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Falcons, Personnel Director Lionel Vital Part Ways

7:42pm: The Falcons offered Vital a different position, but he declined it, deciding instead to move on, according to D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“I just felt, we felt that it would just be fairer for the new guy, who is going to be doing that duty, to deal with fresh people,” Vital said, per Ledbetter. “I don’t want to be staring at him and I don’t want him staring at me. I think it works out for both parties. The Falcons have been good to me. That’s how I want to leave it.”

6:07pm: The Falcons and director of player personnel Lionel Vital have parted ways, a source tells Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk. Atlanta is only a year removed from increasing the workload of Vital, whom the team awarded additional pro scouting responsibilities and a role in college scouting last January. However, after a third straight non-playoff season, the Falcons and Vital are going in separate directions.

[RELATED: Falcons To Retain GM Thomas Dimitroff]

Vital, who has racked up 25 years of experience working for various organizations, has strong ties to newly hired Titans general manager Jon Robinson, reports ESPN’s Paul Kuharsky (Twitter link). That could make the 52-year-old a fit to join Robinson in Tennessee.

Week In Review: 1/24/16 – 1/31/16




Front Office:



Browns To Hire Andrew Berry

The Browns are set to hire Colts pro scouting coordinator Andrew Berry as VP of Player Personnel, sources tell Adam Schefter of (on Twitter). The position is believed to be the Browns’ top personnel job, though Sashi Brown will continue to have final say over the roster. Browns (generic)

[RELATED: Browns’ Joe Thomas Unlikely To Request Trade]

The Browns previously interviewed Lions senior personnel executive Brian Xanders and former Falcons director of player personnel Lionel Vital for their top available personnel position. Up until now, Berry was not mentioned as a candidate for the job. The hiring of Berry seems to have come out of left field, but it’s not the team’s most surprising hire of the offseason. Just weeks ago, the Browns hired longtime baseball exec Paul DePodesta for a front office role.

Berry, who has spent the last seven seasons with the Colts, served as the team’s pro scouting coordinator from 2012 though 2015. With Berry hired as VP of Player Personnel, the team’s heavy lifting in the front office and on the sidelines is likely done. In recent weeks, the team promoted Brown to executive vice president of football operations and hired ex-Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson as head coach.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Browns Interview Xanders, Vital For Top Personnel Job

WEDNESDAY, 8:09am: In addition to speaking to Xanders, the Browns also interviewed former Falcons director of player personnel Lionel Vital for their top personnel job, sources tell Cabot. Vital was let go by Atlanta earlier this month after spending three years with the team.

TUESDAY, 7:44pm: The Browns have interviewed Lions senior personnel executive Brian Xanders for their top available personnel position, a league source tells Mary Kay Cabot of Xanders was one of two men to interview for the job on Tuesday, though the identity of the other candidate to interview today is not yet known. Brian Xanders (vertical)

Besides the former Broncos GM, the Browns have also talked with former Dolphins GM Dennis Hickey and former Lions general manager Martin Mayhew and they have also been linked to ex-Eagles executive Rick Mueller. Whoever the Browns’ next big hire is will not carry the title of GM. Their next “Executive Vice President of Player Personnel” will have input when it comes to the roster, but Browns executive VP of football operations Sashi Brown will have final say.

Xanders, 44, comes with tons of experience having just completed his third season with the Lions and 22nd in the NFL. There’s no exact timetable for a hire, but the team is optimistic about making a decision shortly.

We’re still on track to hopefully wrap things up in the next week or two,” said Brown. “We feel good about it. We’ve talked to some really talented people around the league despite not being able to interview everyone we were originally slated to. I feel like we’ll find a really talented personnel executive to come in and lead that function for us.”

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Extra Points: Cowboys, Brooks, J. Reed, Suggs

After parting ways with the Falcons in January, Lionel Vital – Atlanta’s former director of player personnel – is joining the Cowboys‘ front office. As first reported by Alex Marvez of FOX Sports (Twitter link), Dallas is hiring Vital as a senior personnel executive. He’ll report to Cowboys assistant director of player personnel Will McClay, a source tells David Moore of the Dallas Morning News (Twitter link).

Here are a few more odds and ends from around the NFL:

  • All indications are that Ahmad Brooks‘ spot on the 49ers‘ roster remains safe for at least another season, writes Matt Maiocco of The Niners don’t have an in-house replacement lined up at Brooks’ position, and his $8MM cap hit isn’t exorbitant now that San Francisco is carrying a league-high $58MM+ in cap room, per
  • Washington tight end Jordan Reed has completed his agent change, signing with Joel Segal for representation, per Mike Jones and Master Tesfatsion of the Washington Post (Twitter link). Reed is extension-eligible, and based on the deals recently signed by Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz, he appears to be in good position to cash in.
  • Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs was charged with two misdemeanors related to a car accident earlier this month, according to Jeff Zrebiec of The Baltimore Sun (Twitter link). TMZ first reported the news. Depending on how the case plays out, Suggs could eventually face NFL discipline.
  • The NFL formally announced the performance-based pay bonuses for 2015 this week, and Broncos center Matt Paradis received the most additional pay (nearly $392K). The PBP bonuses are primarily distributed to players whose playing time was significant and whose salaries were not. The figures don’t affect teams’ salary caps.

Falcons Hire Phil Emery, Ruston Webster

2:34pm: The Falcons have officially confirmed that they’ve hired Emery and Webster as national scouts.

1:07pm: The Falcons appear set to add a pair of former general managers to their front office, according to reports. D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes that the Falcons will add former Bears general manager Phil Emery to their scouting and personnel department, while a Pro Football Talk tweet suggests ex-Titans GM Ruston Webster will join the team as well.Phil Emery

[RELATED: Falcons to retain general manager Thomas Dimitroff]

Earlier this month, in announcing that head coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff would return to the Falcons for the 2016 season, owner Arthur Blank indicated that the front office would undergo a bit of a shake-up this winter.

“We are going to make a number of changes to our pro personnel and college scouting departments and that process began this week,” Blank said at the time. “It will take some time, but we will be adding talent on the pro personnel side and re-organizing both of these groups to best align with the shared vision of Coach Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff. I expect these changes will produce positive results for our team.”

Since then, the Falcons parted ways with director of player personnel Lionel Vital, and now it appears that the team will add a pair of notable names to its front office. With Emery and Webster set to join a group that already features Dimitroff, Rich McKay, former Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli, and former Rams general manager Billy Devaney, the Falcons’ front office will include several executives with GM experience.

Emery was let go by the Bears at the end of the 2014 season along with head coach Marc Trestman, while the Titans opted not to retain Webster at the end of the 2015 campaign, when his contract expired.

Falcons Restructure Front Office

5:58pm: Dimitroff’s “final say” is over Falcons’ draft and free agency while final say over the 53-man roster is still not determined and could go to the coach, according to’s Albert Breer (on Twitter).

4:59pm: The Falcons announced a restructuring of the player personnel department this afternoon with changes affecting general manager Thomas Dimitroff and assistant GM Scott Pioli. Pioli will take on pro and college scouting and NFL draft responsibilities, reporting to Dimitroff. Dimitroff will also “retain management responsibility for salary cap, player affairs, equipment, sports medicine and performance, and video activities,” according to the release.

The new head coach of the Falcons and Dimitroff will report separately to owner Arthur Blank. That search, according to the release, “is expected to be concluded in the coming weeks.”

After reviewing all of our options – internally and externally – I have no reservations that this is the best approach to setting up our player personnel groups for future success,” said Falcons owner Arthur Blank. “It maximizes the talents of Scott, allows for more time and focus on all areas of our football operations groups managed by Thomas, and is in line with other player personnel groups in the league. While this decision was not tied to the head coach search currently underway, we also believe that independent thinking and collaboration will contribute to taking us to the next level in our league.

The additional responsibilities for Pioli are likely an effort to keep him in Atlanta this offseason. The former Chiefs GM has been a popular name in recent weeks as he has been linked to a number of vacancies, including the Jets and Texans. The release does not mention a salary increase for Pioli, but one has to imagine that he will be receiving a pay bump in exchange for passing on opportunities elsewhere.

Pioli will be supported by Falcons director of player personnel Lionel Vital, who will assume additional pro scouting responsibilities and play a role in college scouting, and director of college scouting Steve Sabo, along with their staffs.

NFC Rumors: 49ers, Bucs, Burleson, Falcons

A day after being eliminated from the postseason by the Seahawks, the 49ers are already looking ahead to the offseason. Kicker Phil Dawson and center Jonathan Goodwin both expressed interest in re-signing with San Francisco, according to Steve Corkran of the Bay Area News Group (Twitter links). The team is also in talks with McLeod Bethel-Thompson about a return for the backup QB, and has signed defensive lineman Lawrence Okoye and wide receiver Devon Wylie to futures deals, according to Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee (Twitter links).

Here’s more from around the NFC:

  • All indications right now suggest that the Buccaneers are deciding between Jason Licht of the Cardinals and Marc Ross of the Giants as their next general manager, reports Mike Garafolo of FOX Sports 1 (via Twitter). Falcons vice president of player personnel Lionel Vital, who had been in the running for the Bucs job, told D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution today that he’ll remain in Atlanta.
  • Nate Burleson acknowledges he’ll likely have to restructure his contract in order to return to the Lions next season, but he hopes to play out his deal and eventually retire in Detroit, as Eric Lacy of details.
  • The Falcons have interest in bringing back offensive lineman Mike Johnson, but only at the right price, tweets Vaughn McClure of
  • The Seahawks and 49ers are among the early favorites to come out of the NFC a year from now, but both teams will have multiple players in line for raises before then. Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk takes a look at a few offseason issues for the NFC’s top two teams.

East Notes: Fitz, Wilkerson, Cousins, Cowboys

The Jets’ Todd Bowles indicated Tuesday that there’s no deadline to sign free agent quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, but the head coach backtracked on that today, reports Rich Cimini of “If it’s Week 4 in training camp and he’s not here, you know who your starter is going to be Week 1,” Bowles said, implying that Geno Smith would be the Jets’ No. 1 signal-caller in such an extreme scenario. “You have time until you don’t have time,” continued Bowles, who added that the Jets will consider signing a veteran to compete for a backup role with rookie Christian Hackenberg and second-year man Bryce Petty if Gang Green doesn’t re-up Fitzpatrick.

More from the NFL’s two East divisions:

  • Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins is content to play this season under the $19.95MM franchise tag if he and the club don’t reach a long-term agreement by the July 15 deadline, according to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk. One reason the 27-year-old is fine with operating under the tag is because he knows his price will continue rising if the Redskins franchise him again next offseason, relays Florio. Indeed, it would cost Washington $23.94MM to tag Cousins in 2017 and $34.47MM to do the same in 2018.
  • Jets defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson – who skipped OTAs and is sitting out minicamp (and could hold out of training camp) – will not settle for less than the $103MM extension the Eagles gave Fletcher Cox on his next deal, writes Brian Costello of the New York Post. Although Wilkerson has a star-level track record, the Jets don’t regard the two-time second-team All-Pro highly enough to pay him Cox-type of money and already have a pair of other stud D-linemen in Sheldon Richardson and Leonard Williams. Thus, Wilkerson is likely to eventually sign his $15.7MM franchise tag, play 2016 under that and then bolt in free agency, per Costello.
  • The Cowboys have named Lionel Vital their director of college scouting, tweets Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News. Dallas hired Vital as a senior personnel executive in March, but the team has now clarified his role. Vital was previously the personnel director for the Falcons, who parted ways with him in January.
  • After a mini-holdout, standout Dolphins safety Reshad Jones reported to minicamp earlier today.

Steelers, Ben Roethlisberger Agree To New Deal

The Steelers have signed Ben Roethlisberger to a new contract for 2021, per a club announcement. Big Ben’s contract was too large for the Steelers’ salary cap, but the two sides found middle ground on Thursday afternoon. 

We are excited we were able to come to an agreement with Ben Roethlisberger on a new contract for him to return to the Steelers in 2021,” said GM Kevin Colbert. “We know that Ben can still play at a high level and do special things for this team. Our goal remains the same – to put together a roster that will compete for another championship. We are happy that Ben will be one of our leaders to help us accomplish that goal.”

Roethlisberger enjoyed a solid 2020 season after losing all of 2019 to injury. The Steelers have wanted to keep him all along, but things were uncertain amidst the numbers crunch.

Rather than a multi-year extension, it sounds as though Roethlisberger has agreed to a pay reduction for the coming year. The maneuver may also include voidable years, kicking much of the cash down the road for when the Steelers have a higher cap limit and more flexibility. It’s probably not the solution that Roethlisberger wanted, but he was ultimately willing to compromise.

It is my greatest honor to be a Pittsburgh Steeler and give my all for this organization,” said Roethlisberger. “I am grateful to be at this stage of my career and more than happy to adjust my contract in a way that best helps the team to address other players who are so vital to our success. I love this game and love to compete, and I believe in this team and my ability to deliver when called upon. It all starts with great preparation and I am ready to go.”

Roethlisberger owns countless Steelers records, including games plays (233), started (231), passing touchdowns (396), and completions (5,050). Last year, he finished out with 3,803 yards, 33 TDs, and 10 INTs. He was sacked just 13 times throughout the year, his lowest total of any complete season.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Falcons Hire Cowboys’ Jerome Henderson

MONDAY, 10:21am: The Falcons have officially announced the hiring of Henderson as their defensive passing game coordinator, and confirmed Morris’ reassignment.

SUNDAY, 3:42pm: The Falcons have hired Cowboys defensive backs coach Jerome Henderson as their defensive passing game coordinator, according to Ian Rapoport of (Twitter link). Raheem Morris, who previously held that title for Atlanta, will become the club’s offensive passing game coordinator and receivers coach, reports Albert Breer of (Twitter links).Jerome Henderson

[RELATED: 2016 Offensive/Defensive Coordinator Tracker]

Henderson, 46, has been a hot name on the coaching carousel this offseason, having been linked to a number of assistant jobs around the league in addition to interviewing for the Browns’ head coaching vacancy. Henderson also met with the Jaguars regarding their defensive coordinator position, and was linked to gigs on the Dolphins’ staff under new defensive coordinator Vance Joseph.

While Henderson had suggested that he wouldn’t leave Dallas for anything other than a promotion (which could have been taken to mean a coordinator role), the move to defensive passing game coordinator presumably represents a step up. Morris, meanwhile, also has the title of assistant head coach in Atlanta, so the club and head coach Dan Quinn evidently had a bit more leeway to move Morris around on staff without technically demoting him.

But given that Morris has never coached offense in any capacity, moving him to the opposite side of the ball is certainly an odd move. The entirety of Morris’ coaching career — exempting his years as Tampa Bay’s head coach — has been spent on defense, mostly in the secondary. It’s possible that Atlanta wanted to keep him on staff in any role possible, regardless of specifics — the Bengals did something similar in 2012, naming Hue Jackson as an assistant in the secondary despite Jackson having spent his career coaching offense.

[RELATED: Falcons part ways with executive Lionel Vital]

We first heard Friday that Henderson would be interviewing for a position with Atlanta, but the club made it clear in its release that incumbent defensive coordinator Richard Smith would not lose his title. Additionally, Falcons defensive backs coach Marquand Manuel yesterday turned down an opportunity to become the Jaguars’ defensive passing game coordinator, so Henderson couldn’t take on the role of secondary coach in Atlanta, either.

Meanwhile, Cowboys safeties coach Joe Baker is expected to assume Henderson’s responsibilities in Dallas, becoming the full-time secondary coach, per Rapoport (Twitter link).

Patriots To Sign Dan Vitale

The Patriots continue to make smaller under the radar moves as they re-tool their team in the wake of Tom Brady‘s departure. New England is signing fullback Dan Vitale, his agent Chris Cabbott told Tom Pelissero of NFL Network (Twitter link).

The Pats and Bill Belichick like to use fullbacks a lot, so this is a significant move. This also could spell the end of the road for the Patriots’ longtime fullback James Develin. Develin signed with New England back in 2012 and has been their full-time fullback since 2013. He was limited to only two games in 2019 because of a neck injury, and his absence had a big impact on their running game.

We haven’t heard much about him since, and it’s possible that his neck injury is going to prevent him from playing. Either way, it looks like the Pats will be moving forward with Vitale. Vitale spent last year as the Packers’ fullback, catching seven passes for 97 yards while playing about 16 percent of the offensive snaps. In 2018, Develin was used on more than 35 percent of New England’s snaps.


Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Patriots FB Danny Vitale To Opt Out

A fourth player has decided to opt out this afternoon. Patriots fullback Danny Vitale informed the team of his intentions to bypass the 2020 season, Jarrett Bell of USA Today reports.

Thus far, Vitale is the fifth overall player to opt out. He follows Chiefs guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, Ravens wideout De’Anthony Thomas, Seahawks guard Chance Warmack and Cowboys cornerback Maurice Canady.

Vitale has played four NFL seasons — two with the Browns, two with the Packers — and signed with the Pats this offseason. The Patriots lost longtime fullback James Develin to retirement earlier this offseason.

Vitale played 170 snaps last season with Green Bay, catching 12 passes for 97 yards. His one-year Patriots contract will toll to 2021. Since he is not believed to be at increased risk for COVID-19 complications, Vitale is set to receive a $150K stipend — rather than his $1MM base salary — and see his contract toll to 2021.

Offseason Outlook: Atlanta Falcons

Pending free agents:

Top 15 cap hits for 2016:

  1. Matt Ryan, QB: $23,750,000
  2. Julio Jones, WR: $15,900,000
  3. Paul Soliai, DT: $6,837,500
  4. Sam Baker, T: $6,400,000 (dead money)
  5. Tyson Jackson, DT: $6,350,000
  6. Roddy White, WR: $6,137,500
  7. Andy Levitre, G: $5,375,000
  8. Jake Matthews, T: $4,480,773
  9. Jon Asamoah, G: $3,900,000 (dead money)
  10. Devin Hester, WR/KR: $3,833,334
  11. Brooks Reed, OLB: $3,440,000
  12. William Moore, S: $3,300,000 (dead money)
  13. Vic Beasley, DE: $3,294,370
  14. Matt Bryant, K: $2,870,833
  15. Matt Bosher, P: $2,700,000

Notable coaching/front office moves:

  • Front office: Parted ways with director of player personnel Lionel Vital; hired former Chiefs assistant GM Joel Collier as director of pro personnel.
  • Scouting department: Hired former GMs Phil Emery and Ruston Webster as national scouts.
  • Offensive staff: Lost WRs coach Terry Robiskie, who became Titans’ offensive coordinator.
  • Defensive staff: Hired Cowboys DBs coach Jerome Henderson as defensive passing game coordinator.




Last offseason, the Falcons’ hiring of Dan Quinn as 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.Dan Quinn

A former defensive line coach, Quinn 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. Some expected that the highly touted defensive mind would vault the Falcons to the NFC South title, but it wound up being an up-and-down season in Atlanta, one that resulted in an 8-8 record.

At the outset of the year, it looked as though the Falcons and Panthers would go neck and neck for supremacy in the division and conference. However, after a 5-0 start, the Falcons started slipping. By Week 13, Atlanta had gone from undefeated to .500, and that’s exactly where they finished.

Even though the Falcons did not meet the expectations set for them in the fall, there were still a number of bright spots. On offense, Julio Jones turned in another stellar season and once again proved why he’s one of the league’s premier wide receivers. In the backfield, the Falcons got production at the running back position, but not from the running back they were banking on. Rookie tailback Tevin Coleman won the starting job in training camp but those plans were scuttled when he suffered a concussion in Week 2. From that point forward, Devonta Freeman took over the job and established himself as a rising star. For the season, Freeman racked up 1,061 yards on the ground and added 578 receiving yards.

On defense, Desmond Trufant turned in one heck of a performance, finishing the year as the No. 13 cornerback in the league according to the advanced metrics at Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Trufant allowed only 32 receptions, putting him right behind Patrick Peterson and Richard Sherman‘s league-leading 31 (among qualified corners). Overall, though, the Falcons’ defense finished in the middle of the pack in both passing and rushing yards allowed.

Can Quinn & Co. overtake the Panthers as NFC South champions in 2016? Here’s a look at their options this spring:

Key Free Agents:

Restricted free agent tackle Ryan Schraeder may require at least a second-round tender for Atlanta to keep him after an impressive third season. Schraeder receiving the second-round tender would cost the Falcons ~$2.47MM, but would allow another team to sign him while surrendering only a second-round pick. An ex-UDFA, Schraeder made $585K last season. A first-round tender figures to cost in the neighborhood of $3.5MM, and that could be the safer route for the Falcons to take if they really want to make sure they keep Schraeder.

Fellow RFAs Paul Worrilow and Nathan Stupar will probably be retained as well. Worrilow may have started for the Falcons out of necessity in 2015, but he was a starter nonetheless. Stupar, meanwhile, had a solid year for the Falcons under the minimum salary and he could be back on something a little more lucrative in 2016.

Adrian ClaybornIn 2014, Adrian Clayborn was hoping to establish himself in his contract year, but he didn’t get the opportunity to show what he could do before hitting the open market. The defensive end played only one game in ’14 before being placed on IR by the Buccaneers. Clayborn later landed a one-year deal with the Falcons, giving him an opportunity to bring his value back up to where it should be.

Clayborn, 28 in July, turned in a full 16-game season and showed that he can be an effective rotation piece. Even though he’s not the player that the Bucs envisioned when they took him No. 20 overall in 2011, Clayborn has given himself some juice heading into free agency this time around. Clayborn could go for another one-year deal to try and get paid in the spring of 2017, but he might be better served by getting the best of both worlds and going for a modest two-year deal. Either way, the Falcons should have some interest, once they take care of their more pressing priorities.

Kroy Biermann has been with the Falcons ever since his entry into the league in 2008. Last year, Biermann had an opportunity to leave but re-signed with Atlanta a few weeks after the opening of free agency. Will he re-up again? Quinn will probably look to bring more of his type of guys into the mix, and that could mean a departure for the 30-year-old (31 in September).

Biermann started a career-high 15 games for the Falcons in 2014, racking up 77 tackles and 4.5 sacks to go along with a forced fumble. In 867 defensive snaps, he recorded a -5.7 grade on Pro Football Focus (subscription required), but that was largely due to a poor rating in pass coverage — he was an above-average run defender and held his own as a pass rusher. This past season, he played in a reserve role, and that’s probably what awaits him with his 2016 team, whether it’s the Falcons or another club.

In September 2015, the Falcons landed Jake Long on a one-year deal. Unfortunately, the former No. 1 overall pick could not give the team a full season of production. Long did not make his debut until December 13th, giving him a combined 11 games of action over the last two years. Now, Long is eligible for free agency once again and he could be on his way to team No. 3. If he stays with the Falcons, he likely won’t have an opportunity to start, with Jake Matthews and Schraeder penciled in at the two tackle spots.

O’Brien Schofield followed Quinn to Atlanta and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him re-sign for another season. The linebacker probably won’t be getting a starting job with the Falcons in 2016, but he can provide the team with some veteran leadership and some guidance, given his familiarity with Quinn’s defensive scheme.

Veteran linebacker Philip Wheeler could be back for another season. Cornerback Phillip Adams, meanwhile, seems less likely to return after a so-so 2015. Center Gino Gradkowski, whom Atlanta plucked off waivers in September, could be welcomed back once the team takes care of its top free agents.

Possible Cap Casualties:

The Falcons will reportedly release defensive tackle Paul Soliai on or after the start of the new league year on March 9. By waiting until March 9, the Falcons will absorb Soliai’s dead money hit — a charge of $4.2MM — on their 2016 salary cap. If the club opts to designate Soliai as a post-June 1 cut, it will take on dead money totals of $1.4MM in 2016 and and $2.8MM in 2017.

Having just finished the second season of a five-year deal, the 32-year-old Soliai was poised to earn a base salary of $4.5MM, accompanied by a cap figure of $6.9MM. From the Falcons’ perspective, that cap charge was likely excessive, as Soliai’s snap count in Dan Quinn‘s defense had dropped to 357 in 2015 (down from 502 in Mike Smith‘s unit in 2014). Add in the fact that Soliai wasn’t overly effective, grading as just the No. 57 interior defender last season per Pro Football Focus, and it probably makes sense that Atlanta is cutting bait. The Falcons did try to get Soliai to take a pay cut, but the two sides could not come to terms.Roddy White

Could Roddy White be the next veteran to go? The wide receiver was once the heart and soul of the Falcons’ passing attack, but he slumped through his worst season as a starter in 2015. After catching 43 passes for 506 yards in 16 games, White could be a cap casualty.

White’s salaries for 2016 and 2017 are relatively modest – $2.75MM and $3MM, respectively – but he can earn $1.5MM in bonuses each season as well — $1MM for making the 53-man roster, then up to an additional $500K in per-game roster bonuses. Throw in $1.888MM in annual prorated signing bonus money and White’s cap numbers for the next two seasons exceed $6MM, making him the sixth-most expensive player on the roster. In order for those cap charge to be viable, the Falcons would have to count on White bouncing back and exceeding his 2015 numbers, but it’s not clear that sort of rebound is in the cards for the veteran wideout.

The Falcons acquired veteran guard Andy Levitre from the Titans in early September with the hopes that he could get back to his old form. Unfortunately, Levitre didn’t do much to help hold down the fort on the interior of the offensive line. Levitre restructured his deal shortly after joining the Falcons, but that might not be enough to save his place with the squad this year. If they cut him, the Falcons can save roughly $4MM against the cap.

Positions Of Need:

The Falcons were supposed to have an aggressive defense just like Quinn’s in Seattle. That, ultimately, didn’t turn out to be the case. After some promising results early on, the Falcons’ D wound up finishing last in the NFL in sacks with 19 in total. The Falcons badly need an edge rusher and there are free agent options out there. If he reaches the open market somehow, then Muhammad Wilkerson would make a tremendous addition for the Falcons. Fellow Meadowlands resident Jason Pierre-Paul is probably more likely to reach the open market, however, and he wouldn’t break the bank.

Linebacker Bruce Irvin told the media in January that he would take less money on his second contract to stay with the Seahawks. However, one has to wonder if that’s really the case with the Falcons lurking and in need of linebackers. Atlanta could offer Irvin a reunion with Quinn and also a return to his hometown. If they can’t land Irvin, someone like Rolando McClain would also be an intriguing pickup, provided that he is not retained by the Cowboys. For what it’s worth, defensive coordinator Richard Smith previously served as the Broncos’ linebackers coach, so he’s familiar with pending free agent Danny Trevathan.

When Matt Ryan had Tony Gonzalez as a security blanket, things were clicking in Atlanta. In his five seasons in Atlanta, Gonzalez secured 409 receptions for 4,187 yards and 35 touchdowns. Last year, Jacob Tamme recorded 59 receptions for 647 yards, but that didn’t quite replicate the spark that the team has been missing since 2013. The Falcons would like to figure something out at tight end as they look to resuscitate their once lethal passing attack.

In the secondary, the Falcons have to figure out a solution at safety. William Moore, a former Pro Bowler, was lackluster in 2015 and he was handed his walking papers earlier this month. Eric Berry would be nothing short of a home run for the Falcons, but he seems likely to get the franchise tag from the Chiefs if the two sides can’t hammer out a multi-year deal. The Falcons may have to aim lower, but we expect that they’ll still spend to bolster the position.

Desmond TrufantIf the Falcons say goodbye to White this offseason, then they’ll have to look into getting some new blood at wide receiver. Travis Benjamin seems less and less likely to stay with the Browns at this point and he’d make one heck of a No. 2 option opposite of Julio Jones.

Extension Candidates/Contract Issues:

Former first-round pick Desmond Trufant could be an extension candidate for the Falcons this offseason. The cornerback is coming of a strong year in which Pro Football Focus (sub. req’d) rated him as the 13th-best corner in the NFL. Trufant appears to be a hit from the 2013 draft class and the Falcons would be wise to lock him down before he could get really big bucks down the road.

Still, Trufant is eligible for a fifth-year option in 2017, meaning that if the Falcons can’t reach common ground with him on a longer-term deal this offseason, they could simply exercise their option and revisit negotiations a year from now.

Overall Outlook:

Quinn’s first year in Atlanta didn’t go quite as planned, but the early portion of the season showed that there’s plenty to get excited about going forward. If the Falcons can use their cap space and flexibility wisely, they can put themselves in position to get back to the postseason in 2016.

Information from Over The Cap was used in the creation of this post. Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Offseason In Review: Atlanta Falcons

The 2015 Falcons started off hot under new head coach Dan Quinn, posting a 5-0 record and looking like a playoff contender as late as November. But a six-game losing streak exposed the club on both offense and defense, forcing Atlanta to make changes on both sides of the ball this offseason.

Notable signings:

Atlanta’s offensive line responded exceptionally well to offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan‘s implementation of a zone-blocking scheme, with nearly every player up front earning positive grades from Pro Football Focus. The one exception was center Michael Person, who started 14 games at the pivot after having spent most of his career at guard, so the Falcons turned to a veteran who had some prior experience in Shanahan’s system — former Browns center Alex Mack.Alex Mack (Vertical)

Mack, 30, only played in five games during Shanahan’s year as Cleveland’s play-caller, but he spent the entire summer of 2014 preparing to enter a zone-blocking scheme, and his athleticism and ability to move in the running game makes him a perfect fit for the zone approach. The Falcons made Mack the highest-paid center in the league, handing him $9MM per year after the Browns, Chargers, and Rams all expressed varying levels of interest once Mack opted out of his deal with Cleveland.

After being designated as the Browns’ transition player during the 2014 offseason, Mack played the free agent game correctly, inking an offer sheet with the Jaguars that paid him $8.5MM annually, $18MM guaranteed over the first two years of the deal, and contained that aforementioned opt-out clause. Cleveland matched that offer, and when Mack withdrew two years later, he was able to land a contract that will pay him even more per year and includes another $20MM in guarantees. Like Darrelle Revis, Mack has worked the free agent system to his benefit in order to secure every dollar he’s worth.

Chris Chester, meanwhile, will return to Atlanta after playing every offensive snap for the club last year, but he’ll be expected to compete for his starting job, with Person, rookie Wes Schweizter, and free agent addition Tom Compton serving as Chester’s main obstacles to playing time at right guard. Chester is now 33 years old and coming off January shoulder surgery, but he played so well in 2015 that he should be the favorite to handle the majority of snaps. Right tackle Ryan Schraeder, a revelation last year (PFF’s No. 5 tackle), will also return after signing his second-round restricted free agent tender, and the Falcons could look to sign him to an extension over the next few months.

While Atlanta’s pass-blocking was tremendous, the Falcons’ passing offense as a whole was not, as the club ranked 23rd in passing DVOA, with Julio Jones and his 136/1,871/8 receiving line essentially acting as a one-man passing offense. Tight end Jacob Tamme posted a nice season, racking up 59 passes for nearly 700 yards, but the rest of Atlanta’s pass-catchers — including Roddy White, Leonard Hankerson, and Justin Hardy — left a lot to be desired. But instead of finding an affordable complement to play opposite Jones, the Falcons overspent in a weak free agent market, signing former Bengals wideout Mohamed Sanu to a five-year deal.Mohamed Sanu (Vertical)

Even among an uninspiring crop of free agent pass-catchers, Sanu only placed seventh among his position in PFR’s free agent rankings, but the 26-year-old will be earning more annually than every other free agent receiver except former Bengals teammate Marvin Jones. Travis Benjamin, Rishard Matthews, Rueben Randle, Anquan Boldin, and Jermaine Kearse will earn $6MM or less on their new contracts, and the Eagles and Lions were able to land Randle and Boldin, respectively, on one-year pacts.

Sanu, who failed top 400 yards receiving last year, somehow managed to score a better deal than Golden Tate received from the Lions during the 2014 offseason. Cincinnati didn’t trust Sanu enough to allow him to play a larger role in their offense, and he struggled when asked to step up amid a rash of injuries during the 2014 campaign. Clearly, the Falcons needed to add another complementary weapon to their offense, but Sanu is unlikely to live up to his contract.

Atlanta’s only other notable addition on offense was at quarterback, and like Mack, Matt Schaub has a history with Shanahan, having spent time with the play-caller in Houston. Schaub, of course, also has a past with the Falcons (he was a former third-round pick of the club), and though his career has fallen apart in the past few seasons, he probably won’t be asked to play much in Atlanta. Starter Matt Ryan hasn’t missed a game since 2009, having started 99 straight contests since his last missed game.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Falcons surprisingly didn’t target any high-profile pass-rushers after failing to get after opposing quarterbacks with any level of consistency in 2016. Not only did the club rank dead last in sacks with only 19 (the lowest total for any team in the league since 2009), but it also finished 32nd in adjusted sack rate. Atlanta decided to play in the middle of the market, however, inking former Dolphins defensive end Derrick Shelby and re-signing their own Adrian Clayborn.Derrick Shelby (Vertical)

Shelby, 27, is an interesting case of scouting the stat line versus watching the tape. While he’s only posted nine sacks in his career, Shelby graded out as the league’s No. 23 edge defender last season, according to PFF. It’s fair to wonder if Shelby’s increased production was partly a result of playing next to All Pro defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, and it could be concerning that Miami didn’t seriously attempt to retain Shelby, instead opting for external options such as Mario Williams, Andre Branch, and Jason Jones.

While Shelby landed a four-year contract, the Falcons were able to bring back Clayborn on a shorter pact, locking up the edge defender for two more seasons. Clayborn isn’t much of a run defender, so after seeing some time at tackle in 2015, he figures to play exclusively at end during the upcoming season, and given the makeup of Atlanta’s front seven, it’s possible Clayborn is used primarily in sub packages.

Earlier today, the Falcons finally consummated a long-rumored deal with free agent pass rusher Dwight Freeney, inking the veteran after he also drew interest from the Bengals. Now 36 years old, Freeney was still productive last season, managing eight sacks for the Cardinals in only 255 defensive snaps. And though he didn’t get to the quarterback as much in the year prior, Freeney was still solid for the Chargers in 2014, forcing 40 quarterback hurries and posting nine QB hits. He’ll play as rotational end for Atlanta, and shouldn’t be asked to play more than 30 snaps per game.Courtney Upshaw (Vertical)

Clayborn and Freeney will see competition for snaps from free agent addition Courtney Upshaw, the former Ravens second-round pick that only netted a one-year deal from the Falcons. The 26-year-old Upshaw never became the edge rushing force in Baltimore that many had projected, but he’s very solid against the run, and could conceivably be used in a variety of roles in Dan Quinn‘s defense. Upshaw will likely see snaps at both defensive end and linebacker in Atlanta, with his duty being heavily influenced by the situation.

While Upshaw could shift between multiple positions, Sean Weatherspoon and Philip Wheeler are linebackers in the most strict sense, and both could see a hefty amount of snaps next seeason. Weatherspoon returns to the Falcons after a one-year stint with the Cardinals, and given his history of injuries, Atlanta will probably try to specify his role in the defense. Given his movement and coverage skills, Weatherspoon will likely be on the field in the Falcons’ nickel defense. Wheeler, meanwhile, will have to compete with fourth-round rookie De’Vondre Campbell for playing time at outside ‘backer.

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Seahawks, Anthony Lynn Discussing OC Role

Not long after the Chargers fired Anthony Lynn, the veteran coach is expected to have options to return as an offensive coordinator for the 2021 season. The four-year Bolts HC is under consideration for multiple OC jobs, according to’s Dianna Russini (on Twitter).

Thus far, Lynn has been most closely connected to the Seahawks. He has spoken with Pete Carroll about the job,’s Tom Pelissero and Ian Rapoport report (via Twitter). It does not sound like Lynn has committed to coaching next season, but he will be an option in Seattle. Lynn, 52, has coached in every season since his playing career ended in 2000.

The Seahawks fired three-year OC Brian Schottenheimer earlier this week; Lynn is the first name to be connected to the NFC West champions. While other names may emerge, Russell Wilson wants a say in the team’s next play-calling hire.

I think it’s vital, it’s critical, super significant, obviously, that I’m a part of that process,” Wilson said, via’s Brady Henderson. “Coach and I have definitely been talking about that, [GM John Schneider] too as well. We’ve had some … great dialogue about the thought process of who we want, the leader … the innovator, all that kind of different stuff that you want. I think that’s the super-critical thing, obviously at this point in my career because you spend every day with that person.”

Prior to becoming the Chargers HC in the team’s first season back in Los Angeles, Lynn served as offensive coordinator in Buffalo. However, Lynn took over early in the 2016 season after the Bills fired Greg Roman. Prior to that season, Lynn primarily served as a running backs coach. Lynn coached running backs for five teams from 2003-16 before rising to the coordinator level. He was not the primary play-caller in Los Angeles, but the offense-oriented head coach oversaw four straight top-11 offenses in L.A. OC Shane Steichen called the Bolts’ plays this season.

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Terron Armstead Confirms Positive COVID-19 Test

Taysom Hill will not have his most accomplished blocker in front of him Sunday in Denver. Terron Armstead confirmed reports he has tested positive for COVID-19 (Twitter link).

Armstead learned of his positive test Saturday morning, putting him in line to next week’s game against the Falcons as well. The Saints will be without their starting left tackle and quarterback for a bit. They are already without left guard starter Andrus Peat.

A full-time Saints starter since his second season (2014), the former third-round pick has become one of the league’s best O-linemen. Armstead has served as a vital component of Alvin Kamara‘s breakthrough, making the past two Pro Bowls as the longest-tenured member of New Orleans’ high-end O-line.

James Hurst stands to be the next man up. The former Ravens starter has served as the Saints’ swing tackle this season, starting twice in place of standout right tackle Ryan Ramczyk.

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Cardinals, Domata Peko Agree To Terms

Domata Peko will be in line to play a 15th NFL season. The Cardinals hosted the defensive lineman on a visit this week and have come to terms on a deal, according to agent David Canter (on Twitter).

The longtime starter has begun going through COVID-19 protocols with the Cardinals and would be eligible to practice ahead of the team’s Week 12 game. Peko would represent a vital reinforcement for a Cardinals team that now has five defensive linemen on IR.

A starter for the Bengals and Broncos, Peko played eight games with the Ravens last season. The soon-to-be 36-year-old defender has made 189 NFL starts. Peko will reunite with Cardinals DC Vance Joseph, who was the Broncos’ head coach during each of the nose tackle’s two seasons in Denver. Joseph was also with the Bengals during part of Peko’s 11-year Cincinnati stay.

The Cards used Josh Mauro, UDFA Trevon Coley and Angelo Blackson as their starting defensive linemen against the Seahawks on Thursday. None of this trio worked as Week 1 starters for the team, which has Corey Peters, Jordan Phillips and Zach Allen on IR.

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Browns Release Christian Kirksey

The Browns have released linebacker Christian Kirksey, per a club announcement. Kirksey was one of the team’s longest-tenured players, but the club’s revamped regime did not see him as a part of their plans in 2020. 

Christian Kirksey has been a vital member of our organization for the last six seasons because of his contributions on and off the field,” said Browns GM Andrew Berry, who overlapped with Kirksey in his original stint from 2016-2018. “He has been a strong leader both in our locker room and in the Cleveland community. These are difficult decisions and, in Christian’s case, more challenging because of how well he has represented our team. We thank him for his dedication and wish him nothing but the best in the next phase of his career.”

Kirksey played in 73 games and started 54 times over the course of six years. After his first four years of perfect attendance, the injury bug derailed him a bit. In 2018, he was held back by a hamstring injury. Last year, a torn pectoral muscle shut him down after just two games. He leaves the Browns after notching 484 stops, 11.5 sacks, two interceptions, and four forced fumbles. More importantly, he’ll leave behind a legacy of charitable work in the Cleveland area.

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Jets Not Interested In Yannick Ngakoue

The Jets’ lack of a top-tier pass rusher has led to many observers connecting the dots between Gang Green and players like Yannick Ngakoue and Jadeveon Clowney this offseason. But we heard earlier this month that the club has no interest in Clowney, and Rich Cimini of says the Jets feel the same way about Ngakoue.

That jibes with what Cimini reported back in March, but as the Jets have since acquired multiple first-round picks while failing to address their pass-rushing needs, it seemed that there was a possibility that the club could still make a move for Ngakoue, whose disenchantment with the Jaguars has been well-publicized. And, since several Power 5 conferences have pushed their seasons to the spring — while the remaining conferences could still follow suit — New York’s 2021 first-round selections may not be quite as valuable as they normally would be.

Still, Cimini says GM Joe Douglas views his four first-round picks from 2021-22 to be vital to the club’s rebuild, and he would be loathe to part with them. On the other hand, the ESPN scribe says Ravens’ edge defender Matt Judon could pique Douglas’ interest.

Indeed, Douglas, a former Ravens scout, has made a habit of acquiring former Baltimore talent, and Cimini classifies Judon as a better player than Ngakoue — which could be up for debate — who would fit nicely in the Jets’ 3-4 front. Judon and the Ravens did not reach an extension prior to the July 15 deadline, so he will play out the 2020 season on his franchise tag.

But unlike Ngakoue’s animosity towards Jacksonville, Judon harbors no ill-will towards the Ravens. And Baltimore, a championship contender, does not have much by way of proven depth in the pass-rushing department either, so it would be surprising to see the team jettison Judon, even if it could get a first-rounder in return.

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