NFL free agency kicks off at 4:00 p.m. today, and there are plenty of players available the Falcons may be interested in to fill some of their needs on both sides of the ball. What gifts might Thomas "Santa" Dimitroff bring Falcons fans today?
As rumors abound--with coaching shifts to back them up--that the Falcons may be actively moving toward more time in the base 3-4 defense, the reality is that they currently don't have the personnel to move to a 3-4 base more consistently. There are some players available in free agency that could round out the front 7 and make this a possibility.
The Falcons have re-signed their own Corey Peters, who is coming off a late season Achilles tear, but should be ready for action by the start of the regular season. It also sounds like they're making progress toward re-signing Jonathan Babineaux, which is excellent news.
Falcons and Jonathan Babineaux closing in on three-year contract and sources say it's looking good that he'll remain in Atlanta— Aaron Wilson (@RavensInsider) March 11, 2014
Other than that, the position is pretty much up in the air. If the Falcons are moving more toward a base 3-4, they need a true nose tackle in the middle, and what they do in free agency will shed some light on the veracity of the 3-4 rumors.
One option for Atlanta, a player they are reportedly "aggressively pursuing" per Jason LaCanfora, is Miami's Paul Soliai. Here's what Pro Football Focus has to say about Soliai, who is ranked 42nd on their list of the top 75 free agents.
Paul Soliai, Defensive Tackle - A useful pass rusher for a big guy, Soliai would be higher if the highlight of his play was more than just his ability to impact the rushing attack of the opposition. He is extremely good in that regard.
For a defensive unit that ranked 31st in the league last season for rushing yards allowed per game, Soliai's run-stopping abilities are attractive, particularly if the team expects to spend more time in a 3-4 this season. This is a logical move unless Soliai is out of Atlanta's price range. Soliai finished the 2013 season with a +11.1 overall from Pro Football Focus. He had a +7.9 grade against he run and +3.2 in pass rushing.
The Falcons are also reportedly looking at Randy Starks, another Miami defensive tackle. Pro Football Focus ranks him 10th on their top 75 free agents list. Starks finished last season with a +28.8 grade overall, with +15.3 against the run and +13 for pass rushing.
Randy Starks, Defensive Tackle - You feel like Starks has been around forever but he'll head into the season just 30 years of age and coming off another strong season. That's not just a case of the contract year with Starks who was incredibly productive in his six years with Miami.
The Falcons are also reportedly interested in defensive end Antonio Smith. Smith is ranked 36th on PFF's top 75 list.
Antonio Smith, Defensive Linemen - Not everyone's cup of tea, but he's a pass rusher who is a real handful. You can accept some of the penalties and what not he brings with him because he's productive.
UPDATE: It seems that Atlanta is potentially interested in defensive end Tyson Jackson as well.
A player getting an impressive amount of interest, assuming he’s a FA: DE Tyson Jackson. #Dolphins, #Browns, and #Falcons. Chiefs in it too— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 11, 2014
Reports suggest that offensive guard Jon Asamoah to the Falcons is a done deal. It's a logical move--Asamoah addresses a huge need for Atlanta, and was, of course, drafted by Scott Pioli in Kansas City. The deal is reported to be for $4.5 million a year. There are plenty of other offensive line targets available in free agency, but this was the most logical move, and it seems like it's happening. Asamoah is 26th on PFF's top 75 free agents list.
Jon Asamoah, Guard - Not the ideal contract year as Asamoah lost his starting spot, but that owed more to the brilliance of Geoff Schwartz than anything he did wrong. A good athlete in a league short on quality guard talent.
With the Falcons expected to release free safety Thomas DeCoud sometime before contract bonuses kick in this month, free safety is a legitimate need, and looking toward a veteran free agent to fill this need seems pretty logical.
Jairus Byrd is an option the Falcons have reportedly considered, though Byrd will likely command a pretty big contract. Another option--a more affordable option--for Atlanta is Carolina's Mike Mitchell.
Byrd is ranked #1 on the Pro Football Focus top 75 free agents list. Mitchell did not make the list.
Jairus Byrd, Free Safety - Having a safety with the kind of range to play center field and challenge quarterbacks is very much en vogue now, especially with the success of Earl Thomas. Byrd is in that category and his unique talents will likely see many teams inquire about him and his price.
It seems likely that Atlanta could sign Champ Bailey. It's possible that they'll ask him to play nickel, per Vaughn McClure at ESPN. Bailey is obviously aging, which is why I have been vocally opposed to this idea, but he's also a perfect fit in Atlanta's locker room and would provide quality veteran leadership to Atlanta's young defensive backfield. Bailey is ranked 24th on PFF's top 75 free agents list.
Champ Bailey, Cornerback - It's been a tough couple of years for Bailey. First there was Torrey Smith making a fool out of him in 2012 playoffs and then he had some slot coverage woes in the recent Super Bowl. Bad times to put bad play out there, but it shows a diminishing force as opposed to a spent one. He's got enough left in the tank to upgrade a unit somewhere.
What are your thoughts and expectations for the Falcons in free agency?