Parts 1&2 of the dissection of our Falcons roster didn’t have a lot of drama to them. Pretty straight forward, happy with what we have. Not that some improvements couldn’t be made, but if we had to go into the 2016 season with what we ended 2015 with, I’m certain we’d all be satisfied. So, now onto Part 3 where things are going to start getting more interesting.
Part III-Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
Julio Jones, Roddy White, Devin Hester, Eric Weems, Justin Hardy, Nick Williams, C.J. Goodwin, Jordan Leslie
Julio Jones-under contract through 2020 season, $15,900,000 cap charge
Cut pre 6/1-$23,100,000 dead money, $7,200,000 cap charge NOT savings
Cut post 6/1-$15,900,000 dead money, $0 cap savings
Trade-$9,600,000 dead money, $6,300,000 cap savings
That’s right, if for some crazy reason we decide to cut Julio before June 1st, it costs us a total of $30,000,000. But that’s not going to happen. Julio just gave the Falcons the most prolific season for receptions and receiving yards in franchise history, and one of the best seasons ever in the NFL for those categories. We have seen Julio blossom from an athlete who played WR to a top 5 WR in the entire NFL. Julio is a rare athlete that is never satisfied with his performance, always looks to make himself better and most importantly, seems to put the team ahead of himself. I’m sure if you asked him, Julio would trade half those catches and yards to still be playing rather than sitting at home. Still, there are some improvements that could be made to his game. Julio will still drop the occasional easy pass, probably looking to run before he has the ball. Also, with over 130 catches and over 1800 yards, 8 TD’s seem to be a bit of a low number. Of course, that’s not all on him. All in all, aside from the enormous contract, there is very little to complain about Julio’s game.
Roddy White-under contract through 2017 season, $6,137,500 cap charge
Cut pre 6/1-$3,775,000 dead money, $2,362,500 cap savings
Cut post 6/1-$1,887,500 dead money, $4,250,000 cap savings
Trade-same as cut pre 6/1
The old war horse just keeps on trotting along, though Roddy seems to be trotting at a much slower pace these days. Now 34 years old (oh to be young again), Roddy is definitely on the down slope of his career. Has lost a step, still troubled with the occasional drop, minor aches and pains that linger just a bit longer and slow him just a bit more, a contract that is paying him for his past performances rather than his current contributions (43 catches, 500 yards, 1 TD), and a coaching staff that at times seemed to be more concerned with NOT getting Roddy the ball than getting it to him. Plus recent reports that Roddy had trouble grasping the new playbook. Still, there was a lot positive to be said for Roddy in 2015. Roddy is still a team player. He blocked just as hard, if not harder, than he ever has. The only time Roddy complained about not getting the ball more was when he was asked a direct question about it from a reporter who was probably just digging for some dirt. And Roddy, true to his nature, spoke the truth, and that’s something I’ve always loved about Roddy. Roddy has always been brash without being arrogant. Maybe with a full year in this new system under his belt, we will get more production from Roddy. No one expects, 80 catches, 1200 yards and 10 TD’s anymore, but it would be nice if he could get back to 60, 800 and 5.
Devin Hester-under contract through 2016 season, $3,833,334 cap charge
Cut pre 6/1-$833,334 dead money, $3,000,000 cap savings
Cut post 6/1-same
This was a lost season for Devin. After proving he wasn’t just a return man and could offer some offensive help in 2014, with the chance to impress a new HC and OC, Devin came down with the dreaded turf toe(don’t laugh, it ended Deion’s career). It took Devin almost the entire season to get healthy, and when he finally did, he was so far behind the learning curve, he was used just in the return game. Though still probably one of the most feared return men in the game, given his age(33), and the contract numbers listed above, the writing could be on the wall for Devin as a Falcon.
Eric Weems-under contract through 2016, $1,147,500 cap charge
Cut pre 6/1-$212,500 dead money, $935,000 cap savings
Cut post 6/1-same
I know I’m not alone in the Cage when I say “I love Eric Weems”. Weems is a football player, period. He will do whatever is asked of him just to be on the field, playing the game he loves. Every team needs about 3-4 of these guys on the roster. I would rather go to battle with 53 Eric Weems’ than a roster of over paid, over hyped prima donnas. However, the coaching staff might have reached a little in asking Weems for his service this season. Miscast as the personal protector on the punt team, rather than the gunner (where he was once selected to the pro bowl), not only put our punter in jeopardy on more than 1 occasion, but hindered Eric’s effectiveness for what he can bring to the team. A change was made late in the season, but it might have been a little too late for Weems. Weems will be 31 at the start of next season, and special team gunners are usually reserved for faster, younger players, hungry to make a name for themselves, though they also need to have heart, which Weems has by the truck load.
Justin Hardy-under contract through 2018 season, $660,205 cap charge
Cut pre 6/1-$405,615 dead money, $254,590 cap space
Cut post 6/1-$135,205 dead money, $525,000 cap space
Trade-same as cut pre 6/1
The 2014 season ended with 4 of our top 5 WR’s age 30 or more. A youth movement needed to take place at this position and Hardy was the 1st step. Coming out of East Carolina, Hardy set many receiving records and was viewed largely as a steal in the 4th round. It later came out that East Carolina never had much of a playbook, and having to learn a playbook, plus taking the next step up to the pro level with all the nuances that entails, was a little much for Hardy to grasp all at once. Justin made the 53 man roster, but was inactive for almost half the season, until some minor bumps and bruises forced the coaching staff’s hand to dress him, and with only 46 players dressing each week, that meant they would have to play him too. Largely, Hardy didn’t disappoint once given a chance. He was brought along slowly, only put in on plays where he knew exactly what he was doing, then integrated more and more towards the end of the season. Hardy’s rookie numbers aren’t going to make anyone forget what Julio did his rookie season, but Hardy came up with some clutch catches and showed he has really good hands. 2016 should be a bit of a coming out party for Justin. I’m not sure he’s ready to be the #2 yet, but the biggest strides a player makes in the NFL is from season 1 to season 2. I look forward to seeing Justin’s strides.
Nick Williams-under contract through 2016 season, $600,000 cap charge
Cut pre 6/1-$0 dead money, $600,000 cap savings
Cut post 6/1-same
“Little Nicky” was everyone’s favorite flavor the first month of the season. “The little white boy who could”. “Could be our version of Wes Welker”. Nick was good for 1 catch a game early on, and it typically moved the chains on a key 3rd down late in the game. 1 target, 1 catch, 1 first down was his weekly stat line on our way to 5-0. Once again, bumps and bruises to other players caused an increase in Nick’s playing time. With increased playing time came increased targets, which caused increased scouting by opponents, which caused the real Nick Williams to show up on game day. Now targets were being missed, and 1 really costly drop that brought a previously unseen ire from Matt Ryan on the field. Nick is a smallish receiver (5’10”, 185lbs), but there are places for such receivers in the NFL. Nick has now been in this system for 2 seasons (2013 when Kyle Shanahan was OC in Washington), so he probably has as firm a grasp on the playbook as he’s going to have. Making the team as a backup WR, Nick was taught all the WR positions to be ready in an instant should someone fall during a game. If Nick could up his game just a bit (stronger getting off the line, getting more separation than just a step), he could be the 2nd piece to our WR corps getting younger (25 years old at the start of camp in 2016). Not a #1, #2 or even a #3, but a quick, underneath #4 who can also contribute on special teams is always a plus. And he showed decent return abilities in pre-season last year should the Falcons decide to go that way.
C.J. Goodwin-futures contract, no terms available at this time
Had to google the history on C.J. and what I found is an athlete that is very raw. Played basketball for 2 years at Bethany College before transferring to Fairmont State. While at campus at Fairmont State, C.J. was playing in an intramural basketball game against the football team. He caught the eye of coaches and was convinced to go out for the football team. He made the team and contributed 24 catches for 440 yards (18.3 average) and 4 TD’s. The HC was fired and took the DC job at California University in Pennsylvania. C.J. had graduated early, so he decided to transfer to CU of Penn to play his last season. Played mostly special teams but contributed 11 catches for 126 yards and 1 TD. Signed as a UDFA by Pittsburgh in 2014. Was on practice squad 2014, 2015. Cut, signed to Falcons practice squad in 2015.
Jordan Leslie-futures contract, no terms available at this time.
Had to google Jordan also and I must say, I’m impressed. 6’2”, 215lbs. Played college ball at UTEP for 3 years. As a freshman, caught 30 passes, 430 yards and 2 TD’s. Would lead UTEP in receptions each of the next 2 years (51, 973, 6 in 2012), (44, 612, 7 in 2013). He had already graduated with honors, and decided to follow his position coach to BYU for the 2014 season where he posted numbers of 55 catches for 779 yards and 6 TD’s. Jordan was signed as an UDFA by Minnesota in 2015 and cut at the end of camp. Jordan then signed with the Jaguars practice squad, later signing with the Falcons practice squad. He’s got the size, and was productive in college. Quinn & Co. see something they like in Jordan. It would be nice to see this guy turn in to some type of player that could contribute to the team. Sometimes all you need in the right opportunity.
Analysis: It’s difficult to argue with the overall strength of a position when you have a player that had a monster season (Julio). However, when the disparity between the #1 target and the #2 target are so big, (Julio caught 136 balls, Roddy 43), something needs to be done. Yes, had Hankerson stayed healthy all year, even with his many drops, he probably would have had 60+ catches, but that’s still a wide difference. And after Hankerson got injured, no one really stepped up into that role that he was performing. Of course, this all could have been coach related as well. One thing’s for sure, this group needs to continue to get younger, with 3 on the current roster on the wrong side of 30.
My Conclusion: Obviously Julio isn’t going anywhere, though I’d still gauge interest throughout the league, but doubtful anyone would come up with something that would make the move worthwhile. Hardy obviously has a place in our team’s future, probably a strong #3 this year, maybe he could excel in the role Hankerson started the year with. Williams makes the team as a #4, with a shot at return duties as well. Goodwin, if eligible, has another year on the practice squad, as he is just too raw. Leslie Jordan makes the team as #5, learning all WR positions, unless a better option comes along through a cheap UFA or UDFA. With the many holes on our team’s line of scrimmages, we don’t need to waste a pick on WR, unless there’s a hidden gem available in the 7th round. This leaves our geriatric group (Roddy, Devin, Eric Weems). I’m afraid this is the end for Weems and Hester, as neither seem to be able to offer up the contributions they could just 2 short seasons ago, (resulting in just over $1,000,00 in dead money and just under $4,000,000 in cap savings). I would try to trade both first, though Hester’s contract and Weems diminishing returns probably makes it unlikely we get any takers, even for a 6th or 7th rounder. I’m really gonna miss Weems. Which leaves us with Roddy. This is a difficult one. I love Roddy, love everything he stands for, but you can’t ignore the recent drop in production along with the nagging injuries and the salary size per production. I’d love to keep him on at a reduced salary, but I’m not sure his pride would allow that (notice I didn’t say ego, Roddy knows what he is, very self-aware). I try to trade Roddy, but at his age, with his salary and recent injury history, I doubt we find any takers. He comes to camp, we work with him and let him continue to mentor the younger players, try one last time to trade him, then cut him post June 1st(causing another almost $2 million in dead money, but freeing another $4.2 million in cap savings). This leaves us without a true #2 WR. We saw this team can be productive without a true #2 in 2015, but we also saw how much better this offense functions when you have a #2(before Hankerson was injured). I would make a play for Rueben Randall of the Giants as an UFA, but I wouldn’t go over $6 million/year, which might not be enough to entice him or pry him away from the Giants. Otherwise, bring in another bargain like we did with Hankerson last season, and hope the others make huge strides.
Prediction: Julio, Justin, Williams make the team. Roddy’s contract is restructured so he doesn’t lose money but doesn’t have as big a cap charge. 2 inexpensive UFA’s along with 2-3 UDFA’s and our 2 futures contracts projects all vie for the final 1-2 WR spots available, doubt we keep 7 again, but you never know.
Jacob Tamme, Levine Toilolo, D.J. Tialavea, Tony Moeaki
Jacob Tamme-under contract through 2016 season, $1,784,375 cap charge
Cut pre 6/1-$200,000 dead money, $1,584,375 cap space
Cut post 6/1-same
Jacob gave us the intermediate TE target we’ve missed since the days of Tony Gonzalez, and could even get deep on occasion. He really took off after Hankerson went down, becoming Ryan’s 2nd favorite downfield target behind Julio. Tamme came in and performed just as advertised, soft hands, good route runner, not much in the blocking game.
Levine Toilolo-under contract through 2016 season, $750,146 cap charge
Cut pre 6/1-$75,146 dead money, $675,000 cap space
Cut post 6/1-same
Levine was pretty much just as advertised as well. All block, no catch. Earlier in the season when our OL was performing better, Levine was able to sneak out every now and then to catch a pass. Then 2 problems arose. 1-Levine hadn’t gotten any better at catching the football than the previous year. 2-the OL started to perform worse and, just like the previous year, Levine was asked to stay in and block to help out our porous line. Levine can block with the best of them, the problem there is, if he’s in the game, it kinda tips off that there’s a good chance it’s a running play, and if happens to be a pass, there’s a 95% chance that you don’t need to bother covering him because he’s either staying in to block or he’s not getting the ball thrown his way due to his inability to catch the ball.
D.J. Tialavea-under contract through 2016 season, $525,00 cap charge
Cut pre 6/1-$0 dead money, $525,000 cap savings
Cut post 6/1-same
Google couldn’t even save me on this one. All I have for you is this, he’s 6’4”, 260lbs, which is a good size for a TE. He played his college ball at Utah State. He caught 30 passes for 198 yards and 5 TD’s in 3 years after playing DT his freshman year. Graduated in 2013, went undrafted in 2014 and signed with Buffalo as an UDFA in 2014 draft. Spent 2014 on Buffalo’s practice squad, signed by Falcons to their practice squad in 2015. Got to dress/play the final game of the season. I’m sorry I can’t be more help on this one. [Editor’s note: Tialavea with the Jaguars?]
Tony Moeaki-contract expired, UFA
Tony was signed in the off-season and heading into camp looked to be a lock for the #1 or #2 TE spot. Was injured for much of camp and pre-season and was released. Signed back about mid-way through the season, Moeaki slowly worked his way into the rotation and actually started stealing playing time from Toilolo. A better blocker than Tamme, but not quite as good as Toilolo. A better receiver than Toilolo, but not quite as good as Tamme.
Analysis: The Falcons got more from the TE position than the previous year mainly due to Tamme. Tamme is a good receiver but not a full time, dual threat TE. Toilolo is an excellent blocking TE but doesn’t offer up much else. This is a group that needs to get better next season if Kyle Shanahan wants to run multiple TE sets and not telegraph what the play is going to be. Having a dual threat TE and a receiving TE would be a step in the right direction. Ultimately you’d like to have 2 dual threat TE’s.
My Conclusion: I’m fine with Tamme for now. I would sign Moeaki back at a modest contract and hope he can stay healthy in camp this time. If we have the luxury of keeping 3 TE’s, I keep Toilolo too as the 3rd TE, really only used in short yardage and goal line situations. I try to find another dual threat TE in FA, but don’t break the bank to acquire one. Bring in an UDFA rookie for competition. If we had more picks or fewer needs, I would address this mid-rounds in the draft, but since we’re short on picks with much bigger holes, this is my plan.
Prediction: Tamme makes the club based on past performance, not to mention his 2015 season. Moeaki, or player of his talent level is brought in and makes the club. If we keep 3 TE’s, Toilolo makes it, if we don’t, he doesn’t.