Falcons Building Low and Slow
The Falcons have definitely taken a “low and slow” approach to this off-season in terms of free agency and, even though haven’t made one big splash, have already churned their roster a pretty good amount. There’s still quite a bit of moves to be made and some positions that are dangerously thin, but overall the Falcons have started to remake the Falcons in the mold of new head coach Dan Quinn. Some may not agree, but you have to give it to Dimitroff, Quinn, and Co. in resisting the urge to make a big splash and “winning free agency.” A whack at grading the moves………..
LB Brooks Reed
5 years / $22 million / $9 mill guaranteed
This was the quote, unquote “biggest signing” of the free agency period and it was mostly positive. Reed was an extremely solid get and dramatically improved the Falcons linebacking corps in one signing. It didn’t give the Falcons the best LB corps in the league, far from it, but Reed is a very good, if not great, strongside linebacker and he was obviously one of Quinn’s most important signings. At 28 and only missing a handful of games his entire career, the contract would only be tied to 2 years @ $4.5 million if his play dramatically dropped off.
Grade — B
LB Justin Durant
3 years / $10.8 million / $1.25 mill guaranteed
This ranked as one of Peter King’s most underrated signings in the early days of free agency. It seemed pretty silly for the Falcons to put up money for a talented, yet oft-injured linebacker in Durant when they let Sean Weatherspoon walk away. The former Cowboys LB has missed 7 or more games half of his career (4 of 8 years). But then you look at his contract. It is almost entirely an incentive-laden and the Falcons are only on the hook for $1.25 million if he gets hurt again. Still, while the contract is good, it’s hard to count on Durant after missing 20 starts over the last 2 seasons.
Grade — C+
G Mike Person
3 years / $3.35 million / $500k guaranteed
Meh. Sure, it was a great depth signing, but when the Falcons made this one of their first ones, fans were completely underwhelmed. Now that many of the other signings have come to fruition, it makes much more sense. Obviously, the Falcons are looking to remake their offensive line into the zone blocking scheme and Person fits that mold. They’re only on the hook for half a million, but until fans either see this line come together or get a new guard in the draft, this one was like medicine: good for depth, but tastes bad going down.
Grade — C
WR Leonard Hankerson
1 year / $1 million / $225k guaranteed
While many around the NFL liked the Durant move, this one was some fans favorite, considering the value, contract, and potential upside. Hankerson was highly ranked coming out of Miami in 2011 and some (ahem) even thought the Falcons may be a fit. That was long before the Julio mega-deal took place. After the Falcons parted ways with Harry Douglas, they got a very low risk and possibly very high reward candidate in Hankerson. Not only that, but the former Redskin is only 26 years old. His 2 best seasons came with Shanahan as OC and amassed over 800 yards receiving with 6 total TDs. Another bonus: Hankerson adds some more speed and size (6’2, 211) to an already talented WR corps. Without any draft picks, the Falcons WR corps would be Julio, Roddy, Hester, Hankerson, and Weems with a young speedster in Bernard Reedy vying for a spot.
Grade — A
DE Adrian Clayborn
1 year / $3 million / $750k guaranteed + $1 mill roster bonus + $1.25 incentives
In a vacuum, most fans would have really liked this signing. Clayborn was signed to a good value contract with minimal guaranteed money and has proven he can get after the QB (13.5 sacks, essentially in 2 seasons). The problem was that many saw the former Buc as a concellation prize to missing out on Derrick Morgan. Of course the issue of injuries immediately comes to the forefront. A look closer, though, saw him start all 16 games in 2 years of his career and the other 2 basically head to IR very early in the season. The Falcons are on the hook for $750k and it climbs the better he does and the more he plays. Seems like the perfect DQ signing.
Grade — B
DE O’Brien Schofield
1 year / $1.7 million / $255k guaranteed
After the Falcons signed Clayborn, this was a nice follow-up. DQ is clearly going by his “pressure by committee” approach that worked so well in Seattle. Schofield showed some talent for the Seahawks, but just could never crack such a talented group of defensive linemen on a consistent basis. This is a very low cost, possibly high reward option that will help bring Quinn’s vision to Atlanta and could very well becoming a main starter in Atlanta.
Grade — B+
CB Phillip Adams
1 year / $745k / $585k guaranteed
While this isn’t a big signing, it another depth signing at an area of need, particularly with Robert McClain heading to the Patriots. He doesn’t exactly fit the the “big and tall” prototype of DQ cornerbacks, but it helps build some competition and depth at cornerback, where there’s a chance that Dezmen Southward could be making the switch. Even though not a All-Pro, he’s played in every game except for 5 the last 3 seasons, including 8 starts.
Grade — C
G Jared Smith
Terms Not Yet Disclosed
Just like the Mike Person signing, not a whole lot to see. Fits the ZBS body type (6’4, 302 lbs) and should compete for a roster spot. Depth signing, likely for league minimum.
Grade — C-
TE Jacob Tamme
2 years / $3.2 million / $400k guaranteed
The Falcons finally did something at tight end. It wasn’t Jordan Cameron, Charles Clay, or even Jermaine Gresham. Enter in Jacob Tamme. Just like other spots on the roster, the Falcons appear to be going for depth and competition. Tamme is an excellent receiving tight end and that’s welcome news after seeing how pitiful they were in 2014. While Tamme just turned 30 and projects to a #2 TE, he’s had seasons of 631 and 555 yards receiving, respectively. By himself, it doesn’t seem that great, but added with the Moeaki signing, it looks pretty good. Levine Toilolo will be given nothing this time around.
Grade — C+
TE Tony Moeaki
1 year / $745k / $585k guaranteed
The Falcons could very well have a steal on their hands with Moeaki. Going with their common theme of low risk, high reward, the former Chiefs and Bills tight end blew up for two straight years in Kansas City. Moeaki pulled in over 1,000 yards receiving and 4 TDs in his first 2 years in the league. He signed on with Buffalo and was put on IR in preseason. He caught on with Seattle and once again battle injuries throughout the year. Despite that, he still pulled in 134 yards receiving and a TD with the Seahawks. To put that in context, he had over half the amount of yards and touchdowns as Toilolo after only gaining 2 starts to Toilolo’s 16 games starts. Moeaki could end up being the starting TE in a little over 5 months. And the best part? He’ll turn just 28 in June.
Grade — B+
The Falcons frustrated a lot fans by failing to produce any splashes or big names. It seems they are building for the long haul and have put a key emphasis on rebuilding the team depth and creating (true) competition across the board. For instance, the Falcons didn’t sign a big name TE, but arguably have the deepest number of TE’s they’ve had in a long, long time. The same goes for DE and LB, and even WR at this point in time. Who knows how it will all shake out and whether this was a shrewd strategy, but at least fans don’t have to worry about the mega-contracts that can plague a team and their future (see Tyson Jackson & Sam Baker for own examples). There’s still some glaring holes (S, MLB, CB, OL to name a few), but the attention to depth is very refreshing as Mike Smith would just throw in the latest late or undrafted free agent as primary backups. All the other grades (including cuts and walks (will come later), but just grading the new additions……………