First Dominoes Fall in Busy Off-Season
The Atlanta Falcons look to have one of their busiest off-seasons in franchise history with a brand new coaching staff in place and in need of a pretty major restructuring. The Scouting Combine is over and now all eyes turn to free agency. This will include many facets that will likely differ from years past. Dan Quinn is now in charge and looking to bring his philosophy and style to the Atlanta Falcons. Fast and physical is not something the Falcons can say they have much of, so it portends to some pretty dramatic changes over the next 5-6 months. Look for the Falcons to be active players in keeping some of their own players, cutting those currently under contract, and signing unrestricted free agents. This is before draft season draws near.
Quinn and his staff got off to a later start than the rest of the staffs, new ones included. In fact, he was the latest hires of a brand new head coach in quite a long while. Luckily, the front office helped assemble most of his staff even before he could officially sign on as head coach. A look at the first of what’s likely to be a very busy off-season………….
One of the things that fans are the most interested in is how Quinn will assess many of the players that were stuck in Mike Smith’s “Witness Protection Program.” Those that showed skill and promise either in preseason or rarely in games, only never to be heard from again. One of Quinn’s greatest strengths is developing players, particularly those on the defensive side of the ball, with defensive linemen being his specialty.
Matthews, a 2011 seventh round draft pick, has shown some promise and did everything Smith and his staff asked of him. He bulked up to be more versatile and play more inside at tackle if need be. His stats aren’t anything to write home about: 28 combined tackles, 1 pass defensed appearing in 33 total games, but most of those have been on special teams and a few defensive snaps mixed in. Details aren’t available yet, but a lot of fans likely feel hope that Quinn will be able to get a lot more out of the defensive players that Smith simply couldn’t do. It also shows that players who’ve middling in Smith’s WPP and on the bench will get every shot to prove their worth under Quinn.
While this surely isn’t the biggest signing at all, it shouldn’t really be that surprising to Falcons fans. DiMarco is anything but spectacular, but he is very, very solid. In a league that’s moving more and more away from the fullback, DiMarco provides a low-cost option that’s been with the Birds for a few years. After being let go by the Chiefs in 2012, DiMarco is actually a decent option out of the backfield. You might be a bit shocked that DiMarco has pulled down 17 receptions for 111 yards, 1 touchdown, and a 6.5 yards per reception average. This makes sense for many reasons and should give an indication that a lot of the free agents could get a shot under Quinn if the price is right.
K Matt Bryant
You know it’s not a terribly tense off-season when your biggest name to keep in free agency is a kicker. A dang good one though. Bryant is set to become 40 years old in May, but has shown no sign of slowing down. He actually had his 2nd best year as a Falcon with a 90.6 FG percentage (29 out of 32) and one of those misses was blocked. He also kicked a 54 yarder as well, also his 2nd best as a Falcon. It seems like a no-brainer to bring him back and all signs point to that fact. However, the Falcons really do need to start preparing his replacement sooner than later. Fans will remember how quickly Jason Elam went south as a Falcon in 2009 after having a good 2008. ((Update: Falcons Re-sign Bryant — 2/25))
LB Allen Bradford
Not too much to see here other than Bradford was with the Seahawks some when Quinn was there. Bradford has bounced around the NFL a lot since being drafted out of USC in the 6th round in 2011. Initially drafted by the Bucs and was claimed off waivers in 2011, spending a little over 2 seasons with the Seahawks. He was picked up by the Giants in 2013 and actually saw action of some type (likely special teams) in 9 games. Bradford spent time with the Jaguars and Browns before making his way back to the Seahawks last season, the last two being practice squads. A camp body who Quinn knows and not too much more.
WR Nick Williams
Much like Bradford got a shot because of his familiarity with Quinn, Williams gets a shot because he was with Shanahan and the Redskins in 2013. The former UConn Huskie only pulled in 338 yards as a senior with no touchdowns. However, he was one of the better returners in college with a 28 yard kick return average and took two punts for touchdowns. Not a whole lot more than a camp body vying for a special teams spot at best. Like Bradford for Quinn, Williams may be asked to help teach the system to some of the players. Quinn and Shanahan are just getting some of “their guys,” even if they won’t stick around for the long haul.
Falcons Soon-to-be-Free Agents
The Matthews and DiMarco signings are solid but not very close to the bigger of names for the Falcons getting ready to hit free agency. Of the Falcons recent off-seasons, this class of FA’s set to hit the market isn’t a big name one in general. The Free Agent period unofficially begins on March 7th and officially begins 3 days later where teams can sign players. That’s less than two weeks for quite a few moves to be made.
LB Sean Weatherspoon
All signs point to the Falcons bringing back the former first round draft pick linebacker. Some feel he was an outright bust. Others feel he was an injury bust and still others think he has certainly underwhelmed, if not on bust level. The injury bust critics certainly have an argument. Weatherspoon has started 51% of all possible games since being a 1st round pick. The other problem is that he really hasn’t been that good even when on the field: in 4 seasons (missed all of ‘14 season) he’s accumulated 290 total tackles, 8 sacks, 15 pass defensed, and 2 interceptions. Hardly anything to write home about for a 1st round LB. All that being said, though, the Falcons surely would like to see what he can do under Coach Quinn since one of his best talents is player development. Also, the Falcons have the upper hand and can sign him to a cap-friendly “prove-it” contract. A pretty low risk-potentially high reward signing.
DT Corey Peters
The former Kentucky Wildcat is an interesting case. On one hand, he’s been really solid when he’s been on the field: 146 total tackles, 11 sacks, 7 passes defensed, and 1 interception in 45 games. He’s certainly been one of the Falcons more consistent defensive tackles when on the field. On the other hand, however, he’s been solid, but nowhere dominant. Peters was perhaps on the verge of making the jump in 2012 with his best year and career highs of 46 tackles and 5 sacks. Sadly, he injured his Achilles in the next to last game of the season in San Francisco. The Falcons did right by him and gave him a 1 year, $1.5 million contract even though he would be a long way off in terms of recovery. He had a modest year back from injury with 26 tackles and 2 sacks playing in 15 games. The big question now is whether or not Peters is a true starter or more of a backup and how much is he worth. Of course the Falcons want to see what Quinn can do with Peters, but how much will he command. If reports are true, the Falcons want to bring back Bryant, Weatherspoon, and Peters.
S Dwight Lowery
This is yet another tough call. Lowery had a pretty good year, started 15 out of 16 games, and was brought in for less than Javier Arenas got paid. The former Jaguar just turned 29 and showed plenty of gas left in the tank. He pulled down almost 79 tackles, 1 sack, 5 passes defensed, and 2 interceptions. And this was all done with the NFL’s worst pass rush. Normal logic would see the Falcons bring Lowery back for a friendly deal. And that seems likely, particularly with William Moore’s injury history. The only issue is what Quinn sees in Kemal Ishmael and Dezmond Southward. If the Falcons could get a cap-friendly deal, it would be a welcomed veteran presence to a defense headed for a major turnover.
DE Kroy Biermann
Most assume that Biermann has played his last games as a Falcon. As much as fans wanted him to turn the corner, he simply never did. Much of it wasn’t his fault, per se, with Smith’s inability to find a spot for him to excel. Biermann has proven that he’s not a full time starter. He’s tried DE in the 4-3 and OLB in 3-4 and he’s more of a backup at this point. He got starter level money the last three years @ 3 million per year and surely didn’t earn it. The fact the he’s never gotten more sacks than he did in his second year (5) with limited snaps should say it all. He’s been with the Falcons for seven years, two defensive coordinators and he turns 30 during the season. Unless he accepts the league minimum to return, the Falcons should absolutely move on. Time to get some new blood in.
RB Antone Smith
Some thought the speedy Smith was all but ready to cash in on his chance at a payday and the he got injured. After getting screwed by Mike Smith and buried on the depth chart despite amazing potential and production, who wouldn’t want to move on. The good news for Falcons fans is that he recently said, “Heck yeah I want to be a Falcon.” He intimated that he’d like to run in the new zone blocking system. The Falcons just may be able to hang onto him after all.
RB Jacquizz Rodgers
This may be the toughest call of all. Rodgers has shown very solid and sturdy at times throughout his Falcons tenure and the new ZBS system may fit him much better. He’s a good blocker and does everything pretty well. Problem is that he’s not necessarily great at any one thing. He’s had over 2,000 yards rushing and receiving his four years as a Falcon. His best years were in 2012 and 2013 when he almost broke the 100 attempt mark (94 and 96, respectively) and caught 53 and 52 passes for 402 and 341 yards. Definite resigning, right? Well, then you look at his 2014 stats and the emergence of Devonta Freeman: rush attempts, catches, rush yards, and receiving yards were cut almost in half. Perhaps the assumed exit of Steven Jackson would get Rodgers back to his pre-Freeman touches, but rumors of the Falcons being interested in Justin Forsett might suggest otherwise. A pretty tough call all the way around.
DE Osi Umenyiora
At one point, most expected Umenyiora to hang up his cleats. A recent report suggests that he’s not ready to retire. Hard to imagine the Falcons having any interest in bringing him back at his age and the Falcons desperate needs for a pass rush. Thanks for your time here, but moving on.
CB Robert McClain
Another tough call and it will come down to what Quinn, Raheem Morris, and Marquand Manuel think. McClain has shown bursts of great play and then turned around to be wildly inconsistent. It’s hard to imagine him drawing much interest in the open market and the Falcons would like the depth, but how much will he cost? The Falcons can’t and shouldn’t keep all or most of the UFA’s due. McClain has to be on the fence along with many, particularly with the suggestion from Quinn that Dez Southward could play cornerback.
CB Josh Wilson
Same as McClain. How much do they want to spend? How much will guys like this want? How much do they value depth over talent and new blood? How much potential do they see coming from talent-rich Seattle? Too many unknowns at this point. The Falcons would probably keep either McClain or Wilson, but doubtful to both.
CB Javier Arenas
Hard to imagine the Falcons bringing him back. He had minimal impact this year and was signed as a low-risk free agent last year for $795,000. Likely gone withe wind.
OL Mike Johnson, Gabe Carimi
At first glance, Falcons want to throw these guys out quickly, especially Mike Johnson. He’s started 1 game since being drafted way back in 2010 and played in a whopping 18 since 2010 (36% of total possible games). Pretty atrocious for a 3rd round pick. Carimi actually showed some potential in a year wrecked with injuries to the OL. They may decide to bring one or both back for a low price since the ZBS may favor their skills. Of the two, Carimi certainly has a better shot than chandelier Johnson.
WR Eric Weems
Weems did well in Atlanta, ventured out with a big contract to Chicago, and came back home after being let go by the Bears. In a relief role, Weems actually caught 10 passes for 102 yards and 2 touchdowns. Even though he’s not a pure wide receiver, he did pretty well with limited targets. His special team prowess is the biggest reason he makes the roster, but will he be a luxury if they decide to keep Devin Hester and Harry Douglas? The Falcons must get younger at WR in a hurry with Roddy White, Douglas, Devin Hester well over 30 and Weems turning 30 before the season. How many 30-age vets can the Falcons keep?
TE Bear Pascoe, T Jonathan Scott, S Charles Godfrey
The assumption has to be that these gentlemen are on the way out barring a crazy turn of events. Rumor came today that Pascoe is not expected to return.