What are the Falcons planning to do at safety?

The Falcons have answered some questions this off-season thus far. They have signed NT Paul Soliai and DE Tyson Jackson to bolster the run defense and OG Jon Asamoah to start at right guard. They also re-signed DT Corey Peters, DT/DE Johnathan Babineaux, C Joe Hawley, and RT Mike Johnson. The recent addition of CB/KR Javier Arenas shows that the Falcons are still shopping, per recent reports that they are still interested in KR Devin Hester to provide a spark in the return game. One question still remains, what are the Falcons doing at safety? With the top targets coming off of the free agency board all within 24 hrs of the league year beginning, what options does that leave the Atlanta Falcons?

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Miami Dolphins

The obvious choice would be Chris Clemons, formerly of the Dolphins. He has the physical tools to  immediately help the Falcons in both run and pass situations. He has his flaws, but the value in that is his price has dropped since we are more than a week after the start of free agency. He could help bridge the gap for one of this May’s draft picks, to allow time to develop.

major wright

Another good option would be Major Wright, formerly of the Bears. This guy has the starting experience on a good defense and will be even cheaper than Clemons due to less name recognition. He quietly keeps the defense from breaking and will help bring along a young rookie that would be drafted this May.

james ihedigbo

There had been talk early this off-season that William Moore could return to his natural position at free safety and the Falcons could sign a strong safety like James Ihedigbo, formerly of the Baltimore Ravens. He has the big play ability close to the line of scrimmage. He could bring a mean streak and aggressiveness to this defense that could change its identity.

The NFL Draft:

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The Falcons could trade back from their 6th overall pick and draft either Ha Ha Clinton-Dix from Alabama, or Calvin Pryor from Louisville. Though this option seems less likely due to their huge need on the offensive line and need for elite pass rusher.

deon bucannon

The Falcons could also sit tight at 37 overall and take Deon Bucannon from Washington State, this is still less likely due to the prior response of greater needs on the team.

terrence brooks

Another option is in the third round at 68 overall. This is the last position where they would likely draft a starter. Florida State’s Terrence Brooks or USC’s Dion Bailey would both be good fits right here, a sleeper would be if Lamarcus Joyner slips to this pick and the Falcons want him at safety instead of corner.

120113 tech premium JC15

The last option in the draft would be to get a back up safety to groom along as the future starter behind a veteran that I mentioned before in free agency. This option could be a local player such as Jemea Thomas out of Georgia Tech or maybe Isaiah Lewis from Michigan State. Both of these players have potential, but may not be ready for a starting NFL role just yet.

The Prediction:

The Falcons will add a veteran safety in free agency and draft a back up/future starter somewhere in rounds 3-5.

Atlanta Falcons Offseason Outlook plus 2014 7-round Mock Draft

First things first, a 4-12 season shows that the Falcons have plenty of holes to fill. They started by maximizing their cap room by “trimming the fat” by cutting cost-efficient salaries and older players who don’t fit the future vision.  The following players have been cut:

CB Asante Samuel, Cap Savings $5.25 million Image

This move should speak for itself. Samuel is still a good player but not worth the $5+ million he’ll count against the cap, seeing as how he has already been replaced by two rookies this season.

LB Stephen Nicholas, Cap Savings $2 million 2014 and $5.5 million in 2015

Nicholas is the highest paid linebacker on the team with the least amount of production, this is a no-brainer.

G Garrett Reynolds, Cap Savings $1.329 million

An under-performing offensive line needs a complete makeover, enough said.

Others that could be cut:

DE Osi Umenyiora, Cap Savings $3.5 million 

I know he just came in this year, but this is a position in need of being upgraded and the birds will need every dollar they can to make the necessary improvements.

S Thomas DeCoud, Cap Savings $3 million in 2014, $4 million in 2015, and  $4.2 million in 2016Image

This move will save a small fortune over the next 3 seasons. It is affordable money if DeCoud’s production was that of his Pro Bowl 2012 season, but the Falcons have little time to wait and see if that returns. They need to use every dollar to see if they can capitalize on a veteran free-agent safety.

RB Jason Snelling, Cap Savings $1.375 million

With three running backs on the roster making more than 1 million against the cap this season, including incumbent starter Steven Jackson and flex back/return man Jaquizz Rodgers, unfortunately Snelling is the odd-man out. Antoine Smith has stepped up as well, making this move less risky.

Free agency is also where the Falcons could make some noise and turn around their fortunes. So here are a few of the options they could pursue:

DE Michael Johnson, Cincinnati

Michael Johnson 

He is a product of the home-town Georgia Tech and could be affordable as a run stuffing defensive end as well as a potential double-digit sack stud. His production in sacks last year was down, hopefully helping the Falcons land him.

FS Jarius Byrd, Buffalo Bills

The Bills now seem as though they will not use the franchise-tag on Byrd. He might be out of the Falcons price-range, but he is the best free safety on the market. If there is a bidding war for his services, it may leave the Falcons looking for another safety in free agency.

FS Antoine Bethea, Indianapolis Colts

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He is a more realistic candidate to be signed by the Falcons, seeing as how he is still an upgrade on DeCoud but he is much more affordable.

OLB Brian Orakpo, Washington Redskins

Of course this is assuming that he even hits the market. He is a candidate for a franchise-tag as well as maybe even an extension. He would be expensive, but it all depends on where the Falcons want to spend their focus within free agency and the draft.

C Alex Mack, Cleveland Browns

He would instantly change the whole dynamic of the offensive line. Mack has already made it clear that there is a slim to none chance that he returns to the struggling Browns. The Falcons may be in the market to really upgrade this position  in particular through free agency.

OT Branden Albert, Kansas City Chiefs

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The connection of new Falcons Assistant General Manager Scott Pioli being the former General Manager of the Chiefs helps this possibility. He is a former left tackle, right tackle, and also a guard in college. He can bring versatility to the offensive line that it has not seen in a while.

OT Michael Oher, Baltimore Ravens

He does not have any connection, but seems like a good fit at right tackle and would help immensely.

G Willie Colon, New York Jets

He was pursued by new Falcons offensive line coach Mike Tice while he was in Chicago, and he fits his scheme. He would also be a cheap addition who could start at right guard.

Others who didn’t make the cut: DE Greg Hardy-will probably be franchised, DE Michael Bennett-too expensive, OT Eugene Monroe-too big of a market, FS Louis Delmas-too many health concerns

And Now for the 7-round Falcons Mock Draft

Round 1 6th overall- DE/OLB Khalil Mack, Buffalo 

Khalil-Mack

This is assuming the highly coveted Jadeveon Clowney is off the board, and the Falcons would take the best player available which would be the versatile Mack. He has the NFL measurables and he is a clutch player, bringing in his best performances against top competition.

Round 2 37th overall- OT Antonio Richardson, Tennessee

He is a potential left tackle, but could play on the right side immediately as he develops.

Round 3 68th overall- DT Dominique Easley, Florida

He is a top 15 talent that slipped due to his torn ACL. He will be Babineaux’s replacement on the defensive line.

Round 4 99th overall- TE Arthur Lynch, Georgia

arthur lynch

He provides the ability to help in the passing game and as a blocker. Lynch will be a scheme-friendly pick for the Falcons, and should generate some home-town buzz.

Round 5 135th overall- S Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State

He is a tweener at sefety/corner, but his leadership and instincts make him valuable at the next level. He could play behind whoever the Falcons sign in free agency and make his living on special teams for the time being.

Round 5 compensatory- WR/RS Dri Archer, Kent State

He could be the Falcons 4th receiver, and speed demon return specialist. Sometimes it makes sense to take a flier on a guy who could make you look smart, he has gamebreaker potential.

Round 6 166th overall- G Wesley Johnson, Vanderbilt

The need for help along the line has been noted and here is just another body to use for competition in camp.

Round 7 197th overall- WR L’Damian Washington, Missouri

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If he is still here at this pick, the Falcons should jump all over it. He is a big-body receiver who can make plays in the red zone to help replace Tony Gonzalez.

Round 7 compensatory- CB Ross Cockrell, Duke

Talented corner who is underrated for his smooth transitions in coverage. He will help special teams and be a 4th corner.

Round 7 compensatory- QB Connor Shaw, South Carolina

connor shaw

The Falcons do not seem to be high on Dominique Davis, and that’s why they brought in Sean Renfree in the draft last year. They want to create competition behind Ryan. Shaw would provide that and he is originally from Flowery Branch, where the Falcons practice facility is, thus creating local buzz. He is a proven winner, and has great running ability which is also valuable as a backup in the NFL.

Round 7 compensatory- C Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma

This would be adding another guy to the mix in camp to push Peter Konz.