This will be the first in a series of articles that DW and I plan to publish. Looking at the highest positional needs, we will preview a few candidates in detail, including a three-year performance review stemming from PFF grades and miscellaneous statistics. We have researched each Free Agent's 2013 team to gauge the likelihood of that player hitting the open market, as well as the potential cost of signing said player. DW will cover the offense, and I'm covering the defensive side
Starting with Free Safety, the Falcons desperately need improvement. Even during his Pro Bowl 2012 season (as an alternate), Thomas DeCoud has had a terrible knack for missing tackles and taking bad angles. Last season, opposing QBs amassed an average 147 Passer Rating when targeting him in coverage. With six touchdowns allowed to zero interceptions, I'm imagining plenty of broken TVs and swear jars full of money. DeCoud will count for $4.8m against our cap in 2014. Should Dimitroff and Co. decide to cut DeCoud, we could free up $3m. That's a big enough incentive for Atlanta to move on.
The age next to each player shows how old they will be at the beginning of the 2014 season, followed by the overall PFF ranking in descending order (2013, 2012, 2011), filtered by playing time of 50%. The total number of player in qualifying in each year, respectively, was 67, 58, and 61. Here's a look at some of the 2014 Free Agents that could take his place.
Jairus Byrd (27) - 8th, 2nd, 3rd
Byrd is the biggest name this off-season, and someone a lot of fans are screaming to sign. Byrd has been a top Safety the past three years, and the 8th highest rated by PFF in 2013 (only played 9 full games, 2 half games). He earned the best rating Free Safety rating in 2011, second best in 2012, and would have been second best in 2013 had he played and maintained performance in all 16 games. A star in coverage, Byrd has allowed only three touchdowns the past three seasons to his 12 interceptions. In that same period, he allowed only 44 receptions on 76 targets (58%), with the average yards per reception dropping each year (to 7.5 in 2013). What’s better? He’s a good tackler, averaging more than 10 tackles per miss in each of the past three years. In 2012, he was the most efficient tackling safety (close to 20 tackles per miss), which makes a solid impact in the run-game. That’s an incredible improvement over DeCoud, who in 2012 received the second worst tackling efficiency, and in 2013 was ranked 55th.
As with all good things, the Falcons have some obstacles to signing Byrd: price and, well, Buffalo. Byrd was franchised-tagged by the Bills last year, and there’s a chance they do it again if negotiations head south. Buffalo enters the off-season with $23m in cap space and no other big names to secure. If they have to tag him a second time, it would cost them 8.3m next year (120% of the first year franchise-tag cost), but Byrd would likely draw that the open market anyways. The real question is whether or not the Bills will pay to keep him off the market considering they have some other moves to make this off-season.
So, while Byrd would be an incredible signing, the chances of him leaving Buffalo are probably 50-50. If they happened to let him test the market, his price tag may be a lot for the Falcons the handle. Signing Byrd as feasible, yes. It would just likely mean no big signing on one of our lines.
Chris D. Clemons (28) - 19th, 25th, N/A
Clemons may not be the "splash" player everyone wants, but he has been above average the past two years (limited snaps in 2011). He allowed only 55% completions, with 2 touchdowns versus his 3 interceptions in that time. His coverage abilities have been consistent, and he did show some improvement in 2013. He ranked 9th in PFFs coverage rating last year, which looks to be a drastic improvement over our current...situation. Against the run, however, Clemons appeared to struggle a bit. Still, his performance in that area was better than DeCoud’s, and Clemons did have a much better 2012 season. If we were to assume the worst, signing Clemons would essentially provide a wash against the run. At the very least, we could have some hope that he returns to 2012 when he was the second most efficient tackling safety in the run game (22 tackles per miss), and the 6th most efficient overall (12 tackles per miss).
The Dolphins currently have one of the highest cap spaces (~$36m). They also have several players hitting Free Agency that they'll want to lock down – Brent Grimes, Randy Starks, and Paul Soliai. While they probably won’t pay both defensive linemen, Grimes and Starks will require a healthy investment on Miami’s part. Clemons made $2.75m last year on a prove-it deal. He wants more money, and can probably get a little more in the open market ($3.5 - 4.0m). Depending on how negotiations go in South Florida, Clemons could be an interesting case to watch for an upgrade at Free Safety without breaking the bank.
Kerry Rhodes (32) - N/A, 4th, 32nd
Below are a few other options, sans the detail.
T.J. Ward (27) – 3rd; 6th; 4th
Though he plays strong safety, he's had a few games at Free Safety and posses the speed to play well in coverage. The Browns have $49m cap space, so unlikely he’ll walk. They could slap a franchise tag on him without amenable terms, and I would expect them to quickly do so. If he did make it out of Cleveland, I would expect him to see a contract around $6 - 8m. Keep an eye on him, but don't realistically expect him to hit the market.
James Ihedigbo (30) – 16th, 43rd, 58th,
A Free Safety in college, Ihedigbo could make an interesting candidate. He has shown improvement the last three years at Strong Safety, but Baltimore is in a tight spot with $20m in cap space and 16 Free Agents hitting the market - more notably Eugene Monroe, Arthur Jones, and Dennis Pitta. I imagine Ihedigbo will walk, though he may not be on the top of our list due to some negative publicity in the past. Look for a contract for him in the $4m range.
Bernard Pollard (29) – 21st, 29th, 9th
Another interesting prospect, Pollard has been a pretty well rounded Safety the past three years. He has the quickness and a strong height + vertical combination to excel at Free Safety. He took a modest 2m contract with Tennessee, reportedly because he liked the team, after Baltimore terminated his contract. With turnover in the coaching ranks and a lengthy FA list, the Titans may have to let him loose since they only have $10m in roster space. That could lead to a minimal cap hit after eliminating DeCoud, but could greatly improve our secondary.
Louis Delmas (27) – 23rd, N/A, 31st
His contract with Detroit was set to balloon at $6.5 next year, making their decision to cut him pretty simple. Atlanta has already been tied to Delmas, along with at least Denver and Pittsburgh. He has faced recurring issues with his knees, which could be due to the turf in Detroit or just bad luck. However, he did play all of the 2013 season – a good sign if we happen to ink a contract. As long as Atlanta structures his deal with playing time incentives, this could be a relatively cheap addition, though Dimitroff may still want to groom a Safety from the draft.