Prior to these last few days, I had very strong opinions about what needed to be done with the Falcons free agents this offseason. Whilst I would love us to go out and sign Carl Nicks, or Mario Williams, or Jerry Rice, or whoever, the fact remains that predicting free agent signings is just too difficult. There are too many factors, too many teams interested, and for a Falcons team which is undergoing some serious transformation, too much speculation as to how we're going to scheme next year. As such, I've given up on trying to guess who we'll go out and get. I've still got my preferences, but I'm not calling any predictions at this point.
However, what we do know for sure is that there are a lot of Falcons set to become free agents once the season ends. I believe the number is at least 20, but regardless of the exact number we can all agree it contains some seriously vital players. Notables who are up for external bids include; Curtis Lofton, John Abraham, Thomas DeCoud, Brent Grimes, Harry Douglas, Todd McClure, Chris Redman, Mike Peterson, Kroy Biermann, Jason Snelling and Kelvin Hayden.
I'm working this thread under the assumption that Redman, Peterson and McClure will all call it a day due to age (McClure being the least close to retirement for me, but I'd still put money on him going, or at least not starting). Redman was as good as we could of expected in 2007, and has filled in admirably for Matt Ryan when called on, but he'll be 36 at the start of next year. Peterson was a great acquistion (from Jacksonville, groan) and again filled in well this year, but saw a much reduced role. I still think he has a role on the team as a mentor, but he won't be looking at too many snaps should he come back, so I doubt we'll see him return. Hayden is an interesting case, as he's only been here a year and was injured for a solid part of the season. We're also stacked at CB, and Chris Owens/Dominique Franks showed a lot towards the end of the year in my opinion. However, he was still an improvement at nickel for me, and at 29 I think we'll see him back.
That leaves us with 7 players; Lofton, Abraham, DeCoud, Grimes, Douglas, Snelling and Biermann. Keep 4, cut 3.
First let me clarify - I know we techinically wouldn't be cutting them, as they'd just be walking in free agency. However, cut had a nice ring to it, so here we are. A brief for and against for each of the 7.
Pros: He is the QB of the defense, and has racked up amazing tackle numbers in each of his past 4 years. Lofton is the epitome of the TD/Smith era - soft spoken, hard hitting, on/off-field leader. Excellent against the run, and has shown he can pick a pass or two. If Nolan brings in a 'New England 2000s' D (that is, a hybrid D in which the 3-4 aspect isn't run with traditional 3-4 player fits, but rather just the most skilled 11 who get fit in somewhere), or continues a 4-3 approach, Lofton will fit right in as a guaranteed starting MLB/ILB.
Cons: He'll cost a fair bit to bring back because, despite the lack of accolades, he is a clear top 10 linebacker in the league for me. Call it homer, he's top 15 at worst. We're also stacked at LB, meaning the coaching staff may be keen to bring him back up until a point, knowing there is at least some depth underneath him. Mike Nolan could also impliment a scheme which could cost Lofton some snaps, depending if he can make the transition to a 3-4 ILB.
Pros: He's John Abraham. Team leader in sacks last year with 9.5, Abe has been our pass rush for the last few years. He cost us the 1st round pick that netted Nick Mangold to the Jets in 2006, but Abraham has delivered as a Falcon. 16 sacks in 2008 will always stand out for me. In 2011, if Abe wasn't getting push, nobody was. He can beat double teams with power and speed. His moves haven't diminished, and he will guaranteed bring 2 OL/TE to him, freeing up space for our other linemen.
Cons: He's 33. Not everyone can keep going to the fountain of youth forever. In all likelihood, he will diminish in quality, and he's probably only got 3 years left in the league at most. He'll still attract a mid to high price, and TD might have to take a risk at letting him go to free up cap space for a more long term move. We have talent along our D-line, with Babs and Peters coming on well, and Ray Edwards a proven pass rusher in the past who was niggled with injury this year. Whilst I don't see Edwards getting close to the level of Abraham, I think there are compliment DEs out there that will make the whole line better for less. A change in scheme could leave Abe with a minimal role for a high price, as he's not really big enough to play DE in a 3-4 in my opinion. Lawrence Sidbury's production in a very limited role could sway TDs decision.
Pros: He led the team in picks in 2011, and has been solid as a Falcon. He likely will not draw a huge price, and could benefit from a change to man coverage, seeing as there'll be less all or nothing plays solely on his shoulders. Could benefit from a lack of free safety depth.
Cons: Never seemed to be on the same page with Dunta (specifically, but most likely all CBs) this year. A lot of times it seemed our corners thought they had safety help when they didn't. Drew a lot of criticism for bad angles/tackling, and a few times he did give up a big play as our last man standing. There are better safeties out there, but it all depends on price.
Pros: He can literally fly. Grimes has been our premier corner for 3 years now, and made a Pro Bowl trip in 2010. He is freakishly athletic, has pretty good top end speed and fit well into the BVG scheme. A rare constant in our otherwise inconsistent defense. A true #1 corner that can shut his player out of the game and can read a QB like a book, and when he needs to lay a tackle he can put hits on receivers in the open field.
Cons: Recognized league wide, Grimes will draw the highest price of any of our free agents in my opinion. Many teams are looking for a corner to completely blanket people, and Grimes is that guy. Listed at 5'10, but probably shorter, Grimes isn't going to fare well against the Calvin Johnsons of the league if he's forced into man coverage. Yes he can deal with them once they're in their routes (see the Detroit game this year), but the battle at the line of scrimmage is a different story. If Nolan impliments a scheme which requires a lot of jamming at the LOS, Grimes could get beat. He may not (Falcons CBs jamming is something you don't see very often), but the size factor leads me to think he'd struggle and could get burned once or twice a game. Stacked at corner, and Dominique Franks filled in solidly during his injury. Dunta Robinson will vastly improve under a man scheme in my opinion, leaving us to look for another shut down man corner, and at Grimes' price it may be a risk.
Pros: Very athletic for his size, Kroy is a good mixture of speed and power. He has shown the ability to get good seperation, and can get to the quarterback in limited opportunities. If we end up implimenting any sort of 3-4 system, Kroy is the perfect OLB in my opinion. He's fast, big enough to shed blocks in the run game and has the arsenal of DE moves to get into the backfield. He also did that one pick six against the Browns two years back, which automatically qualifies him for Ring of Honor status in my mind. Could benefit from the lack of proven DE depth.
Cons: Has a serious case of the open field whiffs. Missed countless sacks last year where he only just needed to compose himself, rather than aiming to KO the quarterback, and go for a wrap rather than laying the boom. With Ray Edwards holding down the LE spot, and the emergence of El Sid behind Abraham this year, he might struggle to get reps in a 4-3.
Pros: A breakout star in his rookie year, many of us thought Douglas could be the next WR star of our team. An excellent slot receiver with great speed and fairly reliable hands, Douglas is capable of burning linebackers and nickels. The first Saints game this year was probably his biggest outing since his rookie season, but Douglas does show a lot on very, very, very limited targets. Excellent in the open field, capable of turning a short completion into a long one. Also a very valuable asset on special teams - I'd say once Weems goes (yes once, not if) it's between him, Rodgers and Franks for our KR job. Will definitely see an increase in targets under Dirk Koetter, if he likes spreading it as much as it's claimed he does. Wouldn't draw an unreasonably huge price in my eyes.
Cons: Struggles on the outside. When Jenkins when down hurt in 2010, Douglas was very ineffective in any other position other than the slot. Less of an issue with JJ on the roster, but something to consider. My biggest concern with Douglas is simply that he won't want to stick around on a team where he's getting 2/3 targets at most per game. Whilst he filled in excellently when JJ was hurt, Douglas was essentially a non factor in the Mularkey gameplan. This could, and should, change under DK, but Douglas might not want to take that risk, and might drive a harder bargain to the Atlanta FO than he may at other clubs.
Pros: Performed very admirably in limited snaps. Could see an increased role with Turner likely to lose reps over the next year. A solid receiving threat out of the backfield, Snelling is also a far better speed option when compared with Turner, whilst he completely outmatches Jacquizz for power. Capable of turning little runs into huge gains, and runs like his life depends on it. Definitely does not wait around for a play to develop, he just hits the hole and carries people with him. Was a FA last year but nobody went after him, meaning that a potential lack of interest could see another 1 year deal dealt quite cheaply.
Cons: Quite simply, I'm scared he doesn't want to be here. You can't really blame Snelling, he's only getting 4-5 carries per game with a healthy Turner out there. That could change this year, but (as shown with his happiness to seek other teams in last year's FA bidding) Snelling wants to be the guy. Between Turner and Rodgers, it's fair to assume Snelling might see similar or only slightly more carries this year. Price could go either way - he could be very cheap but at the same time a team looking for a new RB might drive a price TD isn't willing to pay for a 50 carries a year guy.
If you're reading this, well done, you got through the essay. Now it's your turn. Keep 4 and cut 3, then justify your choice in the comments, and give me some Pros and Cons I may not have thought of. For what it's worth, I'd keep Lofton, Douglas, Biermann and....I'm torn between Grimes and Snelling. Keeping Grimes could cost us a big FA signing, but he's Brent Grimes dammit! Thanks for reading!