Coming off a disastrous 4-12 campaign, the Atlanta Falcons entered the 2014 offseason with clear and dire needs. They needed to get tougher, stronger, deeper, and just plain overall better. With nearly $30 million in available cap space, the Falcons had more than enough resources to fill their holes and then some. The reason the Falcons are truly winning free agency in my mind are not only because of the moves they made, but also because of the ones they didn’t make. Let’s take a look at why I believe the Falcons are absolutely killing it in free agency.
It can easily be said that the Falcons two biggest needs of the offseason were both the offensive and defensive lines. On the first day of free agency, the team took three big steps in bolstering both fronts and eliminating those needs. First, they signed massive nose tackle Paul Soliai (6-4, 340) away from the Miami Dolphins to a 5-year, $33 million contract in an effort to improve the team’s embarrassingly low 31st ranked run defense. Second, they solidified the notion that the team was intent on stopping the run by signing former Chief’s 2009 3rd-overall pick defensive end Tyson Jackson to a 5-year, $25 million contract. The combination of Jackson and Soliai will allow the Falcons to experiment with more 3-4 base defense looks, while drastically improving the run defense. Finally, the Falcons filled their most obvious need at right guard with the signing of another former Chief, Jon Asamoah. The team got Asamoah on a great deal (5-years, $22.5 million) considering he’s just 25 years old and is already touted as an excellent pass protector this early in his career. With these three moves, the Falcons immediately fixed some of their biggest needs and look undoubtedly stronger and tougher up front.
Not Falling Prey to the Big Name:
After a rough season, many fans might immediately gravitate to the best available free agents and beg their team to sign them at any cost. The truth is, that strategy rarely ever works out (see the 2013 Dolphins and the 2011 Philadelphia Eagles). Big name players like Jairus Byrd, Michael Johnson, Darrelle Revis, and DeMarcus Ware were all available at some point in free agency, but the Falcons didn’t take the bait and sign any of those players to some fan’s disappointment. Each of those players received massive contracts with an incredible amount of guaranteed money that simply wouldn't have been financially smart for the Falcons to invest in. In the case of Johnson, the Falcons have already experienced overpaying for a defensive end with great potential but low production in 2011 free agent bust Ray Edwards. The Falcons won’t make the same mistakes twice. This team prides itself on developing young, inexpensive talent through the draft while making prudent free agent decisions, and this offseason proved no different.
Adding Lightning with Thunder:
Easily the flashiest free agent signing of the offseason, the Falcons brought in future Hall-of-Famer Devin Hester, adding a lethal element to the return game the team had been missing since Allen Rossum’s glory days. Hester signed a 3-year contract worth $9 million, and the team has hinted that he may also be used in creative ways at wide receiver. I love the Hester signing for two reasons. First, I’ve been saying all offseason that the Falcons not only needed to beef up the offensive and defensive fronts, but that they also needed to add an element of explosion that was severely lacking after Julio Jones’ devastating injury. With the signing of Hester, they did just that. The notion that Hester is washed up is absolutely absurd, as he lead the NFL in kickoff return yardage this past season. Second, Hester brings a level of sheer excitement anytime he touches the ball. Other than Jones, I’m not sure that can be said about any other player on the team. Hester will put finally fans in their seats before opening kickoff in hopes to see NFL record books rewritten. The next kick Hester takes to the house will break Falcons legend Deion Sanders all-time kick return touchdown record. The signing of Hester injected some life back into a fan base that desperately needed it after enduring a season as depressing as 2013 was.
Shoring Up Depth:
One thing Falcons fans constantly heard all of last season was how badly the team was lacking depth. After many key starters went down with injuries, it was painfully obvious that the belief was indeed true. By re-signing defensive tackles Corey Peters, Jonathan Babineaux, and Peria Jerry, in addition to the signings of Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson, the Falcons have created themselves a potentially great defensive line rotation with Osi Umenyiora, Kroy Biermann, and Malliciah Goodman all expected to wreak havoc on the opposing team’s offense. Cornerback/Kick Returner Javier Arenas (1 year, $795k), Offensive Tackle/Guard Gabe Carimi (1 year, $850k), Offensive Tackle Mike Johnson (1 year, $675k), and Center Joe Hawley (2 years, $6 million) provide solid depth with potential starting ability for a very affordable price. I believe it’s safe to say the team got much deeper within these first few weeks of free agency. Whoever loses the battles for right tackle and center in training camp will provide experienced depth and versatility that is extremely valuable in today’s NFL.
Trimming the Fat:
Ever since the haunting conclusion of the 2012 season, the Falcons haven't been scared to cut ties with expensive veterans in order to create cap room and bring in new talent; not surprisingly, the 2013 offseason has been no different. The team parted ways with Asante Samuel, Thomas DeCoud, Stephen Nicholas, and Garrett Reynolds, long-time veterans that hadn’t played up to their current salary. Those moves were admittedly expected, but nonetheless necessary to make the team younger and undoubtedly better in the short and long term.
It’s only been a few weeks since free agency started, but the Falcons have gone out and done an excellent job in identifying their needs and making the correct moves to fix them. There are still holes to be filled like free safety, rush linebacker, and tight end, but the team undoubtedly has a plan to fill them with the 2014 NFL Draft in May fast approaching.
How do you think the Falcons are doing in free agency?
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