This off-season should be an interesting one at defensive tackle. Peters did just sign a prove-it contract, but it's hard to tell what his impact will be coming back form an achilles injury. Peria Jerry will most likely walk, but the plan for Jonathan Babineaux is somewhat unknown. One thing's for sure, though: we need at least another tackle. The Falcons may opt to find their guy during the draft, but a few Free Agents could fill that role, as well.
The Free Agent list is long. Plenty of candidates have the ability to make an impact on our line. Since none of us work in the war room, I think we could expect interest in any size player. I'll just have to pick my favorite targets at various sizes, and we can debate others in the comments. Again, the players are listed with their age, followed by their PFF rank in 2013, 2012, and 2011.
Paul Soliai (30) - 20th, 49th, 46th
As many of you pray for a space-eating nose tackle, Paul Soliai fits the bill. The 340-pound mammoth has made his presence felt the past three years. He’s not a sack machine (2.5 the past three seasons), but the big man serves to collapse the pocket, consume double teams, and allow the rest of the line to get their hands on opposing QBs or ball carriers. As a big zero-tech, he amassed over 12 tackles per miss on average, which is close to the top and much better than the Falcons' 2013 performance. He also deflected five passes (career high) along with one forced fumble last year. Soliai rotates in on slightly more than 50% of defensive snaps. PFF ranked him well in run defense, and about average in pass rushing - the latter not being a concern because of his prohibitive size.
The defensive tackle has expressed his interest in staying put. With the 5th highest cap space entering the off-season, Miami could try to keep him on board. However, Brent Grimes struck an agreement averaging $8m per year, though we don't know the hit for 2014 yet. The ‘Phins will also want to make some moves to shore up their offensive line, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see Soliai floating around the FA pool (if that’s possible). Luckily, he shouldn’t come with a huge price tag. At 30 years old and ties to Mike Nolan, I think the Falcons could play their hand.
Linval Joseph (25) - 21st, 21st, 52nd
Another possible choice as a Free Agent defensive tackle, the 325-pound Joseph is coming off a successful rookie contract. Joseph has been able to create good pressure from both a 0 and 1-tech position, dropping opposing quarterbacks nine times the past three years. Joseph demands attention at the line but finds a way to make plays consistently. He has had 59 combined tackles and a forced fumble in each of the last two seasons. Joseph can be explosive and surprisingly evasive, making him a stout run-defender.
Linval Joseph recently joined Twitter and advertised his desire to to remain in New York. Here’s the problem: the Giants enter 2014 with only $19.3m to spend and 24 Free Agents, including Justin Tuck. That’s a lot of holes and not a lot of breathing room. Does Joseph’s desire to stay mean he’ll take a pay cut? Not likely, but that’s good for Atlanta. The Falcons have a great opportunity to grab a larger tackle to command the front line and prevent opposing QBs from stepping up in the pocket. Joseph won’t be cheap, but we could use the help in both phases of the game.
Arthur Jones (28) - 12th, 18th, N/A
Jones has taken advantage of his opportunities the past few years. He's shown great improvement in his game, becoming known for his stellar run-stopping abilities. He's not a star rushing the passer, but he has shown a good ability to impact the passing game, tallying four sacks in each of the past two year. Jones has gotten better at using his 315-pound frame and strong hands to create leverage - something which he and the coaches prioritized. This has helped him generate QB pressure from the interior, leading to more double-teams, which he has shown he can handle.
The Ravens are not necessarily strapped for money with $29m to spare, but they just signed Dennis Pitta to a $6.4m per year average contract and have 21 other players in Free Agency. They have also been projected to actively pursue players in March. This could mean the Falcons have an opportunity to grab an improving and disruptive player to man the middle of the line.
Randy Starks (30) - 7th, 39th, 6th
Randy Starks has been incredibly consistent throughout his career and even within seasons. He has tallied at least three sacks in each of his 10 years in the NFL, with a high of seven (2009) and at least four in each of the past three seasons. He's an explosive playmaker that ranked top 10 against the pass and run among defensive Tackles (PFF). He had a tough year in 2012, though he played close to 75% of snaps. Similar to Babineaux, Starks seems to play better when that number flirts near 60%.
Before the cap number increased, I thought Miami would only be able retain one of their two lineman in Starks and Soliai. Now, they could have room to fit both. We're creeping up to March 8th (when teams can legally speak to Free Agents) with both players are still on the market, and Starks could just wait a few days to find several teams willing to make him an offer.
There are definitely a ton of other prospects available Post some feedback and let's chat about who you would like to see the Falcons pursue in the coming weeks. For you viewing pleasure, the interactive charts are below.