(Update: The Asante Samuel trade is complete. The Falcons will send a low-round draft pick to Philadelphia for Samuel and the cornerback signed a salary cap-friendly three-year, $18.5 million contract. The team has not yet announced any other moves regarding potential restructuring of contracts of other players.)
Even if some would debate the success of their ventures, there is one undeniable reality of the Falcons’ rebuilding efforts in the past four years: Their offseasons haven’t been short of wow moments
A team doesn’t draft, sign or trade for the likes of Matt Ryan, Michael Turner, Tony Gonzalez, Dunta Robinson, Ray Edwards and Julio Jones unless there is some degree of aggressiveness in the front office. It’s why these past several weeks of mere re-signings have been met with a collective yawn. As if the Falcons suddenly are settling.
General manager Thomas Dimitroff views that perception as harsh. But maybe he actually sees some of what everybody else sees after all: The Falcons need a bold move — and Asante Samuel may be it.
Dimitroff has been holding trade talks with Philadelphia since at least Sunday for Samuel, a four-time Pro Bowl cornerback. That’s how you send a message. It’s a move that says, “We’re going for it,” not, “We’re settling.”
Samuel would be a significant upgrade for a defense that finished 20th against the pass last season, 29th in third-down situations and 18th in scoring.
There are some obstacles to getting this done, not the least of which is fitting Samuel under the salary cap. But the Falcons’ mere pursuit of him indicates two things: 1) They know they need to get better; 2) They know this week’s draft picks and new assistant coaches may not get it done.
The Falcons can’t afford to hit a wall in the postseason again. If that were to happen, owner Arthur Blank, ever about the arrow pointing up, is going to start looking at this regime in an entirely different light.
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, who was made available to the media Tuesday after voluntary player workouts, didn’t hide his feelings for Samuel. When asked if the trade talks suggested the organization was in a “win now” mode, Ryan said, “I’m certainly in a win-now mode. That’s the only way you can approach the NFL. … As far as Asante Samuel is concerned, I can only speak from having played against him a number of times, and I know that he’s been extremely difficult to play against and done a great job.”
Funny. One minute, word leaks out that the Falcons are pursuing Samuel and the next minute cornerback Brent Grimes is driving to Flowery Branch on Tuesday morning to sign his $10.281 million offer sheet. I’m sure it’s just a coincidence.
Even with Grimes under contract, don’t believe Dimitroff’s interest in Samuel will cool. He has wanted him for a year now. He was New England’s director of college scouting in 2003 when the Patriots drafted Samuel out of Central Florida.
Late last summer, when Samuel became expendable after the Eagles added cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha (free agent) and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (trade) to their secondary, the Falcons were interested. But at that point, Philly wanted at least a second-round draft pick in return,- and the Falcons were too close to the salary-cap ceiling to realistically do something.
A lot has changed. The Eagles are more desperate now. They might take a fifth-rounder just to get Samuel off the books. The calendar also affords the Falcons more time to make the numbers work, even if they’re only $1,656,559 under the $125,432,149 cap. Samuel is scheduled to earn $21.5 million over the next two seasons but he is open to restructuring his deal to make a trade happen. He also may be more accommodating for the Falcons than he was for Denver.
The Falcons have a number of players whose deals could be restructured. Most notable: fullback Ovie Mughelli ($3.733 million cap hit), who also could be cut or traded. Running back Michael Turner ($7 million cap hit), offensive tackle Sam Baker ($3.7 million) and defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux ($4.6 million) also are top candidates. (Dunta Robinson’s deal already was restructured.)
This move could dent the egos of Grimes and Robinson. But that can’t be a concern. New defensive coordinator Mike Nolan likes using a number of defensive backs in his scheme. Some of the opposing quarterbacks on the team’s 2012 schedule also suggests five defensive backs might be the relative base: Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Tony Romo, Matthew Stafford, Cam Newton and Michael Vick.
Samuel is 31, but he can still play. He turns an average area of the team into a strong one. He allows the Falcons to finally bang the gong in this quiet offseason. Now it’s just a matter of getting the deal done.
By Jeff Schultz