are soon enough. Here’s mine:
• 1. Sign cornerback Brent Grimes: He is team’s best cornerback (Robinson’s salary notwithstanding). If it comes to this then the team must put the “franchise” tag on him. (That would guarantee Grimes a one-year contract at the average of the top five salaries cornerbacks in the league.) That’s the only leverage the Falcons have in negotiations. There’s also a chance Grimes’ age (29 in July) could dissuade some bidders from breaking the bank for him.
• 2. Sign middle linebacker Curtis Lofton: This will be an interesting decision because Mike Nolan’s defense seems to place more emphasis on defensive backs than linebackers. Lofton is solid. But as our Darryl Ledbetter pointed out, Lofton plays on third down and the Falcons’ third-down defense ranked only 29th. So if the team now considers him a first- and second-down player, that will factor into negotiations. Still he would be a huge loss.
• 3. Sign center Todd McClure: He’s wearing down and turns 35 in two weeks. But he can still play and the team doesn’t have a replacement, so it’s better to build around him next season. The offensive line is the biggest issue on the team but that’s not because of McClure.
That’s it for the top priorities. Here’s the next level down.
• Defensive end John Abraham: He is the Falcons’ best pass rusher but he’s strictly a situational player now. Keep him at a moderate price.
• Free safety Thomas DeCoud: He’s not good enough to be a starter (we’ve seen that) but he could be a solid depth guy in nickle- and dime- situations. Again, keep him if you can but he’s not worth blowing the budget over.
• Wide receiver Harry Douglas: He’s finally showing signs of getting back to full strength, but the fact remains he’s only the No. 3 receiver so he can only be paid like that. If other teams want to pay Douglas like a starter, the Falcons can’t match. Otherwise, he’s a keeper.
• Wide receiver Eric Weems: I put him on the same level as Douglas, the difference being that Weems returns kicks. It might come down to keeping only one or the other.
Bottom tier: Frankly, I don’t care what they do with these guys:
• Defensive end Kroy Biermann: He slid this season and isn’t the impact pass-rusher he used to be.
• Running back Jason Snelling: If Turner is released then I suppose Snelling’s role could increase. But otherwise, he’s a non-factor in this offense.
• Linebacker Mike Peterson: I love talking to this guy. Every player should have his passion for the game. I’m just not sure if he has anything left in the tank.
• Others: Kirk Chambers (tackle), Kelvin Hayden (cornerback), Reggie Kelly (tight end), Chris Redman (quarterback), Brett Romberg (guard-center), James Sanders (safety), Joe Zelenka (long snapper).
By Jeff Schultz