Atlanta Falcons Rumors & News

NFC South Teams Take On Int’l Players

The NFL announced that the teams of the NFC South will be carrying an additional overseas player on their practice squads during the upcoming season. This is part of the league’s flagship International Player Pathway program.

Now, the Falcons, Panthers, Saints, and Buccaneers will all be operating with an 11-man practice squad while the rest of the league has ten. However, they don’t necessarily have an advantage over other clubs because these additional overseas players cannot be activated during the season.

Here is a look at the players who will be joining each taxi squad:

  • Falcons: Alex Gray, TE – Gray, a former rugby star, is the first English rugby union professional to quit the sport to pursue American football. The 26-year-old was named the England Sevens player of the year in 2015. He not to be confused with the undrafted Appalachian State safety of the same name who joined the Bucs’ 90-man roster.
  • Panthers: Efe Obada, DE – Obada, who grew up in the Netherlands and England, was on the Cowboys’ practice squad in 2010. Prior to the 2016 season, he also had brief stints with the Chiefs and Falcons.
  • Saints: Alex Jenkins, DE – Jenkins was born and raised in England but actually has a background in American football. Back home, he played for the Bath City Academy and for the Bristol Aztecs before earning a spot on the Great Britain youth team. He played his college ball in San Antonio, Texas at the University of the Incarnate Word. He had 3.5 sacks in his senior year.
  • Buccaneers: Eric Nzeocha, LB – Nzeocha is now the second German-born player to join up with the Bucs in franchise history. German safety Claudius Osei spent the 2005 campaign on Tampa Bay’s taxi squad as part of a similar program. Nzeocha’s brother Mark is a linebacker for the Cowboys.

Top 8 Fits For Free Agent TE Gary Barnidge

Gary Barnidge was a relative no-name until the 2015 season, when — at age 30 — the 6’5″ tight end broke out for 79 receptions, 1,043 receiving yards, and nine touchdowns. Each of those totals were career-highs for Barnidge, and his yardage figure was the eight-highest single-season total for a tight end since 2010. The 2016 campaign wasn’t quite as fruitful for Barnidge, but he still managed 55 catches for 612 yards, solid numbers for a tight end in a weak Browns offense.Gary Barnidge (vertical)

There are certainly question marks that could lead a team to not pursue Barnidge. Chief among them is probably his age, as Barnidge is set to enter his age-32 season. That could conceivably make him an injury risk, although he’s appeared in all 32 possible games over the past two years. Bardidge’s blocking prowess is also a concern, as he ranked 50th out of 63 qualified tight ends in run blocking efficiency last season, according to Pro Football Focus.

Still, Barnidge offers excellent receiving ability and should come relatively cheap. It’s tough to see Barnidge topping the $5MM and $5.3MM annual salaries earned by fellow tight ends Vernon Davis and Jared Cook respectively, and he likely won’t command a multi-year deal. So which NFL teams could possibly employ Barnidge in his 10th pro season? Let’s take a look…

Atlanta Falcons

Austin Hooper, the Falcons’ third-round pick in 2016, posted 271 receiving yards during his rookie campaign. That lowly figure was somehow the second-highest yardage total by an Atlanta tight end since Tony Gonzalez retired at the end of the 2013 season. Yes, the Falcons’ offense was the best in the NFL by a wide margin last year, but the unit could continue its dominance by adding another element at tight end. New offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian has never worked with an elite tight end (not counting his one-game stint as O.J. Howard‘s OC at Alabama, Sarkisian’s best TE pupil was Austin Seferian-Jenkins), so it’s unclear if he can develop young options such as Hooper and 2017 fifth-rounder Eric Saubert. A veteran such as Barnidge would allow those youthful players to grow by lessening their responsibilities, at least for the upcoming season.

Buffalo Bills

The Bills were the first stop on Barnidge’s free agent tour following his release by the Browns, so Buffalo clearly has some level of interest. Charles Clay is currently atop the Bills’ tight end depth chart, but he hasn’t been worth the five-year, $38MM deal Buffalo gave him prior to the 2015 season. Despite being the fifth-highest-paid tight end in the league, Clay has finished just 12th in approximate value since joining the Bills. Buffalo is stuck with him through at least 2018, as a 2016 contract restructure makes release unpalatable. Clay is a much better run blocker than Barnidge, so the latter would be able to play as a move tight end in the Bills’ offense. Given that Buffalo is fielding one of the league’s worst wide receiving groups, the club needs all the weapons it can get.

Carolina Panthers

After visiting with the Bills, Barnidge indicated he might take a meeting with the Panthers, and although it’s unclear if that visit ever took place, it stands to reason Carolina is still eyeing a tight end addition. Greg Olsen, clearly, is the No. 1 option for the Panthers, but the team’s depth at the position is shockingly sparse. Linked to a number of tight ends during the predraft process, Carolina ultimately stood pat, leaving only Ed Dickson and Chris Manhertz behind Olsen. Dickson, for his part, is essentially a non-factor in the receiving game and isn’t a great blocker — the Panthers could release him with a minimal dead cap charge. Barnidge spent the first four years of his career in Carolina, and a homecoming would make a lot of sense.

Cincinnati Bengals

Unquestionably one of the league’s more talented tight ends when healthy, Tyler Eifert just can’t seem to stay on the field. He’s never appeared in all 16 games, and has missed more than eight games in two of the past three seasons. Eifert’s 52-reception, 13-touchdown 2015 campaign showed him at his best, but he simply can’t be relied on. And the Bengals’ backup options are lackluster, as well, as C.J. Uzomah (25 catches, 234 yards) and Tyler Kroft (10, 92) struggled when asked to fill in for Eifert last season. Cincinnati has already bolstered its offense this offseason by adding wide receiver John Ross and running back Joe Mixon, and Barnidge would give the club another target and (much-needed) depth.

Denver Broncos

Denver has reached out to Barnidge in recent days, and the Broncos have a level of familiarity with Barnidge given that many of their coaches — notably offensive coordinator Mike McCoy and tight ends coach Jeff Davidson — worked with Barnidge in Carolina. While the tight end position isn’t quite the integral position in McCoy’s offense that it was in former head coach Gary Kubiak‘s, Denver still needs an infusion of talent at the position. The selection Jake Butt, of course, marked the initial step in the Broncos’ tight end revamp, but the former Michigan Wolverine may not be ready for Week 1 as he recovers from a torn ACL. Barnidge would instantly become Denver’s No. 1 tight end if signed, although head coach Vance Joseph said he’s currently pleased with the Broncos’ tight end group, tweets Nicki Jhabvala of the Denver Post.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Like the Panthers, the Jaguars may try to set up a visit with Barnidge, and Barnidge confirmed that he has in fact heard from the Jacksonville staff. The Jaguars parted ways with free agent bust Julius Thomas this offseason, shipping him to Miami for a late-round pick, but the club’s only addition at the position was the signing of former Raider Mychal Rivera, who hasn’t topped 300 yards receiving since 2014. Incumbent Marcedes Lewis continues to strike new deals with the Jaguars (the latest a three-year, $12MM pact) despite last being productive at the turn of the decade, so Barnidge would represent an immediate upgrade for quarterback Blake Bortles & Co.

Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings may have landed a draft steal in Virginia Tech Bucky Hodges, who was projected to come off the board on Day 2 but lasted until the sixth round. Still, Hodges is more an oversized wideout than a typical tight end, as Lance Zierlein of wrote in Hodges’ predraft profile. No. 1 tight end Kyle Rudolph posted the best season of his career in 2016, as he hauled in 83 passes for 840 yards, so Barnidge would clearly be the No. 2 in Minnesota. Given quarterback Sam Bradford‘s proclivity for the short passing game, adding another tight end who can play over the middle wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Pittsburgh Steelers

After releasing Ladarius Green last week, the Steelers appear set to roll with Jesse James, Xavier Grimble, and TE/FB David Johnson at tight end for the 2017 season. Pittsburgh didn’t address the position during the draft, which could mean the club is content with its current options. James, specifically, posted a nice season last year (39 receptions, 338 yards), but it’s hard to argue that he’s true No. 1 tight end for a contending team. Clearly, with Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell, and (hopefully) Martavis Bryant in the fold, the Steelers don’t exactly need a dynamic weapon at tight end, but Barnidge would give the Steelers a veteran option for at least one year.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Dimitroff Confident Devonta Freeman Extension Coming

A Devonta Freeman extension became a talking point during Super Bowl week, just before the running back became eligible to sign one as a fourth-year player.

Freeman wants “elite” running back money after putting together back-to-back Pro Bowl seasons that each featured 1,500-plus yards from scrimmage. The Falcons appear to be in stride with their starting running back regarding an extension. After owner Arthur Blank voiced support for Freeman remaining in red and black long-term, GM Thomas Dimitroff believes he could make that happen.

We want him here and he’s a very important part of our organization. Contrary to what people were saying around the Super Bowl time with what came out, we’re ready in the relatively near future to have some discussions with their representation,” Dimitroff said during a radio interview with Adam Schein (via Jeremy Bergman of

Devonta, he’s a really good guy. He’s really — as far as his personality — he’s so hyper competitive. … He’s an urgent, angry runner, which we want and we know is important for us. We want him to be around for years to come and we’re confident that we’ll be able to get it done.”

Dimitroff targeted training camp as a window for this extension to potentially occur. The Falcons have also expressed desire to extend Matt Ryan, although two years remain on the reigning MVP’s contract, and recently reached a long-term agreement with Desmond Trufant. Freeman’s position doesn’t demand that kind of money, but given the ball-carrier’s age (25) and production coming into Year 4, he is in position to be paid like a top-tier running back.

Freeman could well target LeSean McCoy‘s $8MM-per-year deal. The running back market also could be different by then, should the Steelers extend the franchise-tagged Le’Veon Bell by July 15.

The Falcons also have Freeman complement Tevin Coleman, who ate into the starter’s workload in the games he played. Coleman, 24, has two years remaining on his deal.

We’ve talked about approaching these types of contracts and situations usually going into camp is when we start talking about them and really start having some discussions about it,” Dimitroff said. “That’s not a hard line for us, but in my mind, I like to make sure that we have those kind of things worked on. You know, look, he’s in a really good space here, he loves being here and he loves playing for Dan Quinn.”

Freeman is not planning to hold out and will make $1.8MM this year on his rookie contract, which will expire at season’s end.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Bryan Cox Attributes Firing To "Combine Incident"

  • The Falcons let go of defensive line coach Bryan Cox back in February, and the former Pro Bowler believes his firing was attributed to his “incident” during the 2016 Combine when he reportedly shoved a Cardinals scout. “You go from your unit playing really well in the Super Bowl and sacking the quarterback five times and having [nine] quarterback hits . . . and [three] days later you get fired,” Cox told Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer (via Mike Florio of “I wasn’t given an answer to why I was fired. I was left to go back and kind of play stuff over. And the only thing I can come up with is the Combine incident that kind of led to it.”


Devonta Freeman Still Wants "Elite" Money

  • While Falcons running back Devonta Freeman won’t hold out in hopes of landing a new contract, he continues to seek top-tier money relative to his position. “I want to be elite paid. Whatever that is, that’s where I want to be — straight up,” Freeman told Josina Anderson of ESPN. Freeman is in lockstep with his agent, Kristin Campbell, who declared prior to Super Bowl LI that the 25-year-old should be in line for “elite” money. As of now, Freeman’s not on track to approach the NFL’s highest-paid backs in 2017, the final year of his contract, as he’s slated to make $1.8MM. There’s still plenty of time for an extension to come together, of course, and both Freeman and the Falcons have made it clear that they want to work something out.

Falcons Hosting OL Andrew Gardner

The Falcons are hosting free agent offensive lineman Andrew Gardner today, according to Adam Caplan of (Twitter link).Andrew Gardner (vertical)

[RELATED: Falcons Meet With DT Sean Lissemore]

Atlanta failed to land a high-profile guard during the free agent period to replace the retired Chris Chester, so the club is now seemingly throwing several possible solutions against the wall to see what sticks. Internal option Ben Garland is a candidate to take over at right guard, while the Falcons also spent a fourth-round pick on Oregon State product Sean Harlow. Additionally, Atlanta signed former Bears interior lineman Cornelius Edison on Wednesday, and he could conceivably be in the running for a starting gig.

Gardner, 31, has bounced around since entering the league in 2009, and most recently spent time with the 49ers at the tail end of last season. His most notable experience, however, came with the Eagles, for whom Gardner started 11 games from 2014-15.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Minor NFL Transactions: 5/17/17

Today’s minor moves:

Arizona Cardinals

Atlanta Falcons

Dallas Cowboys

Los Angeles Chargers

Minnesota Vikings

Pittsburgh Steelers

Falcons Meet With DL Sean Lissemore

The Chargers met with defensive lineman Sean Lissemore on Wednesday, Mike Garafolo of tweetsSean Lissemore (Vertical)

Lissemore, 30 in September, appeared in 41 games for the Chargers between 2013 and 2015 and made 13 starts during that span. Unfortunately, in August of 2016, he suffered a major injury which ended his season before it even began. Presumably, the William and Mary alum is now healthy enough to play.

Before his time with the Bolts, Lissemore spent three years with the Cowboys. For his career, he has 135 tackles, 6.5 sacks, and one interception to his credit.

Lissemore could be a depth option for Atlanta’s newly revamped defensive line. This offseason, the Falcons made three significant additions by signing free agents Dontari Poe and Jack Crawford and drafting UCLA’s Takkarist McKinley.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Falcons’ Devonta Freeman Won’t Hold Out

Devonta Freeman‘s desire for a new deal is well-documented, thanks in large part to the public approach his management team has taken in the last year. However, the running back says that he won’t be a holdout this summer in an effort to spur talks. Devonta Freeman (vertical)

[RELATED: Eagles DE Brandon Graham Won’t Hold Out Either]

I’m going to play,” Freeman said (via’s Vaughn McClure). “Like I said, business is going to get handled regardless of what, so I just come to work. I’m going to play regardless. I love football. I love to compete. It doesn’t matter about what I did last year, how many Pro Bowls I got, a thousand yards. I want to do it again and even get better, hopefully one day be a Hall of Famer. I want to leave a legacy. And holding out, that’s not going to leave a legacy, because if I hold out, I’m behind. I don’t want to be behind. I want to gain.”

Freeman also indicated in April that he would not stay home during offseason activities, but this is strongest assertion to date. Freeman is definitely underpaid as he’s set to earn $1.8MM in 2017, but he’ll remain solely focused on football as he gears up for the final year of his rookie deal.

It ain’t hard at all, because I’m good,” said Freeman. “I play football because I love it. … I spoke to other guys about being in similar situations that I’m in right now. The main thing I can do right now is focus on my business, and my business is being the best Devonta Freeman I can be. And business will get taken care of outside of what I do and what I bring. I can just focus on me. When it happens, it happens. It’s going to be a surprise. I’m just patient.”

Freeman’s agent said he would be seeking “elite” money back in January and the running back himself hinted that he was frustrated about splitting carries with 2015 third-round pick Tevin Coleman. If he’s still demanding “elite” money on his next deal, that could mean something that resembles or even exceeds LeSean McCoy‘s five-year, $40.05MM deal signed back in 2015. McCoy’s yearly average of $8.01MM is second only to Le’Veon Bell‘s one-year, $12.12MM tender and his $18.25MM total guarantee is the highest of any non-rookie running back in the league.

Falcons owner Arthur Black is on record as saying that he wants to retain Freeman for years to come, so a new deal could come together this summer without any brazen tactics from the running back or his camp.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Falcons Sign QB Matt Simms

The Falcons have signed quarterback Matt Simms, as D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution tweets. To make room, the team waived wide receiver Garrett Scantling.

Simms, the son of former NFL great Phil Simms, appeared in a handful of games for the Jets between 2013 and 2014. He also had a previous stint with the Falcons as well as the Bills, but those unions did not result in live action. The quarterback, who turns 29 in September, currently represents the fourth QB on the Falcons’ depth chart with Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub, and UDFA Alek Torgersen slotted ahead of him.

Scantling, a University of Georgia product, is a former decathlete. The Falcons were hoping to channel his raw ability into football talent, but he’s apparently not there just yet.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.