Atlanta's defensive front underperformed once again this year, even though expensive free agents Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson were acquired to mitigate a lack of sufficient depth. These two, lauded as "stout" and "gritty" additions, were paid more than $11 million combined in 2014 alone. Yet neither came close to living up to his pay check.
However, the majority of the blame can't fall on their shoulders. No one brought consistent production to the table. No one had more than 4.5 sacks. No one posted a cumulative Pro Football Focus rating above 2.7 (for perspective: J.J. Watt earned a higher rating 11 separate times during the regular season). Cliff Matthews and Stansly Maponga, who had some potential, saw less than 120 snaps apiece and were virtually non-factors.
Indeed, it was an adversity-filled campaign for Bryan Cox's unit. Let's take a deeper look at how it fared.
There isn't much to say about Jackson that hasn't already been said. The former Chief was a huge disappointment, and with four years left on his $25 million contract, he figures to join Ray Edwards and Jamaal Anderson in the "massive bust" category.
Jackson's inability to register a sack would have been been tolerable if he did a good job stopping the run, but he certainly didn't thrive in that respect: PFF gave him a -3.1 cumulative run defense rating, and according to the team's website, he had 10 solo tackles. Ten!
While Jackson's snap count was rightfully low, many people (including yours truly) thought Massaquoi should have seen the field more often. A lot more often.
The 26-year-old was highly successful when given the chance to perform -- finishing 2014 with two sacks, seven QB hits and nine QB hurries -- but never got the opportunity to be a legitimate starter. It's unclear whether Massaquoi will return next year, but the odds are far better with a new regime in place. Perhaps Dan Quinn, by all accounts a smart defensive mind, will push hard to re-sign the Troy University alum.
Babineaux hasn't received the praise he deserves for all he's given the Falcons organization. Drafted 59th overall in 2005, he's remained in Atlanta for the entirety of his career -- not exactly a common feat -- and has been a reliable fixture along the D-line.
Although Babineaux didn't fare particularly well against the run, he was among the team's best pass rushers with 34 QB hurries. He was especially impressive during Weeks 10 and 11, when he had PFF ratings of 2.5 and 2.4, respectively.
Babineaux will turn 34 in October, so it's hard to say how valuable he'll be as his career nears its end. Regardless, he's done a lot for this team and should be commended for sticking around for so long.
Umenyiora will always be viewed as Jonathan Abraham's replacement. This only makes his underwhelming numbers more frustrating. The once-New York Giant ended 2014 with 2.5 sacks and nine solo tackles -- a far cry from what he was capable of in his prime.
Reportedly set to retire, it appears we've seen the last of Umenyiora. At least we'll always have his touchdown in Week 16.
Acquired to fix Atlanta's middling run defense, the rotund veteran wasn't bad, he just...he wasn't very good, either. Frankly, someone making $32 million over five years should be a lot better than he was in 2014.
Soliai had a PFF rating above 1.0 just three times all season in addition to five games worth -1.0 or lower. Yes, he improved Atlanta's interior, but the bar wasn't exactly high. It'll be interesting to see how the Falcons utilize him moving forward.
To say Goodman struggled would be an understatement: 289 snaps during passing plays, zero sacks. Only Paul Worrilow had a worse PFF rating among Atlanta defenders, and Goodman's pass rush rating was 10 points lower than anyone else's on the roster.
His contract doesn't expire until 2017, so we may not have seen the last of him. Nevertheless, if he does return, it's unlikely he'll have a significant role.
Where to begin? Fans treated Biermann like a punching bag all year, and though some of this criticism went too far, much of it was warranted.
Sure, he had his moments. His 4.5 sacks were the most on the team. He forced a fumble that one time. But for every good play he made, there were several bad ones that cost the Falcons dearly.
Now a free agent, Biermann's future is in doubt. It may be in everyone's best interests to move on.
Hageman's rookie campaign had its ups and downs. We got our first genuine look at the Minnesota alumnus during training camp, when he was prominently featured on Hard Knocks. This air time, which included multiple segments of Cox yelling at the 24-year-old, led to some work ethic concerns. Those concerns were and remain valid, but Hageman was always viewed as a project -- on and off the field.
He finally showed us what he's capable of in Week 16, when he sacked Drew Brees and made several other notable stops. If he puts in the work this off-season, it wouldn't be surprising to see him thrive as a sophomore.
Peters was among Atlanta's best run stoppers in 2014, but he didn't end the year as well as many hoped. His second game back from injury in Week 3 provided a lot encouraging moments, including a sack, two QB hits and four tackles for loss. Unfortunately, he'd get just one more sack and two more QB hits all year.
Peters is now a free agent and could be a solid option moving forward, but it wouldn't be surprising to see him leave.