One common theme surrounds the Falcons free agent list, and that's that most of the key free agents are defensive linemen. That usually means change is forthcoming. O'Brien Schofield, Kroy Biermann, and Adrian Clayborn are free agents, while Tyson Jackson could be released. It was recently announced that Paul Soliai wouldn't be back, either. All five players played significant snaps last season.
After breaking down Schofield's value last week, Biermann is next on the free agent feature list. Excluding Jonathan Babineaux, the oft-criticized lineman is the longest tenured Falcon on defense. His work ethic and relentless motor hasn't gone unnoticed. Despite his limitations, the new coaching staff decided to bring him back last year. He was utilized mostly within their base defense. Following another ordinary season, will they finally move on from a player with no further upside or keep around a steady veteran for depth purposes?
Reasons to re-sign Biermann
The fifth round pick's transformation from being a liability to an asset as a run stopper deserves more appreciation. When he entered the league, opposing teams would target him. They recognized his undersized frame and knew their offensive tackles could dominate at the point of attack. That has changed over the past two seasons with Biermann developing into an above-average run defender.
Dan Quinn used him on both sides of their base defense. It allowed them to be flexible and put Biermann in favorable matchups. Look no further than him blowing past Dwayne Allen without any resistance. With a picture-perfect swim move past the lineman, Frank Gore was stopped for a minimal gain by Biermann. Skeptics didn't know what to make of Biermann's outstanding run stopping grade on Pro Football Focus.
When the defensive coaching staff implemented their methods, hand usage was stressed on a daily basis. Brian Stann spoke to me about emphasizing hand speed and other violent techniques. Biermann showcased that on various plays with much improved hand usage. Soliai's rejuvenation played a pivotal role behind their run stopping success. Setting the edge was another major reason, which Biermann did routinely on a weekly basis. Whether it was gaining leverage on T.J. Clemmings or throwing Luke Stocker aside, he made plays that put offenses in a second-and-long situation.
Despite being limited as a pass rusher, Biermann has made a few timely sacks over the past two seasons. His strip-sack of Drew Brees will always be an unforgettable moment. Atlanta doesn't win five games to start the season without him blindsiding Eli Manning into a costly fumble. Both sacks showcase his relentless motor, which has helped him maintain a place in Atlanta. The knack of making plays at opportune times can't be discounted, and he is a core special teamer.
Reasons to let him go
How can the Falcons continue to rely on him? Those words have been uttered by a restless fanbase on a weekly basis over the past two seasons. After tearing his Achilles in 2013, Biermann's athleticism has severely deteriorated. It happens to many athletes dealing with such a serious injury, especially defensive linemen and linebackers. Many people forget that he ran a 4.75 in 2008. Not many players his size have deflected a pass, dove for an interception, and ran it back for a touchdown like he did against Cleveland. At 250 pounds, Biermann was the ideal situational pass rusher
Part of the reason why Atlanta signed Ray Edwards in 2011 was to provide support for John Abraham. They wanted a legitimate starter that can play major snaps and take the pressure off their stud pass rusher. Biermann was given opportunities as a starter in 2009 and 2010. He wasn't productive enough, which eventually forced Thomas Dimitroff into making a splash in free agency. It wasn't surprising to see an undersized fifth round pick reduced to a more situational role.
Coming off a season-ending injury, he was forced into playing 939 snaps in 2014. The coaching staff (and front office) deserves blame for pushing a role player towards such a prominent position. Signing run stuffers instead of edge rushers left Biermann in a hopeless situation. His first step was sluggish, which is never a good sign for an undersized defensive end. Opposing tackles handled Biermann, if he couldn't beat them off the edge. It was an unfortunate situation for the once fan-favorite. He went from being a dependable role player into an overexposed starter that couldn't provide much spark as a pass rusher.
Along with his ability as a pass rusher, Biermann's versatility evaporated. Past defensive coordinators would occasionally use him as a strong-side linebacker. With Brooks Reed suffering from a hamstring injury, the coaching staff inserted him back into that role. It didn't last long, due to his lack of speed and range in coverage situations. Biermann's poor awareness was immediately exploited by Philadelphia. If Sam Bradford had been more accurate, they could have abused him even further. Nate Stupar and Joplo Bartu were both used as replacements against the Giants. Nobody expected him to cover running backs or tight ends, and he just doesn't have the ability to kick out and do so any longer.
Two of Atlanta's bigger free agents are very similar, but while he isn't quite as good against the run, Schofield offers more as a pass rusher and backup strong-side linebacker.
It doesn't make sense to keep two similar role players with comparable limitations. Both players can't be depended on as full-time edge rushers. Schofield will be 29 years old entering next season, while Biermann turns 31 in September. With familiarity under Quinn's scheme, the former Seahawk should be viewed as the more preferable choice. A torn Achilles and poor front office decisions ultimately made Biermann into an unpopular figure. His best years came as a role player, not playing as many snaps as Von Miller. It wouldn't be a complete shock for Atlanta to re-sign him, but in the end, Schofield will be re-signed and Biermann could find himself with an old friend in Tampa Bay.