By Paul Wanecski
The 2015 season started with a victory over Chip Kelly and his touted Philadelphia Eagles on Monday Night Football, so it seemed like the Atlanta Falcons were putting the league on notice that they were all business this year. Little did we all know that Atlanta’s victory over the Eagles would be the first of many losses for the Eagles. Still, starting with five straight victories puts you halfway to a playoff spot, right? The Falcons simply fell apart, winning only three of the remaining eleven games. This year Quinn has vowed to write this season with a different ending.
Head Coach: Dan Quinn
Offensive Coordinator: Kyle Shanahan
7th YPG, 6th Pass, 19th Run
Defensive Coordinator: Richard Smith
16th YPG, 18th Pass, 14th Run
The Falcons were dead-last in sacks for 2015, something that was highlighted as a priority need for them in this series of articles last offseason (On the Clock 2015 Atlanta Falcons). They spent a top pick on Vic Beasley last year, but you cannot bank that a rookie will be the sole source of your pass-rush that has been non-existent four consecutive seasons. The team also needs to address the guard position this offseason. Anytime you have Julio Jones on your team, it’s easy to forget about the wide receiver position because it appears you don’t really need to go much further. They had inconsistent play from that unit, so expect them to go to the well in both free agency and in the draft. The Salary Cap number isn’t as great as it sounds, as Atlanta right now is set to have around $30m to work with. The problem is they don’t even have 51 players on the roster right now. They also have only $18m invested in defensive players this year. Let me be real straight to the point; even if Atlanta makes the playoffs this year, the contracts and timing do not project them to have sustainable success. They need to invest heavily in the next two years and then look at other options.
32 year old DT Paul Soliai has been told he will be released. His contract in 2014 was a head-scratcher and it was pretty obvious that Atlanta would be looking to get out of it either this or next year. Release saves $2.6m
Roddy White has had a wonderful career at wide receiver for Atlanta. His release saves $2.3m
Releasing Devin Hester will save the Falcons $3m. He was a good find for them two years ago but was injured most of 2015
Justin Babineaux might stay simply because of numbers at the position. He saves $2m if released, but his play hasn’t been poor enough to think that they will be trying to replace him.
Quarterback Matt Ryan’s contract should not be touched if they can avoid it. His cap number is $23.75m this year. Really the team should ride this one out and if they want to add more than the two years remaining after this year, then look at that after 2016.
Former 1st overall selection Jake Long was signed after the start of the season in 2015, which was because no team was foolish enough to sign him earlier. After tearing his ACL in two different season, his talent is only out-weighted by him awful injury history. It was not all that long ago that Long appeared to be a premier tackle in the NFL. In 2015, he signed for only $1.5m, none of which was guaranteed since Atlanta signed him after week one (as a vested veteran, his full salary becomes fully guaranteed if he were to be on the week one roster). Same dilemma this year for Long, where teams might just wait him out.
Two schools of thought here; draft another pass rusher or draft a complimentary wide receiver. The reality is that while the wide receiver would be nice (and well timed since you can afford to make a mistake while Julio Jones is still young in finding a counterpart), the pass rush is just awful. Yes, they will be able to find some out on the free agent market (see below) but all will be expensive.
If you are looking for a pass rusher this late, Robert Nkemdiche from Ole’ Miss makes a lot of sense. He might be listed as a defensive tackle, but his hands and explosiveness indicate that he might be able to move outside. If he is around, he makes your team better.
Emmanuel Ogbah might be more attractive to Atlanta than to other teams. Pro-typical size for a defensive end in the NFL, the Oklahoma State prospect needs tuning in his game, something we heard most recently from unrestricted free agent Bruce Irvin when he was drafted by Seattle. That worked out alright.
I am not in love with the wide receiver group this year outside of Corey Coleman, who has his own list of concerns. LaQuon Treadwell is the next WR on the board, but he isn’t physical or fast. Will Fuller from Notre Dame is fast but has never caught a ball that didn’t hit his chest first. Pittsburg Tyler Boyd will need to be an excellent route-runner in the NFL since he isn’t particular strong and his transmission doesn’t have a fifth gear (and his body control along the sidelines bothers me just a little, but he could have the best hands in the draft). Long story short, the depth of first round talent just isn’t good enough to pull the trigger.
It is not a stretch to say that the team will be linked to free agent defensive end Bruce Irvin, due to his connection with Dan Quinn in Seattle and the glaring need at the position for Atlanta.
Oliver Vernon, Mohammed Wilkerson, Malik Jackson, Mario Williams (if released), even Jason Pierre-Paul will all be huge and expensive free agent names at the defensive end position. Aldon Smith and Greg Hardy will be tossed around but come with significant baggage.
The Falcons will also be interested in Jaye Howard from Kansas City because of his ability to rush the passer from the defensive tackle position. Speaking of defensive tackles, you still need to talk about Nick Fairley, who will want more than the one-year deal he signed with the Rams last season.