Dec 29, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez (88) is honored by owner Arthur Blank during halftime against the Carolina Panthers at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports
The Atlanta Falcons added several new faces during the first wave of free agency, including Jon Asamoah, Tyson Jackson, and Paul Soliai. Asamoah will be a tremendous help to the team on the offensive line at guard while Jackson and Soliai will be big bodies who can help along the defensive line, particularly with Soliai at nose tackle and Jackson as run stopper at defensive end. While these signings addressed some problem areas for the Falcons, there are still some holes left that need to be filled.
Areas that need still need help in order from most to least pressing include offensive tackle, a pass rushing defensive end/outside linebacker, safety, tight end, and depth at receiver and running back. Despite these needs, the Falcons will still have opportunities to fill the roster with talented players at these positions.
While Sam Baker has had some success at one tackle spot, the Falcons could still use help at the other tackle position. While some players have been taken off the board, there are still some intriguing options left at this position via free agency. These include Charles Brown from the Saints, Bruce Campbell from the Carolina Panthers, Marshall Newhouse from the Packers, and Eric Winston from the Chiefs. The Falcons may also be interested in some offensive tackles who are expected to be taken early in the draft, including Greg Robinson from Auburn, Jake Matthews from Texas A&M, and Taylor Lewan from Michigan.
Pass Rushing Defensive End/Outside Linebacker
The Falcons have done some work to beef up the defensive line but could still use a pass rusher to bring some more pressure against opposing quarterbacks. Some names still available in free agency include Jared Allen from the Vikings, Anthony Spencer from the Cowboys, Robert Ayers from the Broncos, and Shaun Phillips from the Broncos. There is also speculation that the Falcons could be interested in Jadeveon Clowney or Anthony Barr early in the draft.
The Falcons recently released Thomas Decoud after a disappointing season but should still be looking for help at safety. Some options available in free agency could include Chris Clemons from the Dolphins, Charles Woodson from the Raiders, and Champ Bailey from the Broncos if he is willing to move from corner to safety. While these aren’t exactly young players, there aren’t many safeties in the draft who are expected to be able to contribute immediately. This could lead the Falcons to sign a veteran as a stopgap until they can find a younger player for the long term.
Tight end has been an area of strength for Atlanta in recent years, but the Falcons have a hole in this spot after the retirement of future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez. The outlook at tight end is relatively bleak in the free agent market. Jermichael Finley from the Packers and Owen Daniels from the Texans are both intriguing options. Both have been productive in previous seasons but have faced recent injuries that have limited them. I wouldn’t want to throw a large sum of money at them, but when they are healthy, they can pose matchup problems. There are a few highly regarded tight end prospects in this year’s draft, and Troy Niklas from Notre Dame looks like he could be a solid prospect who has a chance to be available with their second round pick.
Depth at Wide Receiver and Running Back
The NFL is a league where schemes and injuries lead teams to need strong depth at many positions, particularly at wide receiver and running back. While the Falcons have some solid starters at these positions, they could use some different options in the backfield and at the third and fourth receiver positions. There is great news for the Falcons that both the free agency class and this year’s draft class are loaded with talent at these positions. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Falcons used some mid to late round picks on these positions or signed some veteran free agents after the draft as a means of creating competition for these spots.
This leads me to one final point. While the Falcons may make a move at these positions soon, they could also wait to see how the draft shakes out before addressing these areas in free agency. Several solid contributors are likely to still be free agents after the draft, and they can be signed at a bargain price at that time. Former Atlanta Falcon John Abraham was a great example of this last year when he signed with the Arizona Cardinals.
If the Falcons don’t make more moves immediately, then have patience. They are making the shrewd decision to leave themselves open to taking the best available player in the draft and then filling remaining holes with cheap, yet solid players in free agency. Thomas Dimitroff built this team once, and I have no doubt that he will work with his brain trust to repair the remaining pieces.