The first three days of Free Agency are over and while we see some things about this team much clearer other things remain unknown to us. The lack of moves for the defense of our beloved falcons lets me wonder, if the switch to a 3-4-defense, that was expected by many fans and experts, is still an option for the team. Let me explain you why I think it might be a better idea to use the 4-3-system (or this hybrid-stuff we've seen last season) for at least one more year.
The main problem in a switch to a 3-4-defense is money, as it is in most parts of life, business and sports. Yesterday the Falcons had solid 14.65 million dollars in cap-space left. That might sound like a fair amount of money, but now we have two very good players in the team, who will count significantly against this cap room. We know that Tony Gonzalez will return and he will command about 6 million dollars. As it is a one-year-contract we will have to pay him those 6 millions this year... there is no chance for a backloaded contract that will help us save money for this season. So with TGs contract signed we'll have 8.65 million dollars left. Now Steven Jackson joins the team. His contract is worth 12 million dollars over 3 years with 4 million dollars guaranteed. We don't know how this contract is structured, but he'll probably earn 2 to 4 million dollars in his first year with the falcons. According to this guess the falcons would have 4.65 to 6.65 million dollars cap space left.
As you can see, with those two contracts the falcons don't have that much room left, even if Steven Jackson just earns one million this year. The team also has to save some cap room for the rookies of the upcoming draft.
Now let's have a look at the team needs of the Atlanta Falcons, depending on the defensive system the team will run in 2013:
The one thing we know is that our CB-position still needs help. We need a quality starter opposite to Asante Samuel. Robert McClain is a solid player but behind him we just have Dominique Franks or Chris Owens or whomever we could use as our nickle CB. I guess we all know that this is not enough in the pass-happy NFL. Lets just assume that we spend on a CB in Free Agency, no matter if it is Brent Grimes or someone else.
in a 3-4-Defense we also need a NT and a good pass-rushing OLB. We even might be in need of a pure 3-4-DE, as I'm not sure if the current DTs on the roster fit that role perfectly. So we need a NT and an OLB (and a DE) for the switch to the 3-4-Defense. With the Falcons' current cap room and the assumed signing of a CB in Free Agency that would make two (three) starters missing. The Falcons could only adress those needs in the draft. I'm not sure if the team can get immediate quality starters with picks 30 and 62. Depth is another problem with the switch to a 3-4-Defense, as the falcons lack the personnel to replace i.e. the NT, if he goes down for the rest of the season.
If the falcons elect to stay with their 4-3-Defense things might take a different course. In this case they could adress the DE-position with our first pick at 30. They could get Margus Hunt or even trade up and snatch Björn Werner, if he falls far enough in the draft. In this case we'd have about the same defensive potential as we had last season. They could also use the left cap space to resign John Abraham and draft a good CB in the first round. Then get another DE in the second and we even have some good depth on our defensive line.
To get to my conclusion: I think with the big money the falcons had to spend to keep their own free agents and to get Steven Jackson it might be a wiser move to stay with the current system, as in a 3-4-system there are more holes to fill for a single draft and without the cap room to adress those needs in free agency.
I hope you can see my point and I hope I can start a discussion about this topic. In my german football-communities there aren't many Falcons fans to talk about such things. I also have to apologize for my hopefully not too bad english, as it isn't my native language.