Atlanta Falcons Rumors & News

Dwight Freeney To Continue Playing?

After Super Bowl 51, Dwight Freeney said he wasn’t sure if he wanted to continue playing in 2017. After some thought, the veteran has decided to return for his 16th NFL season, Tom Pelissero of USA Today tweets. However, Freeney himself tells Jim Trotter of ESPN.com (Twitter link) that while he’ll “most likely” continue his career in 2017, he hasn’t yet made a final decision.Dwight Freeney (vertical)

Freeney signed on with the Falcons in August 2016 and wound up helping the team to an NFC championship. After Atlanta’s unfortunate collapse in the Super Bowl, the 37-year-old apparently wants one more chance to leave the game on a high note. In 15 regular season games, Freeney totaled ten tackles and three sacks.

He’s no longer a Pro Bowl-caliber defensive end, but he is still effective as a situational pass rusher. Last week, we ranked Freeney as one of the 15 best edge defenders scheduled for free agency. Still, teams might not want to commit guaranteed dollars to him while the free agent period is in bloom, so he might have to wait until the summer again before he signs.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Falcons Expected To Remake Defensive Line

Having already fired defensive coordinator Richard Smith and defensive line coach Bryan Cox, the Falcons are expected to use free agency and the draft in order to bolster their defensive line, according to Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com.Courtney Upshaw (Vertical)

[RELATED: Top 3 Offseason Needs — Atlanta Falcons]

Free agent defensive lineman Earl Mitchell is expected to meet with Atlanta on Thursday and Friday, and if signed would be the first step in the Falcons’ remaking of their front four. Courtney Upshaw, who signed a one-year pact with Atlanta last spring, is expected to re-signed, as the the Falcons value his ability to play both linebacker and defensive end, per McClure. Fourth-year defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman, meanwhile, has “won over” Atlanta’s coaching staff and figures to see his role increase going forward, while free agent tackle Terrell McClain is a “name to keep an eye on” for the Falcons this offseason, reports McClure.

Change up front also means several defenders could be leaving, and veteran tackle Jonathan Babineaux could be among them, as the Falcons could choose to part ways with the unrestricted free agent even if he opts not to retire. Tyson Jackson, too, could be gone, as McClure writes the 30-year-old is expected to be released or asked to accept a cut to his $3.5MM base salary.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Falcons To Retain Jerome Henderson

  • The Falcons announced that they’ve hired a swath of new coaches, including Kyle Flood (assistant offensive line), Dave Brock (offensive assistant), Justin Outten (offensive assistant), Charlie Weis Jr. (offensive assistant), and Charlie Jackson (defensive assistant). Flood, a longtime collegiate staffer, was fired as Rutgers’ head coach amid controversy in 2015.
  • Jerome Henderson will return as the Falcons‘ defensive passing game coordinator after missing out on the 49ers’ defensive coordinator position, as Alex Marvez of the Sporting News reports (Twitter links) Henderson has re-signed with Atlanta. Henderson, who originally joined the Falcons prior to the 2016 campaign, was in consideration to serve as San Francisco’s co-defensive coordinator with Robert Saleh, but Saleh alone landed the job. (Editor’s note: PFR originally relayed Marvez’s report indicating Henderson had resigned from the Falcons before the scribe’s source realized he had forgotten a hyphen. We have removed the original post in order to eliminate any confusion.)

Latest On Broncos’ Offseason Plans

The Broncos will attempt to address their defensive line during the free agent period, according to Mike Klis of 9NEWS. Former Dolphin Earl Mitchell is one candidate to join Denver’s front, and Klis reports Mitchell will meet with the Broncos on Wednesday night and Thursday morning. Mitchell has a busy schedule, as he’ll visit the Seahawks on Monday/Tuesday, the 49ers on Tuesday/Wednesday, and the Falcons on Thursday/Friday.Earl Mitchell (Vertical)

[RELATED: Broncos Working To Re-Sign Kayvon Webster]

If Denver is able to sign Mitchell (who would play end in the Broncos’ 3-4 scheme), it will then focus on securing a replacement for nose tackle Sylvester Williams, per Klis. Williams, a former first-round pick, is expected to test the free agent waters on March 9. The Broncos are also interested in retaining defensive lineman Vance Walker, who missed the entirety of the 2016 after tearing his ACL, according to Klis.

On the offensive side of the the ball, the Broncos will target at least one lineman in free agency, reports Klis. Denver holds an expensive option on left tackle Russell Okung, right tackle Donald Stephenson is expected to be released, and the Broncos’ guards could also be upgraded. Denver’s offensive line ranked as just the league’s No. 24 unit in 2016, according to Pro Football Focus’ year-end rankings.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Jacob Tamme Wants To Return To Falcons; 49ers In Play

Jacob Tamme, who was an important piece of the Falcons’ league-leading offense in 2016 before his season was cut short by a shoulder injury, is one of 17 Falcons eligible for unrestricted free agency this offseason. Tamme posted a career-high 657 receiving yards in 2015, his first year in Atlanta, and he was the Falcons’ leading receiver after the first three games of 2016, with 14 catches for 154 yards and a touchdown.

Jacob Tamme (vertical)

He is roughly three months into his recovery for the shoulder surgery that he underwent in November, a process that is expected to take another two or three months. But despite the injury, and despite the fact that he will turn 32 on March 15, there will be some competition for his services. Indeed, it is difficult to see the Colts allowing Jack Doyle to depart in free agency, and outside of Doyle and Martellus Bennett –whom the Patriots will likely do their best to retain — this year’s tight end market is fairly thin.

As Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com writes, Tamme would like to stay in Atlanta. Tamme said, “I love being a Falcon, love my teammates, love what we have going on here in this organization. I’m interested to see what the future holds.”

GM Thomas Dimitroff has said the Falcons’ primary objective is locking up their own players, and Tamme is surely a player that Dimitroff would like to have back. The team did select Austin Hooper in the third-round of the 2016 draft, and Hooper showed some promise as the season wore on, including a touchdown grab in the Super Bowl. But the tight end depth chart is currently pretty bare beyond the youthful Hooper, as Levine Toilolo is also set to become an unrestricted free agent (though it should be noted that the Falcons do have hope for Joshua Perkins, a 2016 UDFA who played for new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian when Sarkisian was at the University of Washington). Given Tamme’s experience and his apparent rapport with Matt Ryan, the Falcons would probably be wise to re-sign him.

But if they don’t, McClure’s sources indicate that the 49ers could be in play for the Kentucky product. Of course, former Falcons’ OC Kyle Shanahan is now the head coach in San Francisco, and per McClure, Shanahan would love to have a cerebral player such as Tamme on board to help implement his offense, even though the 49ers just signed tight end Vance McDonald to a five-year contract extension in December.

Tamme first made a name for himself as a favored receiver in Peyton Manning‘s Colts offense. Later, he reunited with Manning on the Broncos, but he saw his role reduced as he battled for playing time with Julius Thomas and Virgil Green. He signed a two-year, $3.2MM base value deal with the Falcons before the 2015 season.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

DT Earl Mitchell To Meet With Falcons

  • Following his release by the Dolphins earlier this week, defensive tackle Earl Mitchell has lined up a number of visits. According to NFL.com’s Mike Garafolo (via Twitter), the veteran is set to meet with the Seahawks, 49ers, Falcons, and Broncos next week. Mitchell joined Miami prior to the 2014 season, playing in 37 games over his three seasons with the team.

    [SOURCE LINK]

Top 3 Offseason Needs: Atlanta Falcons

In advance of March 9, the start of free agency in the NFL, Pro Football Rumors will detail each team’s three most glaring roster issues. We’ll continue this year’s series with the Atlanta Falcons, who capped off an 11-5 season with a Super Bowl appearance that ended in devastating fashion.

Depth Chart (via Roster Resource)

Pending Free Agents:

Top 10 Cap Hits for 2017:

  1. Matt Ryan, QB: $23,750,000
  2. Julio Jones, WR: $13,900,000
  3. Robert Alford, CB: $9,600,000
  4. Alex Mack, C: $9,050,000
  5. Desmond Trufant, CB: $8,026,000
  6. Mohamed Sanu, WR: $7,400,000
  7. Ryan Schraeder, T: $7,100,000
  8. Andy Levitre, G: $6,625,000
  9. Tyson Jackson, DL: $5,850,000
  10. Adrian Clayborn, DE: $5,406,250

Other:

Three Needs:

1. Fortify right guard: For the most part, the Falcons’ offensive line was a strength in 2016. While the unit ranked just 23rd in adjusted sack rate, Atlanta’s front five placed tenth in adjusted line yards and was named the sixth-best offensive line in the league in Pro Football Focus’ year-end rankings. The club has certainly invested in its line, using a first-round pick on left tackle Jake Matthews, spending heavily in free agency to land center Alex Mack, and rewarding a formerly anonymous undrafted free agent — right tackle Ryan Schraeder — with a multi-year extension.

Indeed, every one of Atlanta’s offensive lineman graded out as a starting-caliber player, according to PFF, with the exception of veteran right guard Chris Chester, who ranked as the No. 56 guard among 72 qualifiers. Chester is scheduled to hit the open market next month after his one-year deal expires, so the Falcons won’t have to worry about the prospect of incurring dead money if forced to release him. Instead, the team has the option of simply letting him walk, and given that Chester is entering his age-34 season, the Falcons should do just that.Kevin Zeitler (Vertical)

Atlanta doesn’t have a ton of cap space (ninth-least in the NFL), but it also doesn’t have a ton of needs. As such, it’s fair to wonder if general manager Thomas Dimitroff & Co. will target a top-notch guard right out of the free agent gate, adding a new player that could transform the Falcons’ offensive line into a truly elite unit. And while the free agent tackle and center markets are relatively barren, the list of available guards should intrigue Atlanta.

Kevin Zeitler, 26, looks to be the top guard headed for free agency, and appears increasingly unlikely to return to the Bengals. If he does reach the open market, Zeitler figures to be in for a massive payday. Even though right guards typically earn less than their left side counterparts, Zeitler should be able to blow past the $10MM averages landed by Kyle Long and David DeCastro, especially since each of those players inked extensions, not free agent pacts. Zeitler, who ranked as PFF’s No. 7 guard, would immediately convert Atlanta’s offensive line into one of the best units in the league.

Though he may represent the best option, Zeitler is far from the only interior lineman the Falcons could go after. The Packers’ T.J. Lang placed just one spot behind Zeitler in PFF’s rankings, and given that he’s more than two years older than the Bengals free agent, could come at a much cheaper cost. Green Bay prefers to retain its own free agents, but it hasn’t placed much emphasis on the interior of the offensive line lately, as evidenced by their surprising 2016 release of Josh Sitton. Fellow Packer J.C. Tretter, the Lions’ Larry Warford, and the Cowboys’ Ronald Leary could also catch the eye of Atlanta this offseason.Forrest Lamp (Vertical)

If the Falcons want to conserve their limited cap space for other position upgrades, they could instead target guard help in the draft. This year’s crop of prospects is thought to be short on offensive lineman, so Atlanta may want to use their first-round pick (No. 31 overall) on a guard lest in miss out on interior help later in the draft. Western Kentucky’s Forrest Lamp looks like the best guard available in 2017, and Dane Brugler of CBSSports.com favorably compares Lamp to the Cowboys’ Zack Martin, who — like Lamp — played tackle in college before moving inside in the pros. Dan Feeney (Indiana), Dorian Johnson (Pittsburgh), and Nico Siragusa (San Diego State) are among the other guards the Falcons could consider on Day 1 or 2.

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Falcons Likely To Use Second-Round Tender On Taylor Gabriel

  • The Falcons will likely place a second-round restricted free agent tender on wide receiver Taylor Gabriel, and a first-round offer isn’t out of the question, writes Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com. The second-round tender should be worth roughly $2.8MM in 2017, while a first-round tender will come in around $4MM. Using a high tender would dissuade a club like the 49ers, which now employs former Atlanta offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, from stealing Gabriel. In his first season with the Falcons, the 25-year-old Gabriel posted 35 receptions for 579 yards and six scores.

Roddy White Retires From NFL?

Despite being linked to handful of teams in 2016, former Falcons receiver Roddy White wound up sitting out the entire year. Now, after a conversation with WSB TV’s Zach Klein and Jeff Schultz of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, it sounds like he won’t be returning to the game. White “is done playing,” Schultz writes. Roddy White

During his chat, White went into detail about how close he was to finding an NFL home last season. Interestingly enough, he was close to signing with the Patriots after Atlanta cut him loose in March. Before the two sides could finalize an agreement, however, the Pats opted to sign Nate Washington instead. The Vikings reached out to White after their 5-0 start but by the time the team was ready to sign him, they had begun their slide. He also turned down interest from the Titans and Buccaneers either because he didn’t view them as contenders or worried about playing time. Ultimately, he stopped working out in mid-October when it was clear he would not land with a contender.

White, 34, made four Pro Bowls and was a first-team All-Pro in 2010, when he caught a career-high 110 passes for 1,389 yards and 10 touchdowns. Unfortunately, he wasn’t used much in his final NFL season and finished with just 43 catches for 506 yards and a touchdown. White will be remembered fondly by Falcons fans and he’ll likely be inducted to the team’s Ring of Honor sometime soon.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Matt Schaub To Seek Starting Job

  • Falcons backup quarterback Matt Schaub, a pending free agent, is a candidate to serve as a stopgap starter in San Francisco next season. Regardless of whether it comes with the 49ers, the soon-to-be 36-year-old will go into free agency seeking a starting opportunity, he told Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com. Although Schaub is a two-time Pro Bowler with three 20-touchdown pass seasons on his resume, he hasn’t been particularly effective since 2012 and has spent the past three years as a reserve with three different teams. In 10 starts dating back to 2013, Schaub has tossed seven interceptions that have been returned for touchdowns. Clearly, then, there’s nothing in Schaub’s recent history to suggest he’d perform well as a starter in 2017.