The Atlanta Falcons' 2014 free agency class is studded with notable names. If they Falcons didn't re-sign anyone—and Tony Gonzalez retires as expected—they can expect to be down a starting tight end, three defensive tackles, a nickel cornerback and their current starting center.
That's unlikely, of course. I'm going to list out the free agents as they stand today and outline why I think they will or will not be re-signed, in brief. We'll be doing the detail work once the off-season rolls around.
TE Tony Gonzalez
Gonzalez's deal was technically for two years, but I fully expect him to retire this off-season. The Falcons will need to stock up on at least one quality tight end this off-season, but it'll be impossible to truly replace Gonzo.
DT Jonathan Babineaux
I don't feel very confident, but if the team offers a competitive deal I have to think Babs takes it. He's still a force for good on this defense as a pass rusher and run stopper and could transition to a rotational player if the Falcons ink him to a long-term deal.
DT Corey Peters
This is a no-brainer. Peters is arguably the most effective run-stopper on the roster and has four sacks this season. He's young enough that he's probably got several quality seasons left in him, too. I expect him to the team's top in-house priority this off-season.
DT Peria Jerry
I don't feel very confident in this one, either. Jerry's turned himself into a solid rotational piece and the Falcons like how he fits into their defense, but he's also 29 years old and is never going to be an impact player. The Falcons should and probably will seek an upgrade.
CB Robert McClain
After a rocky start, McClain has settled down and turned in a pretty solid second half of the season. He's a good fit as a nickel corner in this defense and shouldn't be prohibitively expensive, so expect him to return.
He's shown himself to be a potential starting option at center next year, and even if he doesn't wind up with that gig, he's solid depth and still surprisingly young. Another priority for the Falcons.
This is simply a numbers game. The Falcons have Sam Baker, they're developing Ryan Schraeder and Lamar Holmes and they'll have a logjam at guard and tackle before they ever think of drafting or acquiring a free agent. Johnson simply can't stay healthy and crack the starting lineup, so he'll be looking for a job elsewhere.
TE Chase Coffman
He'll likely come dirt cheap, he's a decent enough receiver and the Falcons need a third tight end. I expect him to return unless he gets a better offer.
CB Dominique Franks
He has some special teams value and isn't a terrible cornerback. They just need to keep him away from returns to prevent us from eye-murdering our televisions. I expect him to return as the team's fourth or fifth cornerback. With Asante Samuel's likely release, the Falcons need only draft or acquire one corner to fill out the depth chart.
They gave him a lot of run as the starting right tackle and he was thoroughly mediocre. No sense in bringing him back.
LB Omar Gaither
Gets on the field on occasion, but behind two UDFAs in the pecking order at linebacker. He's outta here.
WR Drew Davis
Re-signed (Exclusive Rights Free Agent)
The fourth or fifth receiver next year, in my mind. Davis can throw a decent block, has some explosiveness and comes up big on those rare occasions where he's called upon to do so. Likely to be cheap, too.
WR Kevin Cone
Gone (Exclusive Rights Free Agent)
Cone was swiftly surpassed by Darius Johnson, which is never a good sign. He has special teams value, but Davis is much likelier to return. He'll seek a bigger role elsewhere.
Just a depth signing. Locklear's on the wrong side of 30, coming off a major injury and is unlikely to be an upgrade on what the Falcons have in Ryan Schraeder/Lamar Holmes next year. We wish him luck.
Your thoughts on the free agent class of 2014?