Offseason In Review: Atlanta Falcons

Notable signings:

Notable losses:

Extensions and restructures:


  • Acquired a fifth-round pick (No. 168) from the Vikings in exchange for a sixth-round pick (No. 182) and a seventh-round pick (No. 220).
  • Acquired T.J. Yates from the Texans in exchange for Akeem Dent.

Draft picks:

  • Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M (1.6): Signed
  • Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota (2.37): Signed
  • Dezmen Southward, S, Wisconsin (3.68): Signed
  • Devonta Freeman, RB, Florida State (4.103): Signed
  • Prince Shembo, OLB, Notre Dame (4.139): Signed
  • Ricardo Allen, CB, Purdue (5.147): Signed
  • Marquis Spruill, LB, Syracuse (5.168): Signed
  • Yawin Smallwood, LB, Connecticut (7.253): Signed
  • Tyler Starr, LB, South Dakota (7.255): Signed


Expectations were high for the Falcons last year — after a 2012 season that saw the team go 13-3 and narrowly miss a Super Bowl appearance, many assumed the NFC South would once again be Atlanta’s for the taking. However, injuries and ineffectiveness took their toll, and the Falcons collapsed, finishing 2013 with a 4-12 record. Ownership, realizing that a solid staff is in place, did not overreact to the lost season, and in fact extended both general manager Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Mike Smith, the two figures who lead Atlanta’s offseason reboot.Jake Matthews

The first item on Dimitroff and Smith’s to-do list was to revamp a defense that struggled immensely in 2013. In addition to giving up the second-most rushing yards per game, the Falcons finished 29th in the league in sacks, and were ranked dead last in pass-rushing per Football Outsiders’ advanced metrics. Atlanta used a lot of 3-4 looks last season, but will make the complete transition to coordinator Mike Nolan’s favored defensive scheme in 2014. With that in mind, the team made several additions to strengthen its front seven.

Along the line, the Falcons brought in former Dolphin Paul Soliai on five-year, $32MM deal to handle nose tackle duties, and signed Tyson Jackson, who has played 3-4 end his entire career, to a five-year pact worth $25MM. Atlanta re-signed both Jonathan Babineaux and Corey Peters, and drafted the gargantuan Ra’Shede Hageman, who can probably play at either tackle or end, in the second round. Each of these moves was designed to add size, strength, and versatility to a line that, quite frankly, was manhandled last year.

The Falcons’ linebacking unit withstood a devastating blow before training camp even got underway, as veteran Sean Weatherspoon suffered a torn ACL, which will cause him to miss the 2014 season. Veterans Omar Gaither and Stephen Nicholas won’t be returning next year, but Atlanta replaced them with Tim Dobbins and Pat Angerer. Fourth-rounder Prince Shembo is a player to watch, as he experienced life in a 3-4 defense while at Notre Dame. Fellow rookies Marquis Spruill, Yawin Smallwood, and Tyler Starr could all contribute to a unit that is fairly shallow.

Atlanta’s secondary saw the release of veterans Thomas DeCoud and Asante Samuel, two players who are on the downside of their respective careers. Josh Wilson and Javier Arenas, each of whom has special team prowess, were brought in on cheap deals, but the most intriguing addition is probably the team’s third-round pick, safety Dezmen Southward. The Wisconsin product will compete with another new signee, Dwight Lowery, for the right to play next to stalwart William Moore.

The offensive unit (which rated 14th in terms of DVOA) wasn’t the nightmare that was the defense in Atlanta, but Dimitroff and Co. obviously wanted to add bulk to the front five. Guard Jon Asamoah, formerly of the Chiefs, was signed to a five-year, $22.5MM pact, and Jake Matthews was drafted with the sixth overall pick. Matthews figures to start the year playing right tackle, but don’t be shocked if he takes over Matt Ryan‘s blindside (currently manned by the subpar Sam Baker) by the end of 2014. Center Joe Hawley (re-signed for two years, $6MM) will start at center, and former first-rounder Gabe Carimi (one year, $840K) will serve as depth.

The offensive skill positions didn’t see much overhaul, as the team is mostly banking on the healthy return of fourth-year receiver Julio Jones, who missed much of last season (but did have his fifth-year option exercised). Jones’ running mate, 32-year-old Roddy White, was extended on a deal that could contain as much as $10MM guaranteed. Longtime Bear and special teams ace Devin Hester was signed to a three-year, $9MM contract to handle kick and punt returns.

At running back, fourth-rounder Devonta Freeman will compete for snaps with Steven Jackson and Jacquizz Rodgers. Future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez retired (and figures to stay that way), and no draftee was added, meaning tight end will be left to second-year player Levine Toilolo. Quarterback depth was bolstered, as T.J. Yates was added via trade, and figures to serves as Ryan’s primary backup.

The Falcons are a team ripe for positive regression. Bill Barnwell of Grantland recently laid out the case for a bouceback season by Atlanta, estimating the Falcons will win 10 games and claim a playoff spot. With improved line play, continued development by Desmond Trufant and the rest of the secondary, and less injuries, 9-10 wins sounds right. The NFC South is a tough division, however, and another good season by the Saints or the Panthers, or a rebound by the Buccaneers, could leave the Falcons outside the playoff picture.

Spotrac and Over The Cap were used in the creation of this post.

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