Here’s what the Falcons will – and won’t – do this offseason

Here's proof that Sam Baker has occasionally held his own. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

We offer proof that Sam Baker has occasionally held his own. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

The NFL scouting combine commences this weekend. Free agency begins next month. April brings the draft. Before the cutting and pasting begins, we offer semi-educated guesses as to what the Falcons will/won’t do.

They will keep Sam Baker. The website Pro Football Focus rated Baker the second-worst tackle in the NFL last season, but he wasn’t always so hapless. A lot of things had to go wrong to render a serviceable left tackle so ineffective, and a back injury was only part of it. The Falcons fired line coach Paul Boudreau, who had lost faith in Baker, and will give Pat Hill, hired as a replacement, every chance to rebuild Baker’s self-esteem.

They will rely on Hill to set a tone, and not just with Baker. Hill hasn’t worked in the NFL since 1996, but his aggressive approach as head coach — he dared to play Anyone, Anywhere, Anytime — put Fresno State on the map. This O-line could stand some prodding. It was revealing that the Falcons’ front couldn’t muster the required push on three infamous fourth-and-1’s. It also was revealing that Mike Johnson, a 312-pound guard taken in Round 3 in 2010 after playing at Alabama under a rather exacting head coach, never found favor with Boudreau.

They won’t trade up into Round 1. Owing to last season’s five-picks-for-Julio-Jones deal, the Falcons don’t have a first-round choice in 2012. General manager Thomas Dimitroff’s preference would be for this draft to play itself out and his organization to get back on schedule. Sure, he’d waver if Indianapolis called and said, “We’ll give you the No. 1 pick for Michael Turner.” But Indy won’t.

They will keep Michael Turner. The best-case scenario is that the Falcons will get one more big season from the big back, and logic holds that you should trade a guy one year too soon, as opposed to one year too late. But what sort of return would Turner, who’s 30, bring? Would you trade a 1,000-yard back for a fifth-round pick? Wouldn’t you be better served letting him work behind a retooled line under a new offensive coordinator who might actually direct a screen pass the big back’s way?

They won’t be crushed if Curtis Lofton leaves. The middle linebacker is a three-year starter and a fierce tackler, but there’s growing sentiment that he’s a liability against the pass. The question thus becomes: Would you pay $8 million a year for a two-down linebacker? At the right price, the Falcons would love to keep Lofton. If he does depart, they’d give Akeem Dent, the Georgia product taken in Round 3 last year, a long look in the middle.

They will slap the franchise tag on Brent Grimes. The Falcons could apply this tag, which allows a team to hang on to a free agent for another year at a much higher price, to any of several defenders — Lofton, John Abraham, Thomas DeCoud — but cornerback seems the area of greatest need. (And DeCoud figures to be more affordable as a long-term re-up.)

They won’t spend big to keep Abraham. Of the Falcons’ 33 sacks last season, he produced 9 1/2. But Abraham will turn 34 in May, and he has a history of injury. It’s scary to think that a team incapable of sustaining a pass rush would shed its best pass rusher, but remember what new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan after his hiring: “I’d rather have 10 guys get four sacks than four guys get 10.”

They won’t pursue Hines Ward. As much as the Falcons would welcome the locker-room presence of Ward, who’s from Forest Park and who played at UGA and who may be cut by Pittsburgh, there would have to be an on-field component to warrant such a hire. Ward will turn 36 next month, and he plays a position where speed is of some essence. As great a pro as he has been, he doesn’t have much left.

In the tradition of “urgent” and “explosive,” they will adopt a new watchword: “Daring.” In the neo-NFL, it would seem impossible for the 10th-ranked offense to oppose the 27th-ranked defense and to make no turnovers and miss no field goals and still not score a point. But that was the Falcons’ wretched lot in their playoff loss to New York, and there’s only one rational explanation: They played scared.

Mike Smith didn’t coach scared — he went for it on two fourth-and-1’s — but the message didn’t resonate. Matt Ryan threw 41 passes to no effect, and how in the neo-NFL can a big-time quarterback leave no imprint? Dirk Koetter, the new coordinator, has to render Ryan daring again. (It isn’t as if he was always risk-averse: He threw 19 interceptions in 14 games as a Boston College senior.)

For inspiration, the Falcons can turn to their nemesis. In 12 Saints-Falcons games, Drew Brees has thrown 11 interceptions, and that’s a fat number. His team, however, has won 10 of those games. The Falcons have allowed timidity to dilute their conspicuous talent, and that starts — and needs to end — with the quarterback. It’s time for Matty Ice to become Matty Fire.

By Mark Bradley

254 comments Add your comment

Rickster

February 22nd, 2012
11:30 am

Rickster

February 22nd, 2012
11:31 am

Yup!

Seems that the things the Falcons won’t do are a whole lot more detrimental than the things they will do are beneficial.

Mark Bradley

February 22nd, 2012
11:35 am

Kudos, Rickster.

Rickster

February 22nd, 2012
11:37 am

Thanks Mark!

Rickster

February 22nd, 2012
11:44 am

But it looks like Sam Baker’s holding Charles Johnson… instead of his own.

BBQ MAN

February 22nd, 2012
11:45 am

spot on Mark!

WELP

February 22nd, 2012
11:45 am

Rickster

February 22nd, 2012
11:48 am

Matt Ryan needs to do something to earn the nickname “Matty Ice.” After all, they didn’t call Reggie Jackson “Mr. October” because he played well in August & September.

Nelson Muntz

February 22nd, 2012
11:51 am

Mark, I concur with you about the Falcons playing scared against the Giants, but it is misleading to refer to the Giants of December and January as the 27th ranked defense. Statistically true, but by the time the playoffs rolled around they were playing like a top 10 defense.

Bill

February 22nd, 2012
11:54 am

No to Ward..hope he goes to jail. I would trade Turner if possible. Hope Falcons don’t put the monkey of the new Coach’s back..get him some players to work with.
Thanks Mark..looking forward to your Spring Training report ..Yes?

LeeJay

February 22nd, 2012
11:56 am

Won’t Grimes be the most expensive tag of all ATL’s FA’s? I would love to see the CB Finnegan here! Dent is a downgrade, keep Lofton. Need at least 2 wr’s don’t we? But we don’t need big names like Moss just durable skilled wr’s. We’ve got the coaches now so lets get some players especially on the Lines.

atlpaddy

February 22nd, 2012
11:57 am

This list seems to be the exact opposite of what I (and a lot of other fans) think the Falcons SHOULD do!

atl fan

February 22nd, 2012
11:57 am

If what you say is true, that we will lose a productive Abe and Lofton, and keep a useless Decoud, then we will be alot worse off than last year!

Mark Bradley

February 22nd, 2012
11:58 am

I would say that, of all the guesses, the one about putting the franchise tag on Grimes is the shakiest. But what the heck.

JH

February 22nd, 2012
12:04 pm

I don’t understand where this new sentiment that Lofton is only a two down back has come from. The guy played 99% of the team’s snaps in 2011. Thats right, 99%. In fact he missed only ten defensive plays period. Moreover, how can a guy that had two picks last year (one returned for TD) be a problem in pass coverage? They need to pay this guy, he’s the real deal. Tag him if you have to since his tag would be couple million less than the Corner tag for grimes.

PMC

February 22nd, 2012
12:06 pm

What if Baker quits? His health has never been really that good and he doesn’t seem to enjoy or excel at Football at this point.

J.J.M.

February 22nd, 2012
12:11 pm

trade ryan and turner for RG3

DebJay35

February 22nd, 2012
12:17 pm

They’ll probaly bring in Crowder at MLB and let Lofton walk. TRADE TURNER FOR UMENYORA AND GO AFTER MATT FORTE!!!! How many times I gotta say it?

Tumbledown

February 22nd, 2012
12:19 pm

If the Falcons were a stock, I would sell rather than buy. I base this conclusion on the following:

(1) Matt Ryan does not appear to be developing into the star we had envisioned.

(2) Michael Turner is an aging RB. He just does seem to be explosive at all.

(3) Offensive line is a mess. Sam Baker is not the answer at the most important line position.

(4) Defensive line is weak at getting pressure on the OB. Just ask the Super Bowl champs how important pressure is to success in the NFL.

(5) Pass defense is suspect. In a conference full of great passing attacks, a weak secondary plus no pass rush equals FAIL.

(6) The drafts under the current regime have been full of busts, especially at or near the top (see Peria Jerry, etc.).

(7) No first draft pick in this draft. Many experts have acknowledged that this draft is full of impact quality players. While other teams snatch these players and improve, the Falcons wait for scraps at the lower rounds.

I just cannot be optimistic at this point, and the points made by MB in his article do not alleviate any of my concerns.

JB

February 22nd, 2012
12:20 pm

You left one off. They won’t win a playoff game. Just a hunch.

Die Hard Falcon

February 22nd, 2012
12:23 pm

Mark, thanks for the post — Question: “If we tag Grimes in order to trade him, and don’t find a partner for whatever reason; are we on the hook for the tag # of 10+mil? Or can we cut him w/ no cap penalty?”

Thanks — Go Falcons!

Ted

February 22nd, 2012
12:25 pm

I say we put everything into the offensive line. Ryan can’t have any excuses anymore. We need to see if he can play the position without the excuse of a ‘vanilla offense’ or a bad line to protect him.

Mark Bradley

February 22nd, 2012
12:25 pm

Don’t know the answer, Die Hard Falcon. I’ll have to ask.

peacengrits75

February 22nd, 2012
12:25 pm

JH… In the new defense under Nolan, Lofton would be typically be a two down back… I think he’s worth keeping though. We need to take a stab at Uminyora… Sure up both lines and pray these guys grow a pair…

[...] to Original Content From Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog): read more Related Articles Share About Author [...]

PMC

February 22nd, 2012
12:29 pm

Akeem Dent, long look in the middle, yeah, this thinking went SO WELL at right guard last season.

Die Hard Falcon

February 22nd, 2012
12:30 pm

I would really like to see Lofton brought back, but I agree that it should be at a reasonable #. He’s not Patrick Willis and he is probably worth about 5 or 6 mil a year tops.

I agree that Baker is better than he played last year, but I still would like to see us pick up a stop gap vet in FA to push for the starting LT spot.
I think that if we can get a high 4th or better pick for Turner, then we should trade him, but I don’t imagine it’ll happen and I agree anything less and we should just keep him for his last year.

dawg tired

February 22nd, 2012
12:30 pm

Any more money spent on Baker is a waste. He is a human turnstile.

Email Profiling Is Wrong

February 22nd, 2012
12:31 pm

Any way you care to slice it, personnel-wise, 2012 is gonna be a giant crap sandwich. We’re losing too much talent.

That demands that the new coaches get the most of what’s left.

As you mentioned Bradley, that begins with our QB. I guess it remains to be seen if a guy who’s had the chutzpa coached out of him can regain his cojones (with the proper care and nurturing from his newest, best-est buddy and big toe, Dirk Koetter).

2012 will answer some questions about Matt Ryan. Can Caspar Milquetoast become Chuck Norris? Underneath Mister Roger’s cartdigan sweater, is there the heart of an MMA fighter beating? Can Matt Ryan be less accountant and more gunslinger?

That’s a tall order if you ask me.

Die Hard Falcon

February 22nd, 2012
12:34 pm

@rickster

In reference to the post about Matt earning the “Ice” moniker, I would have to disagree that he’s not earned it. He has a lot of 4th qtr comebacks and has shown that he comes up big in tight situations at the end of close games. He doesn’t win all of them, but many, of course if we could keep things close at all in the playoffs, who knows what he might do.
I see him as a clutch guy when it comes down to the wire.

PMC

February 22nd, 2012
12:35 pm

Sure, go back to the Ed Hartwell open middle of the defense years over 2 million dollars a year.

Instead of just having a terrible secondary we won’t be able to stop the run either.

dawg tired

February 22nd, 2012
12:36 pm

Mark,

Pro Football Focus ranked Baker next to last in OT efficiency. Did you see who they ranked first? Harvey Dahl!

You can see why the heat is starting to be turned up on Smitty and Dimitroff.

Boom Dizzle

February 22nd, 2012
12:36 pm

Maybe it’s just me, but I really don’t see Grimes back. He’s going to point to Dunta’s contract and I just can’t see the Falcons committing that much to the defensive backfield…

[...] Mark Bradley of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution offers his take on what the Atlanta Falcons are likely to do regarding a number of key roster decisions. [...]

mark

February 22nd, 2012
12:39 pm

Baker has never lived up to his first round pick, he seems to lack the fire and that can not be coached. Along with being terrible against pass rush and I do not see how he stays. Grimes is good but not worth top 5 money if they do not get a deal done before FA, they let him walk. Same with Lofton. Abraham is gone. Here are my predictions they sign Mathis and Nicks to shore up the lines draft a CB in the 2nd round.

w.w.

February 22nd, 2012
12:40 pm

Thanks for not simply tossing some more raw salt onto the media-slugs that are Ryan and Baker. Ive never seen such shameless scapegoating.With our high priced wunderkind receivers unable to convert to 1st down I think Ryan’s nickname is the very least of our worries yet it seems to be the main issue on the Atlanta media’s minds…ummmm Why?Why in the world would the team want to keep Decoud? He didnt tackle anybody,or pick off anything.

Die Hard Falcon

February 22nd, 2012
12:42 pm

Thanks Mark, I would like to know if that’s a possibility. I don’t think Grimes is worth $10mil but if we can get a 2nd or 3rd pick for him, heck even a 4th instead of just letting him walk, we need picks and I think this would be a good move if we’re not on the hook if we can’t work out a trade

Coach

February 22nd, 2012
12:47 pm

“trade ryan and turner for RG3″???? Really??? Really??? Please find one GM, President, Owner or Coach in the NFL that will admit they even have that thought publicly or privately. How long is this going to go on?

Three Jack

February 22nd, 2012
12:54 pm

Matty Fire(d) would be better.

wreckbuzz

February 22nd, 2012
12:59 pm

I don’t agree with Bradley.

DE is a priority because pass rush is what the Falcons lack. IF, and it might be a big if, Mario Williams becomes a free agent, Blank has to back the Brinks truck up and dump it on Mario. Then it won’t matter about Lofton or Grimes.

Why keep Baker? He’s not better than Will Svitek or Tyson Clabo at OT. He was a revolving door at OG. Take the savings and try to keep either Grimes or Lofton (if the deal is reasonable). Let Mike Johnson have a shot at filling the RG spot.

Coach

February 22nd, 2012
1:02 pm

Sorry, I usually stick to football itself. Problem is for the last 5 years I have listened to the Falcons being called racist for hiring Dimitroff, racist for hiring Coach Smith, racist for drafting Matt Ryan, “good old boy” racist for every assistant coach hire. Racist because Vick got arrested, racist for cutting Shockley (even though no other team even put him on practice squad). This is the most ridiculous fan base ever.

O'Brien

February 22nd, 2012
1:10 pm

Mark,

How much will Daunte’s contract hurt the Falcons in the Grimes negotiations?

By that, I mean we gave Robinson a 6 year deal for $57 mil, with $22.5 guaranteed. Grimes might not get the same amount of years, but wont he be looking for similar $ value since he is a better corner than Daunte?

PMC

February 22nd, 2012
1:15 pm

Even if Baker had the best year of his career, you really want to send the above guys packing and pay Baker 2 million dollars????

Coach

February 22nd, 2012
1:18 pm

First !!! (time screened that is). Mark you know that needs to be said, maybe just not here and now. It is the truth… Anyway, sign and trade Grimes makes sense. It is a classic TD move. Drop salaries add more players for one talent. Find a replacement for Tony G. Spend a lot on both lines. I think we are a lot better off than most realize.

Th

February 22nd, 2012
1:18 pm

Lofton has averaged 1 sack per year, 3/4 of an interception per year and a stuff every 4th game. The most embarrassing was Collinsworth calling him out on national tv for dropping back 12 yards on a 3rd and 7. I think his exact words were, “Where’s he going?” Mediocrity should be cheap.

Let’s face it, we are the Lake Woebegone of the NFL – our players, coaches and management are above average but no more. Your list looks very believable and depressing.

Chris

February 22nd, 2012
1:22 pm

This is a stupid article, anybody that knows anything about football knows the falcon’s will be attempting to do the opposite of all these points. Why retain Sam Baker when Will Svitek played better and doesn’t get hurt. They should cut Michael Turner or trade him because he’s too slow to the hole and isnt an every down back, which means he’s paid too much. If Abraham isnt retained, then equal production must be added, 9.5 sacks doesn’t half measure his effectiveness as a pass rusher. Lofton and Grimes need to be resigned. Lofton is 2nd best middle linebacker in NFC and the key of our run defense, Grimes is a top 10 cover corner on a team without any others.

Rickster

February 22nd, 2012
1:23 pm

Die Hard Falcon… I see your point… but I’d rather have a qb that knows how to take a lead – and then grow the lead – than try and pull out a victory in the last few minutes.

Plus, I’d like a quarterback who can actually win a post-season game.

Must be why I like Aaron Rodgers of my beloved Green Bay Packers.

PMC

February 22nd, 2012
1:27 pm

Th, so our women are strong?

teamguy

February 22nd, 2012
1:29 pm

I just heard an interview with Arthur Blank, and his plan is to keep everyone on the team, and in the front office, and get a totally new group of fans. Don’t blame him. Most of your comments are pathetic.

BjohnDawg

February 22nd, 2012
1:33 pm

they need to shore up the line….#1 priority. Period. both sides.
They were pushed around by GB last year, and Giants this year.
In the trenches…Falcons stank.