Who is available at positions of need and why the Falcons might want to sign them.
The Falcons have $20+ million in cap space and may re-structure a couple of deals to get a little more. With the need to fill holes and improve the roster, they're widely expected to make at least one big free agent signing in 2013.
To help you figure out where the Falcons are likely to allocate those free agent dollars, I've put together a list of free agents at positions of need. This is by no means an exhaustive list, of course, because you can find those here and here. What I mean to do with this list is compile impact and role players at the positions where the Falcons are weakest or most likely to splurge.
Without further ado, the list.
The crown jewel of the free agent market. Jackson has plenty of miles on him at this point in his career, but he's still a useful pass-catcher, hard runner and terrific worker. The Falcons would have to sign him for something less than his full value and they wouldn't want to commit too many years, but it's hard to argue that he wouldn't be an asset in 2013.
Expensive, but an intriguing back because of his pass-catching abilities. The Falcons could line him up outside occasionally, and he's a better between-the-tackles runner than he used to be. The team is likely to be outbid for his services, however.
Just 25 years old, Mendenhall already has a 300 carry season to his name, and most of 2012 was wiped out by injury. He would be an inexpensive gamble as a young back with promise who either through injury or ineffectiveness has failed to put together any truly great seasons. He'd be the between the tackles hammer for the Falcons if he signed and was healthy.
A tough 27-year-old runner with an injury history, Bradshaw is the kind of versatile back who would fit well in Atlanta's scheme. Bradshaw is a home-run hitting type who has never been exposed to a full complement of carries, but has excelled when healthy out of committee. He's likely to be looking for quite a bit of money, unfortunately, and seems most interested in playing for his former team or the Jets.
A sleeper pick, and not a particularly likely one. Ringer has battled knee problems but has always shown well as a power runner with decent hands when he's been healthy. He's still just 26 years old and would come dirt cheap, which makes him an option if the Falcons find themselves in a cap pinch.
If the Falcons are looking for vaguely affordable upside, look no further than Fred Davis. Unless you hate injuries.
Davis has never started a full slate of games, but he's a nice receiver at the position and is still just 27 years old. Tony Gonzalez is obviously the first option and one fans and the team alike desire to see the most, but the Falcons could roll with Davis, Chase Coffman and Michael Palmer and look alright at the position. Just not as good as with Gonzo.
Keller's another sensible tight end option for these Falcons. He has a history of decent production in a terrible offense, he's on the right side of 30 and he's a decent enough blocker. The obstacles here, potentially, are cost and demand. There's more than one team that will probably want to take a crack at Keller.
Myers will be 28 in 2013. He also just caught 79 passes for 806 yards. He's not an explosive athlete, but he's sure-handed and would give the Falcons another threat in the passing game. Given that he's only had one great year, he might come relatively cheap.
Cook is a tantalizing athlete who has never quite lived up to his potential in Tennessee. The Falcons could probably squeeze more production out of them thanks to a vastly superior quarterback situation, but there's no way he's going to settle for a lesser contract.
Arguably the best offensive tackle on the open market, Long is looking for $11 million a year. There's almost no way he gets it, but he's still likely to price himself out of the Falcons' range. Too bad, given his borderline elite talent, but he's probably not a realistic option.
A gifted left tackle, Albert could be on his way out if the Chiefs invest in a new franchise LT in the draft. If that's the case, his youth and skill set would make him an attractive option, even if his injury history makes me a bit leery.
Essentially a league average left tackle, Bushrod has manned Drew Brees' blind side for years now. If the Falcons can't re-sign Baker or grab Long or Albert, Bushrod might be a more affordable option. Just don't expect him to be anywhere near elite.
He has only been a part-time starter for the Patriots, but Thomas has intriguing size and blocking skills and would likely be relatively inexpensive. If the Falcons are looking for good depth or a potential starter at right guard, Thomas could be the guy.
A capital S starter for the Steelers, Foster is a capable pass blocking right guard who is probably about average as a run blocker. While that may not exactly fit what the Falcons are looking for, there's something to be said for putting a stellar pass blocking line in front of Matt Ryan and watching the fireworks.
Stay tuned for later in the week when we run down the defensive free agents who will be possibilities for the Falcons!