2014 Team Needs: Atlanta Falcons
Gordon McGuinness reveals Atlanta's top needs and suggests a few free agent names to fix those needs.
2014 Team Needs: Atlanta Falcons
One of the biggest surprises of the 2013 season was the poor play, and corresponding record, of the Atlanta Falcons. Just a year after coming within a few yards of going to the Super Bowl, they fell apart, crippled by a lack of depth on the roster.
If the general feeling on this year’s draft class is to be believed, they picked as good a year as any to have a down year, with plenty of top prospects available that could help the team. That could be particularly helpful for an ailing pass rush as they attempt to try and put opposing quarterbacks under more pressure in 2013.
Still, it’s important to remember that they have some very good players on their roster, and are just a few pieces, and improved depth, away from being able to contend for a Super Bowl once again. With that in mind, let’s take a look at their biggest needs this offseason.
Potential Cap Casualties
With $16.7m in available cap space this offseason (per overthecap.com), the Falcons will be feel fairly comfortable. However, if they are looking to save some extra money, there are a few options available to them that would free up some money to spend elsewhere.
– Is Osi Umeyiora worth the $4.8m he’s going to count against the cap for in 2014? They seemed happy enough with his production in 2013 though you can’t help but feel they could get better value than that out there, with him getting pressure just once every 11 pass rushing attempts.
– Thomas DeCoud would free up an additional $3m, and he has struggled in recent years, with last season a particularly poor year.
– There aren’t many other savings to be made, with them already parting ways with right guard Garrett Reynolds to save another $1.4m but, while they won’t have enough to start throwing money around, they are comfortable enough to make one big splash if they feel the player is right.
The scary prospect for the Falcons is that three of their four highest snap-getters on the defensive line are free agents, and all three come from the interior. That includes Jonathan Babineaux (+5.8) and Corey Peters (+5.8), who were their two best players in the front seven, and part of a small group of players in Atlanta who didn’t have a down year in 2014.
Free agent fix: Believe it or not Peters and Babineaux would make the most sense. Both have been productive in Atlanta in the past and, in a free agent class that’s loaded with top talent on the interior, they might not find a huge market for their services. That would allow the Falcons to bring them back on sensible deals and make the main focus of the free agency investment on the edges.
After years of high performance, the Falcons decided to part ways with long time standout edge rusher John Abraham last year. Given how he played in Arizona, and despite his advancing age, that seemed to be a mistake, with Umenyiora not getting close to Abraham’s level of production. The impact was felt for the defense, and they need to get better at putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks from the edges and, with the ability to make one big splash this offseason, it makes sense to target a top edge rusher.
Free agent fix: This is a great year to be looking for someone to get pressure from the edges, with at least four big name players currently scheduled to hit the market. They might find themselves looking at Greg Hardy, whom they’ve seen plenty of in recent years with the Carolina Panthers, and don’t sleep on Cincinnati’s Michael Johnson who played his college football at Georgia Tech. He also has a reputation that is perhaps slightly better than his production suggests, though he is still a very good player, something that we’ve seen the Falcons overpay for in the past.
When you have a top quarterback like they have in Matt Ryan, you want to do whatever you can to keep him upright and, while the offensive line was in the middle of the pack when it came to Pass Blocking Efficiency in 2013, it’s clear that there is still room for improvement there. Both offensive tackles struggled last season, but with Reynolds gone, the bigger need seems to be at right guard now.
Free agent fix: A position-flexible player would be ideal and give them room for movement if Lamar Holmes struggles again at right tackle so someone like Willie Colon seems a good fit. With experience at guard and tackle, Colon will be 31 when the 2014 season begins. Injuries in the past few years will likely lower the market for him and with a positive grade both as a run blocker and in pass protection in 2013, he’s a perfect fit in Atlanta.
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Gordon McGuinness | Analyst, Lead Special Teams Analyst
Gordon has worked at PFF since 2011, and now heads up the company’s special teams analysis processes. His work in-season focuses on college football, while he is also heavily involved in PFF’s NFL draft coverage.