Some Surprise Signings and Key Walks
The National Football League is officially off to the races in terms of this year’s free agency and the Falcons didn’t bite on some of the wild and crazy deals flying all over the place. $10 million for #2 receivers and cornerbacks? The Eagles trading or getting rid of all their biggest playmakers? The Cardinals pillaging two Falcons from the 32nd ranked defense in the NFL? While the Falcons aren’t getting the big names, they also way overpaying in free agency. They’ve let some key names walk and have brought in some solid free agents only as a “first step of putting together the roster” as Dan Quinn said today. A look so far (this will be a brief look at what’s happened so far)………
The New Guys
LB Brooks Reed
This wasn’t the “megastar” that many wanted, but it was a very solid value pickup. The Falcons immediately get better at linebacker anywhere he plays. He’s 6’3, 254 and has the versatility that Quinn craves. While not a pass-rushing specialist, he can set the edge and is excellent at run stopping and overall LB play. After notching 6 sacks as a rookie, Reed has totaled 14.5 in his 4 years in the NFL. Many aren’t sure where he fits in the defense. Some think more of a strongside linebacker. Others feel he could move inside to the middle, while still others think he could even line up as defensive end. The Falcons got him for 5 years @ $22 million. In case you’re wondering, that’s a shade over what Weatherspoon got and he’s only missed 4 starts in his entire career.
LB Justin Durant
This has all the feelings of a “low risk / high reward” signing with the inclusion of the word “stop-gap” attached to it. Durant has had an injury riddled career, but he’s shown promise when healthy. He will not be mistaken for a playmaking linebacker by any means, but rather a good run-and-tackle LB that is extremely solid. His best year came in Detroit in 2012 where he collared over 100 tackles and had passes defensed. He will never be mistaken for a pass rusher as he’s only pulled down 3.5 sacks in his 8 NFL seasons.
G Mike Person
Definitely not too much to write home about, but the Falcons are surely in the process of creating as much competition as they can for the left guard spot vacated by cutting Justin Blalock. While he may be for depth now, the zone blocking system doesn’t rely on big names or major prospects. He likely had familiarity with Quinn after being on the practice squad a few times in Seattle.
G Justin Blalock
This wasn’t surprising considering how much he was set to earn a ton of money, just turned 31 years old, and didn’t appear to fit the new zone blocking system that Kyle Shanahan was bringing to Atlanta. While it was tough seeing the most consistent offensive linemen over the last decade or so leave town, it was expected and the time had come.
WR Harry Douglas
Again, not a huge surprise here. Hard seeing a hometown boy leave, but he was also set to make almost $4 million as a slot receiver in a rapidly aging WR corps. Shanahan’s offense doesn’t appear to rely as much on a slot receiver and they already have Devin Hester and Bernard Reedy on the roster. HD simply became dispensable on a roster in dire need of a makeover. He didn’t stay unemployed long as he was picked up by the Titans on a 3 year deal. Terms weren’t readily available.
RB Steven Jackson
Absolutely expected. If this actually hadn’t happened it would have been a shock. Jackson was set to turn 32 before the season and was due to make over $3 million. It was two years of high expectations and really poor results. If you ever hear anything close to the phrase of “one or two players away,” run as fast as you can in the other direction.
DE Jonathan Massaquoi
While the first 3 were certainly no surprise, this move was jarring. The cut only saved $660k and surely had nothing to do with athleticism or promise and everything to do with attitude. On one hand, it’s hard to see anyone with potential go after possessing the NFL’s worst defense and most atrocious pass rush. But on the other hand, this is two completely different coaching regimes that have decided he’s not worth the effort. He was picked up on waivers by the Titans.
RB Antone Smith
After 4 pm, most Falcons fans expected all the soon-to-be free agents to officially on their way out of Atlanta. It was a pleasant surprise finding out early this evening that the Falcons found a way to keep their insanely talented running back. Yes, he’ll turn 30 in September, but he’s officially gotten less than 30 total carries in his 5 years as a pro. The thought of having a 1-2 punch of Devonta Freeman and Antone Smith in a zone blocking system should make fans extremely happy.
QB TJ Yates
Most probably assumed that Yates was done in Atlanta and then an extremely bizarre report came out saying that up to “4 teams were interested in signing Yates.” Well, whatever happened, the Falcons kept Yates which isn’t the worst thing in the world and could do much better in a new system.
WR Eric Weems
The Falcons kept the special teams ace in Atlanta with a 2 year / $3 million contract. After the release of Harry Douglas, this makes a lot of sense. His biggest value is on special teams as a gunner and backup returner and he’s always a solid 4th or 5th option as a receiver on the roster.
Many felt like this was coming with the recent news that he was headed out of town since talks apparently fell apart at the last minute because everything we heard from Dimitroff and Quinn said that they wanted to keep the former Missouri product in Atlanta. He ended up signing for 1 year, $4 million. That’s a little surprising. It’s understandable the Falcons didn’t want to overpay after he’s only played 51% of his total games since being drafted, but wouldn’t the Falcons at least be close to that number? Maybe the well got poisoned or maybe Quinn simply didn’t see him as a system fit. Who knows. Hope the Cardinals have a top-notch training staff.
Another tough Falcon to see go. This was also somewhat expected once there was no deal as the deadline neared. Peters was looking to sign his first real contract of significance after having to settle for a 1 year “prove it” deal after suffering an untimely Achilles injury in the 15th of a 16 game season. Most fans wanted to see Peters stay as he’s been the only consistent defensive linemen the Falcons have had over the last many years. The problem is that the Falcons are pretty set with Paul Soliai, Tyson Jackson, Ra’shede Hageman, and Jonathan Babineaux. Yes, they could have cut Jackson and signed Peters, but obviously Quinn felt that he can use Jackson. Peters signed with the Cardinals with 3 years for $10.5 million. Unfortunately, this was sealed when the Falcons signed Jackson and Soliai last free agency period and didn’t part with either this go-round.