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