With a different regime in place – including new head coach Dan Quinn – can the Falcons rebound from their 6-10 showing in 2014?
- Brooks Reed, LB: Five years, $22.5MM. $6.9MM guaranteed.
- Justin Durant, LB: Three years, $10.8MM. $1.25MM guaranteed.
- Matt Bryant, K: Three years, $8.5MM. $1MM guaranteed.
- Adrian Clayborn, DE: One year, $3MM. $750K guaranteed.
- Chris Chester, G: One year, $2.8MM. $550K guaranteed.
- Mike Person, G: Three years, $3.35MM. $500K guaranteed.
- Kroy Biermann, DE: One year, $1.925MM. $500K guaranteed.
- Eric Weems, WR: Two years, $2.28MM. $425K guaranteed.
- Jacob Tamme, TE: Two years, $3.2MM. $400K guaranteed.
- T.J. Yates, QB: One year, $1.5MM. $370K guaranteed.
- O’Brien Schofield, LB: One year, $1.7MM. $255K guaranteed.
- Leonard Hankerson, WR: One year, $1MM. $255K guaranteed.
- Antone Smith, RB: One year, $1.2MM. $200K guaranteed.
- Patrick DiMarco, FB: Two years, minimum salary. $75K guaranteed.
- Charles Godfrey, S: One year, $1.25MM. $50K guaranteed.
- Phillip Adams, CB: One year, minimum salary benefit.
- Tony Moeaki, TE: One year, minimum salary benefit.
- Tyler Polumbus, T: One year, minimum salary benefit.
- Cliff Matthews, DE: Two years, minimum salary.
- Nathan Stupar, LB: One year, minimum salary.
The Falcons’ two biggest expenditures this offseason were at the linebacker position. On March 10th, the official start of free agency, Atlanta inked Brooks Reed and Justin Durant. Reed spent the first four years of his career in Houston, where he started 52 of a possible 60 games and racked up 14.5 sacks. Pro Football Focus (subscription required) rated him the 26th-best 3-4 OLB in the NFL out of 46 qualifiers last season.
Now with the Falcons, Durant joins his fourth team in what will be his ninth year. He spent 2014 with the Cowboys and missed 10 games with a torn bicep, amassing 49 tackles in six contests. Durant finished 17th out of 40 qualifiers in Pro Football Focus’ 4-3 OLB rankings. The Cowboys reportedly hoped to retain the 29-year-old, but they were unsuccessful in their efforts.
O’Brien Schofield, another linebacker of note, followed his former coach to Atlanta this offseason. Schofield recorded 25 total tackles and two sacks last season with the Seahawks and played in all 16 regular season games.
Adrian Clayborn, 27, played only one game for the Bucs before being placed on IR last September. In the year prior, he made 16 starts at right defensive end and tallied 43 tackles and 5.5 sacks. Clayborn was hoping to establish himself in 2014, his contract year, but he didn’t get the opportunity to show what he can do before hitting open market. The Bucs declined their fifth-year option on the former No. 20 overall pick in April of 2014. Pro Football Focus’ advanced metrics (subscription required) weren’t all that fond of Clayborn’s performance in 2013, ranking him 47th out of 52 qualified 4-3 defensive ends. Clayborn didn’t shine in his walk year like he had hoped, but the Falcons may have gotten a great value on this one-year deal.
When veteran guard Chris Chester was released by Washington, he didn’t last long on the open market. Two days after he was put on the unemployment line, the Falcons swooped in and signed him. Chester, 32, started at right guard for Washington last season, but with 2014 third-rounder Spencer Long ready to take over that role and Chester’s cap number approaching $5MM, the veteran became expendable. Still, while Spencer, a former second-round pick, may not have been in Washington’s long-term plans, he can still be a positive contributor.
Veteran free agent Jacob Tamme didn’t play a focal role in the Broncos offense last season but it’s possible that we’ll see a little more of him on the field now that he’s in Atlanta. The tight end grabbed 52 balls in 2012, but the former fourth-round pick had his reception total drop to 20 in 2013 and to just 14 in 2014.
In late February, the Falcons kept longtime kicker Matt Bryant from hitting the open market with a multi-year extension. Bryant, who has been with the Falcons since the 2009 season, has been very consistent during his time in Atlanta. He made 29 of 32 field goal attempts in 2014, with his only three misses coming from 50+ yards out. In 2013, two of his three misses were from 50+ yards.
- Javier Arenas, CB
- Sam Baker, T: Released
- Justin Blalock, G: Released (he then retired)
- Gabe Carimi, OL
- Drew Davis, WR
- Harry Douglas, WR: Released
- Steven Jackson, RB: Released
- Dwight Lowery, S
- Jonathan Massaquoi, LB: Waived
- Robert McClain, CB
- Bear Pascoe, TE
- Corey Peters, DT
- Jacquizz Rodgers, RB
- Prince Shembo, LB: Waived
- Osi Umenyiora, DE/LB
- Sean Weatherspoon, LB
- Josh Wilson, CB
Steven Jackson first joined the Falcons as a free agent in March of 2013 after spending his entire career with the Rams up until that point. In February of 2015, Atlanta parted ways with the veteran. At the peak of his career, Jackson was regarded as one of the best running backs in the NFL and had three Pro Bowl selections to his credit. Unfortunately, he was never able to match that same kind of success in Atlanta. Follow running back Jacquizz Rodgers is also out of Atlanta after hooking on with the Bears.
Justin Blalock was a mainstay at the left guard spot in Atlanta since entering the league in 2007, having started all 125 games he has played during his career with the Falcons. That’s why his February release came as something of a surprise. Even putting his experience aside, the former second-round pick was still an above-average guard, according to Pro Football Focus – Blalock received positive grades from the site for each of the last five seasons (subscription required). In June, Blalock decided to walk away from the game.
Harry Douglas was a hero in 2013, when injuries to Julio Jones and Roddy White increased his role in the Falcons’ offense, allowing him to set new career highs in catches (85) and receiving yards (1,067). Jones and White returned to health for the 2014 season, and Douglas returned to his role as Matt Ryan‘s No. 3 target. With a base salary of $3.5MM for the 2015 season, the Falcons felt that Douglas wasn’t worth the cash and released him in late February, right around when they bid farewell to S-Jax.
Veteran pass rusher Osi Umenyiora didn’t draw a ton of interest on the free agent market after his deal with the Falcons expired and Atlanta didn’t seem all that interested in a reunion. Late last month, the veteran agreed to sign a one-day deal with Big Blue so that he could retire as a member of the Giants.
- Acquired a 2015 fifth-round pick (No. 137; DT Grady Jarrett) from the Vikings in exchange for a 2015 fifth-round pick (No. 146; WR Stefon Diggs) and a 2015 sixth-round pick (No. 185; T Tyrus Thompson).
- 1-8: Vic Beasley, DE/OLB (Clemson): Signed
- 2-42: Jalen Collins, CB (LSU): Signed
- 3-73: Tevin Coleman, RB (Indiana): Signed
- 4-107: Justin Hardy, WR (East Carolina): Signed
- 5-137: Grady Jarrett, DT (Clemson): Signed
- 7-225: Jake Rodgers, T (Eastern Washington): Signed
- 7-250: Akeem King, S (San Jose State): Signed
The Falcons have struggled to produce an effective pass rush over the last couple seasons, and the arrival of Beasley is expected to help improve that aspect of the defense. It will be interesting to see how Quinn makes use of Beasley, who was considered one of the top edge rushers in this year’s draft.
- Restructured front office. GM Thomas Dimitroff retained final say over draft and free agency, while assistant GM Scott Pioli took on more pro/college scouting and draft responsibilities.
- Hired Dan Quinn as head coach to replace Mike Smith.
- Hired Kyle Shanahan as offensive coordinator to replace Dirk Koetter.
- Hired Richard Smith as defensive coordinator to replace Mike Nolan.
- Signed 11 players to reserve/futures contracts.
- Signed 19 undrafted rookie free agents following the draft.
The hiring of Dan Quinn as Falcons head coach was the worst kept secret in football for what felt like forever. After the Super Bowl, however, the Seahawks defensive coordinator finally was able to put pen to paper with Atlanta. A former defensive line coach, Quinn has led the league’s top defense in Seattle in each of the last two seasons as the club’s defensive coordinator. While his stint with the Seahawks had an unfortunate ending, Quinn was regarded as one of the leading head coaching candidates of the offseason. He is a highly touted defensive mind, but Quinn also had a pool of talent available to him in Seattle. It’ll be interesting to see if he has enough to work with in Atlanta after the moves made this offseason.
Prior to the hiring of Quinn, the Falcons announced a restructuring of the player personnel department with changes affecting general manager Thomas Dimitroff and assistant GM Scott Pioli. Pioli has taken on pro and college scouting and NFL draft responsibilities, reporting to Dimitroff. Dimitroff also “retain[ed] management responsibility for salary cap, player affairs, equipment, sports medicine and performance, and video activities.” Each exec now reports separately to owner Arthur Blank.
Top 10 cap hits for 2015:
- Matt Ryan, QB: $19,500,000
- Julio Jones, WR: $10,176,000
- Roddy White, WR: $5,556,250
- William Moore, S: $5,368,750
- Paul Soliai, DT: $4,400,000
- Jon Asamoah, G: $4,268,750
- Justin Blalock, G: $4,120,000 (dead money)
- Joe Hawley, C: $4,000,000
- Tyson Jackson, DT: $3,850,000
- Jake Matthews, LT: $3,733,977
The Falcons didn’t make the flashiest moves this offseason, but they might have had one of the better offseasons of any team in the NFL. Atlanta undeniably got stronger on the defensive side of the ball and they have the right coach to make that unit as successful as possible. If the Falcons’ offensive line – which was largely neglected this spring – can perform better than last season, there’s no reason to think that they can’t come out on top in the NFC South.