Cover 9@9: 5 free agents for the Falcons to consider

The AJC’s D. Orlando Ledbetter and CineSport’s Noah Coslov preview Falcons-Saints by talking about what 9-7 means versus 8-8 and whether the team should rest some players to avoid injury.

Julio Jones leaps over Carolina Panthers' LB Luke Kuechly for a spectacular catch that resulted in a 70-yard touchdown. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@jc.com)

Julio Jones leaps over Carolina Panthers’ LB Luke Kuechly for a spectacular catch that resulted in a 70-yard touchdown. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@jc.com)

1. FREE AGENCY WATCH: The Falcons went bargain-basement shopping in free agency last season.

If the Falcons finish 9-7, owner Arthur Blank will be in a better mood this offseason to upgrade the team.

The offseason focus must be the trenches in free agency and the draft. The problem with the draft is that rookies rarely come in and play at a high level in the trenches of the NFL. Sometimes it takes a while to develop offensive and defensive linemen.

The two of the biggest free agents are slated to be New York Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson and Denver Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller, but both will likely never hit the open market.

Here are five players slated to be unrestricted free agent that the Falcons must consider pursing:

  1. Bruce Irvin, Seattle Seahawks, OLB. The Atlanta native wants to come home and reunite with Dan Quinn.
  2. Nick Fairley, St. Louis Rams, DT. He has 29 tackles while backing up Aaron Donald.
  3. Alex Boone, San Francisco, RG. Has a torn MCL, but will be top interior player on the open market. Falcons right guard Chris Chester is 32. Boone is 28.
  4. Stefen Wisniewski, Jacksonville, C. The center snap has been an adventure this season. He’s started 76 games for Oakland and Jacksonville.
  5. Demarcus Dobbs, Seattle. DE. The former Georgia Bulldog is 6-6, 275 and had played in 59 games.

Other interior offensive linemen to keep an eye on include Carolina’s Amini Silatou, Arizona’s Ted Larsen, Houston’s Brandon Brooks and Houston’s Ben Jones.

2. FALCONS  UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: Chris Chester, RG; Adrian Clayborn, DE/DT; Kroy Biermann, DE; Gino Gradkowski, C/G; Jake Long, OT; Bryce Harris, OT; Tony Moeaki, TE; Philip Wheeler, LB; Charles Godfrey, SS and Shayne Graham, K.

3. FALCONS RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: Paul Worrilow, LB; Ryan Schraeder, RT and Nate Stupar, LB.

4. EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: Ricardo Allen, FS and Ben Garland, OG.

5. TOP 10 SALARY CAP NUMBERS FOR 2016: The Falcons will have some salary cap casualties over the offseason. They normally come from this list of the Top 10 Players with the highest salary cap number. Here’s the Falcons list for 2016:

  1. Matt Ryan, $23.7 million
  2. Julio Jones, $15.9 million
  3. Paul Soliai, $6.9 million
  4. William Moore, $6.6 million
  5. Tyson Jackson, $6.3 million
  6. Roddy White, $6.1 million
  7. Adam Levitre, $5.3 million
  8. Jake Matthews, $4.4 million
  9. Devin Hester, $3.8 million
  10. Brooks Reed, $3.4 million

6. RYAN TO PRACTICE TODAY:  Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan suffered a hip injured on the hit by Carolina safety Kurt Coleman, but will be at practice on Wednesday.

On the Falcons’ first drive of the game, Ryan escaped the pocket and picked up the first down before Coleman pummeled him. Ryan was clearly in pain, but continued to play.

“It was obviously a play that you have to make in third down situation,” Ryan said. “To be able to extend the play, to move the chains with your feet is important at times. But yeah, I was close enough to the end zone at that point and I had free enough lane to just keep going.”

Ryan continued to take on hits throughout the game. Carolina defensive tackle Kawann Short and linebacker Thomas Davis also had hard hits on Ryan, who says he can block out the pain when he’s on the field.

“It’s one of those things when you sit down on the sideline…things feel worse when you are sitting there,” Ryan said. “But when you are out there playing, in between whistle, you are just not thinking about those things. You are just playing and letting your adrenaline take over.

“For me, that’s one of the things throughout my entire career, there’s been different things that have come up, but when you in that snap, and you’re locked in, you don’t think about any of those things.”

7. TOP 50 FALCONS: No. 4 William Andrews/Warrick Dunn and No. 5, JEFF VAN NOTE:  The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is counting down the Top 50 players in Atlanta Falcons history during the franchise’s 50th anniversary season. No. 5 is center Jeff Van Note.

Here’s the story on Andrews and Dunn.

8. MEET THE CHEERLEADERS: Mallory is in her first year as a member of the Falcons’ cheer squad

Mallory is in her first year as a member of the Falcons' cheer squad. (Photo by Curtis Compton/Ccompton@ajc.com)

Mallory is in her first year as a member of the Falcons’ cheer squad. (Photo by Curtis Compton/Ccompton@ajc.com)

9. DEPTH CHART: The Falcons decided not to continue carrying two kickers and moved Matt Bryant to injured reserve last week. Mbu was promoted to the 53-man roster. Shayne Graham will handle the field goal kicking for the rest of the season.   OFFENSE
WR 11 Julio Jones, 16 Justin Hardy, 17 Devin Hester
LT 70 Jake Matthews, 75 Jake Long
LG 67 Andy Levitre, 63 Ben Garland
C 68 Mike Person, 66 Gino Gradkowski
RG 65 Chris Chester, 63 Ben Garland
RT 73 Ryan Schraeder, 72 Bryce Harris
TE 83 Jacob Tamme, 80 Levine Toilolo, 81 Tony Moeaki, 86 D.J. Tialavea
WR 84 Roddy White, 14 Eric Weems, 15 Nick Williams
QB 2 Matt Ryan, 12 Sean Renfree
RB 24 Devonta Freeman, 26 Tevin Coleman, 33 Terron Ward
FB 42 Patrick DiMarco
DEFENSE
DE 44 Vic Beasley Jr., 99 Adrian Clayborn, 71 Kroy Biermann
DT 77 Ra’Shede Hageman, 97 Grady Jarrett
NT 95 Jonathan Babineaux, 74 Joey Mbu
DE 94 Tyson Jackson, 93 Malliciah Goodman
LB 52 Justin Durant, 51 Philip Wheeler
LB 55 Paul Worrilow, 54 Nate Stupar
LB 50 O’Brien Schofield, 56 Brooks Reed, 41 Tyler Starr
CB 23 Robert Alford, 32 Jalen Collins
CB 21 Desmond Trufant, 20 Phillip Adams, 28 Akeem King
FS 37 Ricardo Allen, 27 Robenson Therezie
SS 36 Kemal Ishmael, 30 Charles Godfrey
SPECIALISTS
K 6 Shayne Graham
KO 5 Matt Bosher
P 5 Matt Bosher
KR 17 Devin Hester, 14 Eric Weems
PR 17 Devin Hester, 14 Eric Weems
LS 47 Josh Harris
H 5 Matt Bosher


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