Posted: 6:00 am Thursday, February 6th, 2014

What’s next? A look at top 5 free agent targets 

By D. Orlando Ledbetter

Falcons assistant general manager Scott Pioli and general manager Thomas Dimitroff making the rounds along Super Bowl XLVII radio row on Thursday. (D. Orlando Ledbetter/DLedbetter@ajc.com)

Falcons assistant general manager Scott Pioli and general manager Thomas Dimitroff making the rounds along Super Bowl XLVII radio row on Thursday. (D. Orlando Ledbetter/DLedbetter@ajc.com)

After the release of cornerback Asante Samuel and linebacker Stephen Nicholas, what’s next for the Falcons?

It’s pretty clear they are going free agent shopping come March 11.

“We have a good situation as far as the cap space,” Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in an exclusive interview at the Super Bowl in New York. “We’re good from a cap standpoint as far as entertaining certain options in free agency.”

He was clearly foreshadowing the cuts of Samuel and Nicholas.

“That doesn’t necessarily mean we are going to go big or go home,” Dimitroff said. “It does mean, however, that we’ll be very mindful of what may be out there and what may fit into our areas of need throughout our football team.”

(Interpretation: The Falcons are not going to panic and overspend.)

“Our feelings have always been that we can acquire through free agency, but we can also build through the draft,” Dimitroff said. “But we have to know where we can plug guys in who are ready to play right away.”

They clearly feel that they are fine at cornerback and linebacker with Desmond Trufant, Robert Alford, Joplo Bartu and Paul Worrilow.

The Falcons now have 53 players signed, but counting the top 51, per league rules, the Falcons are at $112.2 million against the cap, according to National Football League Players Association documents. The cap for next season is projected to increase 2.6 percent, to $126.3 million.

When Tony Gonzalez’s $7 million comes off the books when he submits his paperwork for retirement, the Falcons will have $21.1 million of available cap space.

The Falcons can also renegotiate some contracts to create additional room. For instance, wide receiver Roddy White’s salary-cap number of $6.3 million and left guard Justin Blalock’s salary-cap number of $7.6 million could be reduced with a two- or three-year extension.

The Falcons have to make decisions on their own free agents by the end of the month and more veterans could be released to create more salary-cap room.

The Falcons’ list of potential unrestricted free agents include defensive linemen Jonathan Babineaux, Peria Jerry and Corey Peters, offensive linemen Joe Hawley, Mike Johnson, Sean Locklear and Jeremy Trueblood, tight end Chase Coffman, cornerback Dominique Franks and linebacker Omar Gaither.

Babineaux, 32, is perhaps the team’s best defensive lineman. He told The Atlanta Journal-

Constitution that he wants to return. He just completed a five-year, $25 million contract. A more modest two-year or three-year deal seems workable.

Hawley has been a valuable reserve. Peters (Achilles) and Johnson (ankle) suffered season-ending injuries, and that complicates their contract situations.

The Falcons could elect to part ways with more veterans. Free safety Thomas DeCoud ($4.2 million) is the most likely candidate if they are able to sign Jairus Byrd in free agency.

While the Falcons still plan to build through the draft, they have to seriously consider free agency this offseason to improve their offensive and defensive lines. Rarely do draft picks come in and have an instant impact in the trenches.

HERE ARE THE TOP FIVE POSSIBLE FREE AGENT TARGETS FOR THE FALCONS

Jairus Byrd is on the move. (Rick Havner/Associated Press)

Jairus Byrd is on the move. (Rick Havner/Associated Press)

1. JAIRUS BYRD, FS, BUFFALO: Seattle’s Earl Thomas showed how a free safety with great range can allow the others to roam and terrorized. Byrd doesn’t get beat and makes plays on the ball. His father Gill Byrd was a legend with the San Diego Chargers.We covered him back when he was the Packers’ executive director/player programs and community affairs.   

2. MICHAEL JOHNSON, DE, CINCINNATI: The former Georgia Tech standout has the high FBI (Football Intelligence) the Falcons like. He had 11.5 sacks in 2012.

3. GREG HARDY, DE, CAROLINA: This would be the classic double-hit. The Falcons could get stronger and hurt one of their main rivals. He’s a little too bizarre for the Falcons who may be a little careful after the Ray Edwards experiment.

4. ALEX MACK, C, CLEVELAND: He’s just 28 and perhaps tired of losing. He’d anchor the interior of the line.

5. BRANDEN ALBERT, T, KANSAS CITY: He’d have to be fine with playing right tackle because the Falcons believe that Sam Baker is their left tackle.

OTHER UFAS TO KEEP AN EYE ON: Michael Bennett, DE, Seattle; Randy Starks, DT, Miami (played for defensive coordinator Mike Nolan); Geoff Schwartz, OG, Kansas City (well-traveled, but productive); Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jacksonville (played for offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter); Karlos Dansby, LB, Arizona (played for Nolan).

PAYROLL MATTERS

A look at the Falcons’ 12 highest salary-cap numbers entering the offseason

Name, Pos.; Cap number

Matt Ryan, QB; $17.5 million

Justin Blalock, LG; $7.6 million

Roddy White, WR; $6.3 million

Sam Baker, LT; $6.05 million

Julio Jones, WR; $5.1 million

William Moore, SS; $5.1 million

Thomas DeCoud, FS; $4.8 million

Osi Umenyiora, DE; $4.75 million

Steven Jackson, RB, $4.166 million

Sean Weatherspoon, LB, $4.132 million

Kroy Biermann, DE/LB, $4.083 million

Harry Douglas, WR, $3.6 million

Source: NFL Players Association documents

159 comments
DavidThead
DavidThead

If the Falcons miss on Clowney they should trade down a few spots and get an extra 3rd round pick. Then take a true Mike LB or a DE with upside with the first pick and continue to build on solid depth through the draft.  They need to address the O-Line thorough free agency as well as bringing in a Dominant FS! 

DavidThead
DavidThead

The draft is pretty weak as far as Safetys go so Byrd is up there for my #1 Target.  We can build on the defense through the draft other than that so I think that the O-Line has to be addressed through free agency....Mack would be a great pickup!

dawgs01
dawgs01

What makes Hardy so good is the attention Charles Johnson (uga) demands on the other side.  Johnson was coming off a monster season and that contributed to Hardy's season but he is a great player.  Carolina also has those two beast linebackers that you cant leave unblocked this allowed for Hardy to not see many double teams.  All I am saying is if we got him he would be double teamed and he is an undersized rusher.

falcoholic55
falcoholic55

GO AWAY JOHNNY FOOTBALL TROLLS. Matty Ice is still the QB here. Get the poor guy some semblance of an offensive line, some healthy receivers, and he is a top 5 talent. LESSGOO

TeddyJackEddy
TeddyJackEddy

I'd go hard after Mack. The center position was a train wreck in 2013 and Mack is elite at the  position. Also centers don't command huge money, so we could fix a big problem without breaking the budget.

Falcons63
Falcons63

Did everyone on the board know that Jay Cutler and Tony Romo both have total salaries that are greater than Ryan's?  JAY FREAKING CUTLER!!!  The QB that manages to somehow make even his teammates angry at him??!!   

SeenThatB4
SeenThatB4

The falcan't retarded brain trust will probably draft a punter with their first round pick.

caneowar
caneowar

Baker is a joke, Ryan is the most over rated QB in football. Problem is, is that Ryan is the best we can do at QB right now, that is unless Johnny football is still there. Hardy and Byrd would be great additions on the defense for sure. Not sure the Falcons would have enough money to spend on the offense, if they sign those two guys. Besides the O-line, the Falcons are also weak in the receiving department. Gonzales is gone. Jones is to dang injury prone and the same could be said about Roddy White. Smith is gonna earn his money this season for sure. 

Falcons63
Falcons63

Don't be shocked if the Falcons invest a reasonably high draft pick in a WR.  Julio has been injury prone and Roddy is getting a bit long in the tooth.  Bringing another WR in the fold would probably pave the way for White to be released the following year.  The bottom line is the team will be competitive if they can find a way to keep Ryan protected and play some semblance of defense.  

candlin14
candlin14

Matt Ryan will bouce back if we can invest in a good front for him!!! Whatever you decide to do ATL, please GOD get rid of Thomas Decoud. If he puts on a falcons helmet next year I will loose it... Go after Byrd or Hardy and I will be happy!!!

Barves_Loss_Agian
Barves_Loss_Agian

At lease we have the Daytona 500 2 look foreword 2. I have a felling Jr gonna brake his loosing streak this year!

Falcons63
Falcons63

I will be shocked if Baker isn't the starting LT for the Falcons on opening day.  Too much money invested to cut him now.  When healthy, he is a decent starting LT.  Obviously, the problem is he is rarely healthy.  Still, I think you will see the Falcons bring in a swing player(Will Svitek?) who can play LT.  The issue is going to be center  RG and RT.  I think the Falcons are counting on at least one and maybe two of the incumbents(Konz, Holmes, Johnson) being a starter.  That's going to be Mike Tice's nightmare to solve. Bring in a solid young vet and they will roll with what they have.  On the defense, I don't think the Panthers will let Hardy walk.  Right or wrong, I believe mgmt. thinks player development was a big issue on both the oline and Dline.  Enter Tice and Cox.   Goodman, Massaqoui and Mponga will be given every chance to man the other DE position opposite Osi.  I think fans who are expecting 4-5 new starters are going to be disappointed.  You will see perhaps 1-2 olineman and hopefully a new safety to replace DeCoud.   I didn't say I agree with this, I'm just saying what I think Dimitroff/Smith will do.   If this doesn't work then this time next year we will be discussing our new Coach and GM.

Mr_Ected
Mr_Ected

What I got from this interview is Sam Baker will NOT be our starting LT in 2014.  Just a little misdirection play on the part of our GM.  He hasn't been that candid about other individual players; why would he go out of his way to endorse Baker?

krom2213
krom2213

if you're saying to cut matty ice...do us all a favor and stop being a fan. Matt Ryan is an elite QB..if you recall the seattle playoff game and the niners playoff game.. 20-0 at halftime against seattle and 24-14 at halftime against san fran. Last time i checked matty ice does give up offensive touchdowns, granted last year we had a good O-line with clabo and mcclure anchoring us. But back to my point.. DEFENSE is our problem. No pressure on Wilson or Kaep allowed them back into those games. The only reason ryan had a down year was because he couldnt stay off his back, yet he still threw for 4515 yards which was 4th best in the league as well as 67.4% for completion also good for 4th best. Not to mention he did it with a hurt roddy a double teamed Tony G and harry douglas and no run game to off balance the defense. So stop with this garbage that Matt Ryan isnt good or "elite" get him blocker on the line and get him a defense to compliment our offense and all of you hating on him will be right back to praising him..

JLTee
JLTee

We've spent 1st (Baker), 2nd (Konz) and 3rd (Holmes) round picks on offensive line. Enough. It's time to get some vets in here with nastiness and experience to protect Matt. It's time we stop experimenting with projects and bring in proven talent. Matt doesn't need to have another young guy learn on the job at the expense of his health. Olinemen get schooled year one!

The # 6 pick should be used on defense, preferably pass rush. Keep Osi one more year to help groom Barr or Dee Ford and let's find our "Julio" for the defensive side of the ball. the 4th and 5th round experiment at the defensive end position has gone on long enough.

Really666
Really666

Wondering if Holmes can play RG?  Leonard Davis was a first round pick 2nd overall to the Cards was supposed to be a Tackle but ended up being an All-Pro Guard for the Cowboys.  Robert Gallery for the Raiders the same was supposed to be a Tackle and ended up as a Guard?  Holmes is big quick feet I say give a shot.

JSSN
JSSN

@Falcons63  

Not true, Cutler only has a guarantee $49M-$50M. Ryan is a huge $59M. Cutler's deal will never amount to more $17.6M average. When all of the numbers add up, Matt Ryan exceeds $20M a season and you can't cut him because he has huge backloads! I despise Cutler, but don't lie on him like that. 

JSSN
JSSN

@SeenThatB4  

Their current punter is the best tackler on the team!

Twisterfire
Twisterfire

@SeenThatB4  Good comment man. Have you ever thought about doing stand up comedy? I would pay $2 to come see you.

Bordertownbound
Bordertownbound

@caneowar You Ryan haters make me laugh so hard. They guy puts up the same stats that the top 3 QB's in the league put up (with no O-line or run game) and he's over rated. LOL, you are the same people that thought Vick was a god send LOL, now where is he. Get a life, Ryan is here for the long hall, might as well start commenting on something else.

Toe Jess
Toe Jess

@Tea-Party-Meber "At least we have the Daytona 500 to look forward to. I have a feeling that Jr is going to break his losing streak this year."

Barves_Loss_Agian
Barves_Loss_Agian

@Falcons63  The olny reasn UR rite is cuz Dummytroff wont want 2 admit his misteak in draftin him so they will keep him and cintu 2 loss more games

Toe Jess
Toe Jess

@Mr_Ected  I hope you are right. I haven't  enjoyed watching Sam "T-Rex Arms" Baker whiff on blocks over the years. 

JSSN
JSSN

@krom2213  

So what? Stafford threw for 5,000 plus yards in 2011 with one receiver who was tripled. 

krom2213
krom2213

@JLTee well put we do have to find our defensive julio

JSSN
JSSN

@Really666

Holmes can be fixed, but it is going to take a lot more than a position switch. His  hips are slow to turn, that takes more than a new line coach to fix!

Toe Jess
Toe Jess

@Tea-Party-Meber "The only reason you are right is because Dimitroff doesn't want to admit his mistake in drafting him. They will keep him and continue to lose more games."

Barves_Loss_Agian
Barves_Loss_Agian

@Toe Jess @Mr_Ected  Yea the guy realy sux Anoter Tommy Dummytroff bust.

JSSN
JSSN

@Toe Jess

Ask me when you learn not to refer to yourself when asking a blog question. Even when it is a unscrupulous one!

JSSN
JSSN

@Toe Jess

Unless somebody asks, keep your translating to yourself!

JSSN
JSSN

@Toe Jess

Pre picking (silly mock drafts) when you don't hold the first pick overall is stupid! You need everything under the sun excluding a punter! He's sadly a better tackler than your ex Pro Bowl Free Safety! 


You need to be more worried about whom ever they choose being coached properly, kept healthy, and not needing a load of over development!

Gods are for people who like myths. I deal with reality.

Toe Jess
Toe Jess

@JSSN @Toe Jess  


Not masquerading--not lacking in originality. I am simply translating the mysterious language of Joe Tess. 


Your lack of proper analysis is quite fascinating. Since I have your attention, football god, who is your preferred pick at our current spot in the draft?


JSSN
JSSN

@Toe Jess

"Enough said!"

What? Lack of originality masquerading as comedy in the form of playing on a name?

JSSN
JSSN

@JamesCammer @krom2213  

"Pretending?" That boat sailed in 2007, troll yourself better next time. His pick 6 in Tampa was not a "rushed throw," (he held on to it too long and didn't step up into the clean part of the pocket)! Neither was that masterpiece in Carolina! http://www.panthers.com/media-vault/videos/Drayton_Florence_38Yard_Pick_Six/a0bdb45d-b31d-4a5a-9c2e-b5023e0b8311The Matt Ryan Excuse Makers Club has a couple of fine members in you two! 

Crammer, you calling somebody "arrogant" is akin to feces calling a tree trunk brown!

Twisterfire
Twisterfire

@krom2213 You are wasting your time. You are arguing with an old arrogant troll who is pretending to be a fake Falcons fan.

krom2213
krom2213

@JSSN his interceptions last year were tipped balls and rushed throws..


Trackbacks

  1. […] The Falcons need defensive line help and Babineaux has been with the team his entire career and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that he would like to return to the […]