Good morning! Welcome to The Cover 9@9 blog. It’s our weekly blog of everything you need to know about the Atlanta Falcons.
FEBRUARY 5, 2017 HOUSTON TX Atlanta Falcons cornerback Robert Alford (23) celebrates an interception run back for touchdown as the Atlanta Falcons meet the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI at NRG Stadium in Houston, TX, Sunday, February 5, 2017. Bob Andres/AJC
1. WHAT DOES A BROTHERHOOD CELEBRATION LOOK LIKE?: Who really cares about touchdown celebrations?
What happened to just wanting to see some good old fashioned football without fireworks, halftime shows and end zone celebrations?
What happened to “act like you’ve been there before” after scoring a touchdown?
“The pendulum had swung a long ways,” Falcons president and competition chairman Rich McKay told Pro Football Weekly at the owner’s meeting in late May.
Apparently, there were more pressing football matters, and we didn’t ask head coach Dan Quinn about the Falcons’ celebration plan over the final OTAs and the mandatory minicamp.
The whole notion of one player leaving the reservation to host his own celebration runs into direct conflict with the “Brotherhood” concept that he’s built for the team.
Last season, when asked about Colin Kaepernick’s protest, Quinn didn’t seem to mind as long as the whole team was in on the protest.
All for one and one for all. That’s part of the Brotherhood mantra. Don’t let down or disrespect your brothers. In other words, “Protect the team.”
We saw Quinn’s approach when the Saints and the Falcons formed a Unity Circle before the game – but after the national anthem — in New Orleans to protest the social injustices in America.
Last season, when the Falcons scored, most just spiked the football or gave it to the linemen to spike it. I don’t remember any dances or any excessive celebration penalties. Robert Alford came close in the Super Bowl when he started dancing a little bit on his interception return for a touchdown.
The whole notion of allowing some celebrations makes sense. The NFL left the door open when they wouldn’t ban the Lambeau Leap, but penalized other celebrations.
“It came after a lot of discussions with our players, our coaches and our officials, our clubs, and the fans,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said. “We saw a lot of interest in liberalizing and allowing the players a little more freedom to express their joy, their individuality and, frankly, celebrate the game.”
Taunting and sexually suggestive dances will remain violations of the rules. The league had 33 excessive celebration flags last season and Pittsburgh wide receiver Antonio Brown was fined $34,000 for his sexually suggestive twerking dances.
“They recognize that sportsmanship is an important thing for them to demonstrate on the field in large part because of the people who are watching, and also to keep high standards,” Goodell said. “That is why we will want to continue to have their involvement. They want to continue to have a voice and an ownership in this to make sure it’s done the right way, and we will certainly welcome that.”
The best celebration last season saw Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott jump in the Salvation Army kettle. The fine organization’s donations went up.
“I think the line is simple: sportsmanship matters, it’s important,” McKay said. “Taunting is not acceptable; pointing and putting something in somebody else’s face. I’m not sure that we didn’t take the choreographed celebration too far. I think it started to feel like a bit of a sportsmanship issue and it really isn’t.”
So, it’s no longer the “No Fun League.”
“The reality is that you know that the players want to celebrate,” Goodell said. “You know they want to exhibit their individuality and excitement that they’re feeling at the time and they’re very creative as we all know. That didn’t surprise me.
“Several players mentioned they didn’t like the props but that wasn’t unanimous. What was a very strong consensus was the importance of keeping the standards up so it reflected well on the players, reflected well on the game and that we didn’t do things that would be insulting to our fans. I’m confident that the players are going to do that.”
2. FREEMAN DEAL: Falcons owner Arthur Blank is confident that the team will reach a contract extension with Pro Bowl running back Devonta Freeman “fairly soon.”
Blank commented about Freeman’s contract situation while making an appearance on The Dukes and Bell Show on 92.9 The Game, the team’s flagship radio station, on Monday.
January 30, 2017, Houston: Falcons running back Devonta Freeman reacts to a question with a smile during Super Bowl Opening Night on Monday, Jan. 30, 2017, at Minute Maid Park in Houston. Curtis Comptonfirstname.lastname@example.org
“As far as number 24 is concerned, I think Freeman, actually he just sent me a text the other day about something,” Blank said. “He’s the kind of person that you want to have on your team for all the right reasons. He’s a great player. He’s a great individual. He cares about community. He cares about his teammates. He’s very responsive to good coaching. There’s nothing about (Devonta) Freeman that I don’t love.”
General manager Thomas Dimitroff is in discussions with Freeman’s Miami-based agent, Kristin Campbell.
“I know that Thomas is working hard with him and his agent,” Blank said. “I feel very confident that we’ll be able to work out something with him for a long-term solution fairly soon I think.”
The Falcons top offseason priority was working a deal to retain cornerback Desmond Trufant. The team reached a six-year, $68.75 million deal with Trufant in April.
“It’s just a matter of time and you can’t do all of these big deals all at once,” Blank said. “Not even for financial reasons, but they take time. Each one takes a fair amount of work from a research standpoint. There is a lot of (negotiating).”
Blank didn’t seem to hold any ill will toward Freeman or Campbell for bringing up the extension talks during the Super Bowl week.
“I think the relationship we have with the player is critical,” Blank said. “It was with Desmond and it will definitely be that way with Devonta and it will be that way in the future with any of our other players as they come up.”
3. FREEMAN’S MIAMI CAMP: Freeman and The Devonta Freeman Foundation will host the Third Annual Youth Football and Cheerleading camp as well as a community outreach day for inner city youths on Saturday, July 8th at Charles Hadley Park in Miami, Florida.
Registration for the camp starts at 8 a.m. and is free to public for children ages 5 through 16.
Registration for the camp is currently open and forms can be obtained at Charles Hadley Park or by calling The Genesis Media Group at 561-859-7552.
4. JONES, RYAN MAKE TOP 10: Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones and quarterback Matt Ryan were revealed in the Top 10 on the NFL Network’s “The Top 100 Players of 2017” show on Monday.
After ranking No. 8 in 2016, Jones was the highest ranked wide receiver on this year’s list at the No. 3 overall spot. The All-Pro receiver recorded 1,409 receiving yards and six touchdowns last season.
Jones was ranked higher than Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown (No. 4), New York’s Odell Beckham, Jr. (No. 8) and Cincinnati’s A.J. Green (No. 17).
Ryan’s peers voted him to the No. 10 spot— the third quarterback on the list behind New England’s Tom Brady (No. 1) and Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers (No. 6). He was rated by the players after the 2016 season.
The Falcons had four total players on the 2017 list with outside linebacker Vic Beasley landing at the No. 40 spot and running back Devonta Freeman at No. 41.
5. A LOOK BACK AT THE OFFSEASON: The Falcons had a busy offseason. The team chose to directly deal with the Super Bowl collapsed and talked freely about it.
In free agency, they picked up defensive tackle Dontari Poe and in the draft they landed UCLA defensive end Takkarist McKinley.
Here’s a look back at the offseason.
6. CONCERN FOR FLOYD: Former Georgia standout Leonard Floyd, who’s from Eastman, suffered two concussions during his rookie season and told the Chicago media after minicamp in June that it took two months to recover from the second concussion.
Ross Tucker and Booger McFarland, both former NFL players, on Sirius NFL Radio were alarmed by the revelation during their show on June 16.
March 16, 2016 Athens – Georgia outside linebacker Leonard Floyd (84) runs a drill at UGA Pro Day. Twenty UGA players participated in Pro Day. TAYLOR CARPENTER / TAYLOR.CARPENTER@AJC.COM
“It’s going to affect you for the rest of your life,” said McFarland, who played at LSU and nine seasons in the NFL with Tampa Bay and Indianapolis. “If I were around him or if the people around him (are) listening, make sure he gets an opportunity to get his brain checked out. You do not want to go back out there and get another concussion. If he gets his third one, let’s say in less than a year, now, you have to start having a conversation about should he play football ever again. That’s not if you want to, that’s probably he shouldn’t at all.”
Floyd’s first concussion occurred against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium on Nov. 20. His head slammed into defensive tackle Akiem Hicks while attempting to make a tackle. He left the field strapped to a board and was taken to a nearby New Jersey hospital.
Floyd’s second concussion game against the Redskins on Dec. 24, while making a tackle.
“It took me two months to really feel like I was back to myself,” Floyd told the Chicago media on June 14. “I was just at the house relaxing and getting my mind back together. And after those two months, I felt back the same.”
After the season, Floyd was ordered to take it easy.
“You just don’t feel normal,” he said. “It’s the thinking part. You don’t think the same. I wasn’t thinking like I normally would think. And then I’d be staring off into space some time instead of paying attention.”
After being selected ninth overall in the 2016 draft, Floyd started 12 games for Bears and had seven sacks.
“He’s 24 years old and I guess he’s talking to doctors and all, I guess here’s what would be my point, if I had anything going on where my brain wasn’t working right for two months, good bye, see ya later,” said Tucker, who played six NFL seasons with Buffalo, Washington, Dallas and New England. “I almost wouldn’t care what the doctors would say. Two months! Two months!”
Tucker noted that $15.3 million of Floyd’s four-year $15.8 million contract was guaranteed.
“It’s a tough situation because he’s just getting started in this league,” McFarland said. “He’s just getting started making what, I think he’s assuming, is a lot more money than what he just signed for. I know retirement isn’t close to anything he’s thinking about.”
Could the Bears be liable for letting Floyd to continue to play?
“If you’re Chicago, think about this in a day in age where teams are getting sued, the league is getting sued, the league is in big lawsuit,” McFarland said. “At what point does a lawsuit go from the league to the team? What if he comes out and plays this year, gets another concussion and after that he can’t play anymore.
“He’s got three diagnosed concussions in his last 16 games total. Somehow, Chicago allowed him to play. When do we get to the point where these players attribute these (injuries) to the team?”
7. SAVE THE DATE: The Falcons open the 2017 season against the Bears on Sept. 10 in Chicago.
8. TRAINING CAMP: The defending NFC champion Atlanta Falcons will report for training camp on July 26.
Training camp will be held at the team’s facilities in Flowery Branch for the 13th consecutive season.
Selected practices will be open to the public, but there is not a “Friday Night Lights” event listed. The team has gone into the community for a scrimmage at local high school since first holding the event during the Jim Mora regime at Grady High in 2006.
9. DEPTH CHART: Here’s the projected depth chart heading in to training camp.
WR 11 Julio Jones, 14 Justin Hardy, 19 Andre Roberts, 1 Reggie Davis, 17 Marvin Hall
LT 70 Jake Matthews, 66 Kevin Graf, 79 Will Freeman
LG 67 Andy Levitre, 64 Sean Harlow, 72 Cornelius Edison, 69 Marquis Lucas
C 51 Alex Mack, 63 Ben Garland, 61 Travis Averill, 62 Cam Keizur
RG [71 Wes Schweitzer, 63 Ben Garland], 68 Trevor Robinson
RT 73 Ryan Schraeder, 76 Daniel Brunskill, 75 Andreas Knappe
TE 81 Austin Hooper, 80 Levine Toilolo, 82 Joshua Perkins, 86 D.J. Tialavea, 85 Eric Saubert, 49 Darion Griswold
WR 12 Mohamed Sanu, 18 Taylor Gabriel, 13 Devin Fuller, 15 Nick Williams, 16 Anthony Dable, 87 Deante Burton, 7 Josh Magee
QB 2 Matt Ryan, 8 Matt Schaub, 4 Matt Simms, 4 Alek Torgersen
RB 24 Devonta Freeman, 26 Tevin Coleman, 28 Terron Ward, 38 Brian Hill, 35 B.J. Daniels
FB 40 Derrick Coleman, 39 Tyler Renew
DE 99 Adrian Clayborn, 98 Takkarist McKinley, 96 Martin Ifedi
DT 92 Dontari Poe, 77 Ra’Shede Hageman, 92 Joe Vellano
DT 97 Grady Jarrett, 91 Courtney Upshaw, 74 Taniela Tupou
DE 44 Vic Beasley Jr., 95 Jack Crawford, 90 Derrick Shelby, 93 Chris Odom
SLB 59 DeVondre Campbell, 44 Vic Beasley Jr., 50 Brooks Reed, Jack Lynn
LB 45 Deion Jones, 53 LaRoy Reynolds, 52 Josh Keyes
WLB 36 Kemal Ishmael, 42 Duke Riley, 56 Jermaine Grace, 55 J’Terius Jones
CB 23 Robert Alford, 29 C.J. Goodwin, 25 Akeem King, 39 Janor Jones, 38 Taylor Reynolds
NB 34 Brian Poole, 33 Blidi-Wreh-Wilson, 27 Damontae Kazee
CB 21 Desmond Trufant, 32 Jalen Collins, 30 Deji Olatoye, 41 Quincy Mauger
S 37 Ricardo Allen, 20 Sharrod Neasman, 35 Marcelis Branch
S 22 Keanu Neal, 36 Kemal Ishmael, 48 Jordan Moore, 49 Deron Washington
K 3 Matt Bryant, 6 Mike Meyer
KO 5 Matt Bosher
P 5 Matt Bosher
KR 19 Andre Roberts, 14 Justin Hardy, 13 Devin Fuller, 38 Brian Hill
PR 19 Andre Roberts, 14 Justin Hardy, 13 Devin Fuller, 18 Taylor Gabriel
LS 47 Josh Harris
H 5 Matt Bosher
THE FALCONS 2017 DRAFT
2017 Falcons report card: Falcons earn a B-plus
NFC Champs add a pass rusher, quality depth
1st rounder: Meet defensive end Takkarist McKinley
3rd rounder: Meet linebacker Duke Riley
4th rounder: Meet offensive guard Sean Harlow
5th rounder: Meet defensive back Damontae Kazee
5th rounder: Meet running back Brian Hill
5th rounder: Meet tight end Eric Saubert