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The Atlanta Falcons shocked more than a few of their fans when they didn’t go after defensive end Mario Williams in free agency.

As owner Arthur Blank explained in this column from Saturday, coach Mike Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff chose to stick with continuity instead of making splashy moves. Salary-cap considerations factored into that.

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Kim Klement/US Presswire

The Falcons signed Ray Edwards to a big contract last offseason, but he had just 3.5 sacks in 2011.

There was speculation that the Falcons would let veteran defensive end John Abraham leave when he revealed before the start of free agency that he wanted a deal worth $12 million per season. Abraham didn’t get that kind of money on the open market and he’s back with the Falcons on a three-year contract that averages $5.5 million.

Abraham will turn 34 next month, but the Falcons still believe he can be the key to their pass rush. He had 9.5 sacks last season and 13 in 2010.

“John has been our most productive pass-rusher since we’ve been here,’’ Smith said at the recent NFL owners meeting. Chronologically, his age may say one thing, but his body says another. John will still command how they’re going to block him and that’s going to open other options for (new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan) and what we want to do schematically.’’

The Falcons don’t have a first-round draft pick and may pursue another pass-rusher at some point in the draft. But they still view Abraham as their top threat up front. Defensive end Ray Edwards, Atlanta’s big free-agent signing last year, had just 3.5 sacks last season. The Falcons are expecting more out of Edwards, as well as rotation players Kroy Biermann and Lawrence Sidbury. They also want more production out of the middle of their defensive line. Defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux had just one sack after producing a combined 10 sacks in 2009 and 2010.

“You don’t want to have just one guy that’s getting all the production,’’ Smith said. “You want other defensive linemen and linebackers being productive pass-rushers. If you look at Coach Nolan’s 14 years as a defensive coordinator, he’s been one of the most productive on third down. You want to have a scheme that puts added pressure on the quarterback on third downs."

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