If Falcons lose Grimes and Abraham, how about Mathis?

The Colts' Robert Mathis can still pressure the quarterback. (AP photo)

Robert Mathis can still pressure the quarterback and is younger than John Abraham. (AP photo)

In my third off-season blog on “Fixing the Falcons,” I referenced their 17 impending unrestricted free agents and suggested that the top priority should be re-signing cornerback Brent Grimes. I had defensive end John Abraham slotted fourth, behind Grimes, linebacker Curtis Lofton and center Todd McClure.

But for the first time, I’m starting to think they may lose both Grimes and Abraham.

The website ProFootballFocus, which keeps a nice statistical database, this morning came out with its list of the NFL’s projected top 50 free agents. The site’s breakdown may not necessarily jibe with opinions of the league’s general managers. But this is interesting, nonetheless: Grimes and Abraham are listed as the Nos. 2 and 3 would-be free agents, behind only the Houston Texans’ Mario Williams.

You can find the entire list  by clicking this link. But here are the top 10 with commentary on selected other players.

1. Mario Williams, DE/ OLB (Houston)

There’s every possibility the Texans tag the first pick of the 2006 draft, but given how much it will cost to eventually re-sign him, they could just as easily stay to go with Brooks Reed and Connor Barwin who were part of an excellent defense last year. Williams would probably benefit from a switch back to the defensive end spot, though his start to life in the 3-4 suggests he could fit into either scheme.

2. Brent Grimes, CB (Atlanta)

With Lardarius Webb a restricted free agent, Grimes jumps to the top of our cornerback rankings, and up to second on our list of available free agents. One of the best cornerbacks in the league, Grimes has been exceptional over the past two years–breaking up 28 passes and intercepting six more in that time frame.

3. John Abraham, DE (Atlanta)

Abraham isn’t getting any younger, but then his production isn’t showing any signs of tailing off. You may not get many good years, but unless his play falls off a cliff, you’ll still be getting a pass rusher who gets as much pressure as anyone. Has ranked among our top seven defensive ends in each of the last four years.

4. Carl Nicks, G (New Orleans)

The Saints may have invested in the wrong guard given how much better Nicks has been than Jahri Evans over the past two years, but if they can’t re-sign the former Nebraska lineman, that haste could be to the benefit of wherever Nicks lands. The mauling guard has finished first (2009), first (2010) and second (2011) in our rankings the past three years.

5. Cortland Finnegan, CB (Tennessee)

6. Vincent Jackson, WR (San Diego)

7. Evan Mathis, G (Philadelphia)

It’s one of the great mysteries of NFL scouting how a player like Mathis hasn’t been locked down before. One of the most technically sound and agile guards, Mathis may be 31 this year, but his low mileage makes him a safe investment. Only his limited body of work prevents him from going further.

8. Robert Mathis, DE (Indianapolis)

He may be a one-dimensional pass rusher who has always had Dwight Freeney opposite him, but in a league where getting to the QB matters so much, Mathis is incredibly valuable. Last year was something of a down year, and even then he still picked up 48 combined sacks, hits and hurries. Possible franchise tag candidate.

9. Chris Myers, C (Houston)

10. Cliff Avril, DE (Detroit)

11. Brandon Carr, CB (Kansas City)

Some view Carr as the top corner on the market. Others see him as purely a No. 2 type. This ranking should tell you where we think he fits. Capable of playing very well, his best games tend to come against the worst quarterbacks. That is always a worrying trend.

16. Carlos Rogers, CB

The concern with Rogers is that as good as he was for the first half of the season, his play slipped in the second half. Factor that in with his ups and downs in years gone by and Rogers is something of a question mark. Still, his talent and versatility makes him a gamble plenty of cornerback-needy teams could make.

33. Curtis Lofton, LB

The conversion of Lofton to an every-down linebacker has had its pros and its cons. On the plus side, we’ve seen him improve in coverage and become the quarterback of the defense. On the negative front, he’s failed to look like the impact run defender we saw as a rookie. A talented, but limited player.

Some quick thoughts: If Grimes and Abraham both go elsewhere, the Falcons have some options. Here are three players on PFF’s list that I believe fit their needs:

– 1.) Robert Mathis, DE, Indianapolis: He is still an affective pass rush-rusher and is three years younger than Abraham (turns 31 in two weeks). By the way, he’s also an Atlanta native.

– 2.) Carl Nicks, G, New Orleans: Nicks fills a need on the Falcons’ offensive line as a nasty, physical player that they missed this season when they lost guard Harvey Dahl. The fact he would be coming from the Saints, the Falcons’ chief division rival, is a bonus.

– 3.) Carlos Rogers, CB, San Francisco: With the Falcons having invested so much (mistakenly) in Dunta Robinson, I doubt they would pay a ton in free agency for a cornerback. But Rogers might be available at a decent price because he’ll be 31 in July. He led the 49ers in interceptions with six.

One last thing: I know the name of Mario Williams will jump out at everybody. But I don’t believe the Texans will let him get away and, even if he hits the open market, I don’t think the Falcons can afford to get into a bidding war for him, given all of their needs.

So what are your thoughts on the list, and whom do you think the Falcons should pursue?

By Jeff Schultz

170 comments Add your comment

Benjamin

February 13th, 2012
12:02 pm

Carlos Rogers would be my target if Grimes left.

I really wish we didn’t throw all that money at Edwards and Robinson on that side of the football right now. This is a good free agent class.

J.J.M.

February 13th, 2012
12:02 pm

what about stanford routt?

Meatlake

February 13th, 2012
12:04 pm

Not gonna do it. Go Falcons!

Paul

February 13th, 2012
12:06 pm

I would hope we keep Grimes and Abraham. Sign McNeil out of San Diego to a low risk high reward contract, and spend the franchise on Carl Nicks. Hope Ray Edwards earns his check next year.

cantondawg

February 13th, 2012
12:07 pm

Jeff,

Who would have ever thought that the Texans knew what they were doing when they drafted Mario Williams #1 ahead of Reggie Bush in 2006. I thought they were absolutely crazy to do that. It turns out that they made the wise choice.

tgueboy

February 13th, 2012
12:07 pm

Jl

February 13th, 2012
12:09 pm

Enter your comments here

Captain Obvious

February 13th, 2012
12:12 pm

I would rather have Cortland Finnegan than Grimes. His attitude on the field would bring a much needed spark. Yes, he is undersized… but so is Grimes.

marktwain

February 13th, 2012
12:13 pm

There is way too much value in Nicks by getting him and denying the Saints. They would actually need all their running backs if they lose him. Rogers is a good idea. Grimes ain’t coming back after what he went through last negotiation. He should have never been done like that. We are fine without Abraham or another end. Spoon will lead the team in sacks this year.

Jarrett

February 13th, 2012
12:15 pm

I hope we are able to re-sign Grimes for a good price but in my opinion it is time to let Abraham go. He has been great here but for what we pay him he just hasn’t produced as of late.

Jacket21

February 13th, 2012
12:23 pm

I love Grimes full effort every game and every play, something a few of his teammates could take a cue from (R.White), but I’m torn on overpaying him just because he’s at the top of this year’s free agent class. Abraham, I could care less about at his age and his hot and cold play, I definitely would not overpay for him but look for a replacement in the draft or free agency. Lofton is the heart of this defense and has years ahead of him to grow further now that we have a top of the line D coach. I would overpay for Lofton, but the good thing is we may not have to if this list is any indication. Just my 2c. Going back to Grimes – think Portis for Champ Bailey trade. I’d take Grimes over Michael Turner at same dollars any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

honest_abe

February 13th, 2012
12:25 pm

falcons miss an impact player. someone opposing teams game plan for. that player used to be abe but he’s merely a rotational DE that piles up sacks against lesser opponents. lofton piles up the tackles but he’s not one of the top 5 linebackers in the game (even though i’m sure he wants to be paid like one) grimes is that kind of difference maker but since there’s already significant funds tied up in drob it doesn’t make sense to allocate all those funds to 2 cb’s. this is why you let all them go and try hard to go after mario williams. he alone will make everyone around him better. he’ll make ray edwards better along with everyone else on the defensive line. hopefully with more effective pressure on the qb’s the secondary will also improve. guys that came on strong toward the end of last year need to be given a shot. i.e. chris owens/dominique franks.

mountain_jim

February 13th, 2012
12:30 pm

Good summary. If Nicks was an LT, I would be more enthused about him, but the oline definitely needs to improve alot.

I am thinking Franks may be ready to replace Grimes, if we can’t afford him. Grimes is that rare example of a player from nowhere that really improved as a Falcon. Team needs more of those, and maybe the new coaches will help with that.

Northern Bird

February 13th, 2012
12:31 pm

Jeff, if we lose Lofton, would Spoon move to middle, or would that be a waste of his speed ?
We should have locked Grimes down last year to something long term, that was a mistake. I love the idea of getting Nicks – I totally agree, the lost of Dahl’s nastiness was felt this year. I’m fine with Abe going provided we fill that gap with someone in the same atmosphere.

Ray

February 13th, 2012
12:31 pm

I think that everything we do this offseason should be around both sides of the lines and cornerbacks along with line backers. To improve the lines we should sign Carl nicks and Mario Williams. I know Mario will be a high price to pay but he will be a Playmaker on defense which we lack. We should still resign lofton. And if we do get Mario then we should let grimes go and sign in Carlos Rodgers on a 2 or 3 year deal. I feel like with having a superstar on defense we can go places. When going after a superstar its priceless.
What do you think jeff

ROD

February 13th, 2012
12:33 pm

Let Abraham go, and sign Mathis if he’s available. There were talks the Colts might relese Dwight Freeney, due to his contract. Any truth to this? If so, why not Dwight. If not, stay with ABE, and sign another DE, just in case Edwards doesn’t pan out. I still belive Dunta should be traded. I read also Samuel might be released from the Eagles, why not go after him. But we should not focus on the defense. We need another running back, and a veteran receiver. I said this once, and I will say it again. Go after T.O. or now there are reports that Moss is coming back. More weapons will help.

81Dawg

February 13th, 2012
12:40 pm

Did this writer see the John Abraham we saw this year? He can only play a limited amount of snaps and not many of them are impactful. No way is he the #3 Free Agent.

Tom G

February 13th, 2012
12:42 pm

I would like to see if the Rams would give us Harvey Dahl(OL) back. He brings a bad attitude to the OL and god knows we need that more than anything!

GT GRAD

February 13th, 2012
12:43 pm

OL OL OL DE CB

I would love to sign Carl Nicks along with and a solid left Tackle. Either that or move Clabo to RG, sign a solid LT and give Reynolds a shot at RT (we better bring in a second RT to compete with Reynolds just icase he does not work out!)

I do not like the idea of signing Robert Mathis………he has benefited GREATLY from having Swight Freeney on the other side.

I also think we should definitely sign Lofton to a long term contract.

SawThat1nce

February 13th, 2012
12:44 pm

Isn’t Cortland Finnegan the guy that got his arse kicked on the field, by Andre Johnson of the Texans last year. That was very funny.

Getaway

February 13th, 2012
12:44 pm

I kind of like the idea of picking up Finnegan. I know he’s not a character guy but I think what this team is lacking is a controversial player that has a chip on his shoulder. Who also happens to be quite good at getting into the heads of opposing players. I would still rather have Grimes, but if he’s cheaper and we can improve the safety position as well…hmmm

curt

February 13th, 2012
12:45 pm

One would think that Indianapolis would hold onto any and every quality defensive player they have given the complete plack of production they had last year. Given that assertion, I doubt Mathis would be let go of.

I think Mario Williams would be THE defensive pick of the free agent market and is someone the Falcons should pursue.

Getaway

February 13th, 2012
12:49 pm

@SawThat1nce Yes, he was and it was indeed funny. But I think he laughing the whole time.

SawThat1nce

February 13th, 2012
12:50 pm

“falcons miss an impact player”……Say someone like Clay Mathews? Why did they pass on him for P. Gerry? I forget.

UGABugKiller

February 13th, 2012
12:50 pm

It was NOT a mistake to sign Dunta Robinson.

Dunta Robinson was one of the best COVER CORNERS in the league with Houston. In fact, Houston was top-10 against the pass with Robinson, and bottom-10 against the pass WITHOUT HIM.

The mistake, as with the many other mistakes involving this team the last four years, is with Mike Smith and his idiotic, ultra-conservative, play-not-to-lose schemes.

You have a guy who is big and strong and fast, who is built to be out on a island and man-up on the other team’s No. 1 receiver, who is built to bump & disrupt receivers at the line and then cover them step-for-step down the field and what do you do with him? You make him a ZONE CORNER???

Dunta Robinson is yet another example of Thomas Dimitroff giving Mike Smith a player of excellent talent that Mike Smith REFUSES to adapt his scheme to take advantage of that player’s strengths, in fact, even worse, Mike Smith makes that player worse by sticking him in a scheme that focuses on his weaknesses.

The vanilla zones the Falcons play fit Brent Grimes, who, like Ronde Barber, is compact, agile, and has quick closing speed. So when Grimes plays ten yards off the receiver, he can close quickly once the ball is in the air.

Robinson is NOT that kind of corner. To blame Robinson for any shortcomings he’s had on the field is shortsighted, and really, it’s blaming the WRONG person.

Over the last four years, the Falcons have had far too many instances of Smith and his staff refusing to use the strengths of the players they have, and making their team that much weaker for it.

Instead of coming up with a scheme that allows Robinson to play man and rolls zone coverage to Grimes’ side of the field, Smith had Robinson play off the receiver again and again and again.

That is just STUPIDITY.

But, it really is par for the course with Mike Smith.

Look at Matt Ryan. He’s a prototypical West Coast-style QB, or a spread the field QB. So instead of bringing in, say, someone from the Packers or the Eagles to install an offense that takes advantage of Ryan’s skills, Smith brings in his buddy from Jax to keep the same backwards, run-first, throw down the field offense that has done absolutely nothing against good teams, and simply hoping that Koetter calls a better game than Mularkey won’t help this team at all.

It was said the reason why Spags wouldn’t come here is because he wanted to run HIS defense and wanted no interference from Smith. Nolan, it seems, is going to be neutered by Marty Schottenheimer, oops, I mean Mike Smith, just as Smith cut the balls off of BVG.

This team is so frakked.

SawThat1nce

February 13th, 2012
12:54 pm

Cortland, must think that it is funny to get your butt kicked on National TV. If a team wants a dirty player, that oppossing teams hate, then he is the man.

curt

February 13th, 2012
12:57 pm

@UGABugkiller. Great post. It was always difficult to watch the predictable Falcons zone defense get chewed up by quarterbacks week after week.

Ronald Millsaps

February 13th, 2012
1:01 pm

Arthur Blank, unlike Terry McGuirk and co., is not one to downplay the team’s resources, is willing to spend revenue toward maintaining/acquiring talent, and needs to keep Abraham and Grimes while pursuing Mathis and Marcus McNeill. The Falcons also need to address both sides of the line of scrimmage in the draft because, as things stand now, they’re either a low top-tier team or a high second-tier team, probably the latter.

Signing Randy Moss would be interesting also.

I don’t like a lot of Mike Smith’s play-calling/schemes, either, and would like to see Jack Del Rio in town. I’ll give Smith an F for 2011 offensive play-calls and a D for defensive alignments. Unlike “uga”, I’ll keep my commentary sanitary.

Ronald Millsaps

February 13th, 2012
1:02 pm

I wonder if Robert Mathis is related to Terance Mathis.

Tom G

February 13th, 2012
1:03 pm

Money wise, do you want to keep Abraham or be in hunt for Mathis? Do not think both are a possibility? Someone earlier mentioned Clay Matthews(we picked P Jerry instead in draft), blunder of the decade! I would give anything for Clay and his attitude, Jerry will be cut this year, am I right or not??

Ronald Millsaps

February 13th, 2012
1:04 pm

Arthur Blank would do well to buy the Braves, too. Liberty is downright awful, and McGuirk’s apathetic quote in “USA Today” Friday is bothersome because the team has more resources than it indicates.

Da voice

February 13th, 2012
1:06 pm

Carl Nicks. Enough said.

Ronald Millsaps

February 13th, 2012
1:14 pm

This blase’ offense could be a juggernaut if Smith had better play-calling. If Dick Vermeil and Mike Martz cooperated on it, a la the 1999 Rams, I promise you would see defenses as off-balanced as a stack of cards that just got knocked over. Harry Douglas and Jacquizz Rodgers add dimensions to this offense that, if implemented properly, could lead to this team easily scoring 500 points, but they sit there like untapped gold mines, rather symbolic of how the 49ers have had their number more times than not.

On third and three, I’d run it, generally-speaking. Smith typically passes, which goes against means, of course, that the team can block and run routes perfectly but that a dropped/batted/intercepted ball nullifies the play, as would a sack. (You can block perfectly and still give up a sack.) The odds are better when giving your RB a chance to break a tackle.

I appreciate Smith’s contributions but don’t like his play-calling or shallow approach at all.

wreckbuzz

February 13th, 2012
1:15 pm

Mario Williams. Arthur Blank can afford it. The Falcons are already $20 million under the cap. Sign Mario to a $10m per year contract, Then try to lure back Grimes with the other $10m (but less). Cut Sam Baker and find a better option at G with the rest.

Then start drafting better defensive players.

Mikefalcon63

February 13th, 2012
1:35 pm

1. Cark Nicks or Ben Grubbs

2. Robert Mathis or John Abraham

3. Marcus McNeil, assuming he becomes available.

Q #1

February 13th, 2012
1:37 pm

Whut about Cliff Avril DE ? I like your “Go-After” list Jeff. That ranker musta been high on sommin’ when he put Abraham at #3 ?

Tom G

February 13th, 2012
1:38 pm

How much would Mathis cost us, a dream would be Mathis on one end and Abe on the other. But it is not happening? But that is how the NY Giants won it all?

Huh ?

February 13th, 2012
1:39 pm

Is Robert Mathis pointing for another teams first down ? It appears that he is doing that in the pic.

Q # 69

February 13th, 2012
1:40 pm

Whut about Mathis & Avril ?

Q # 69

February 13th, 2012
1:42 pm

Mario,Mathis,Nicks,C.Rogers. Sign em all Mr. Blank & get ready to win a Super Bowl !

Birdman of Alcahol

February 13th, 2012
1:44 pm

Having seen a team win a superbowl with 3rd rate corners but the best dline in the league convinces me to let Grimes walk, maybe sign a less expensive FA to replace him, or better yet, spend all your money on the lines and see if Franks and Owens can benefit from a major pass rush. Lose Grimes, Drop Baker and several other non-critical pieces and go hard after Mario and maybe even Nicks if the loss of Baker and McClure opens up a good chunk of change. Abe wont get a large contract from anyone I believe so leave him as a later priority after you go hard on another DE. Maybe Avril is a smarter investment and leaves options for Nicks also?

Janker Daddy

February 13th, 2012
1:44 pm

Dumarzzes, every tean in league is after Mario Williams… Would you want to play for Green Bay,New England,Giants,or Atlanta if you were Mario ? Not Atlanta…

Birdman of Falcatraz

February 13th, 2012
1:49 pm

How much does Little Jimmy Mora’s comments reinforce Arthur’s commitment to win now? Regadless of how inept he ultimately proved to be, he has a good point that he was indeed the last coach to win a playoff game here. Man I hope DTroff has his A game and makes the right choices and fills the holes we have. Ultimately its going to come down to the line of scrimmage. Make sure we improve both lines and we will be ok.

make a splash

February 13th, 2012
1:49 pm

let all our free agents walk. release turner. sign super mario, nicks, mcneil, and the saftey from the niners(ghodsen)? dent can handle middle linebacker and turner runs slow witn no power. franks and owens can compete for corner. draft a te, wr, cb, rb and a big nose tackle

Tom G

February 13th, 2012
1:50 pm

Birdman – I like your style, put your money on DL and OL!! 90% of games won in trenches, get Harvey Dahl back from Rams!

Birdman of Falcatraz

February 13th, 2012
1:51 pm

Janker,

NFL players for most part want to play for where the money is, regardless of the name on the jersey. Some are in it for other reasons, I dont see Mario leaving money on the table. So if we cannot outbid those guys, we got no chance. If we can, then Mario will be wearing red and black, although I dont see that happening with our cap numbers as is.

Whopper Dawg

February 13th, 2012
1:53 pm

Losing our only pass rusher and our best corner doesn’t bode well.

Please don’t pull an Edwards Part II with Mathis.

I feel sorry for Carlos, talk about going from being coached up to being coached down. That being said, if you are GM and you and the coach agree on what schemes you are going to run and then you consistently get players that don’t fit the scheme, well, that makes you an idiot.

Big Crimson 75

February 13th, 2012
1:54 pm

I’ll take Nicks, Mathis & either Finnegan or Rodgers.
Good-bye Grimes & Abe

falconguy11

February 13th, 2012
1:58 pm

Folks…even if the Falcons sign a good OT or 2, Matt Ryan has to learn to scamble a little and/or throw on the run to buy more time. Other than that….he’s pretty darn good enough to lead us to the SB.

rm

February 13th, 2012
2:04 pm

I like all 3 that you listed Mr. Schultz.