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Falcons Offseason News

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Tuesday, February 24, 2015
Osi Umenyiora doesn't plan to retire

By Vaughn McClure

Osi Umenyiora has no immediate plans to retire, with his Atlanta Falcons' contract set to expire on March 10.

nfl_a_umenyiora_o_200x300.jpgOsi Umenyiora did not start a game for the Falcons in 2014.

Umenyiora, 33, just completed his 11th NFL season. The veteran defensive end's limited playing time and the Falcons' 6-10 finish in 2014 was not the way Umenyiora envisioned concluding his career.

"Zero plans to retire at this moment," Umenyiora told ESPN. "I feel like I can still play, No. 1. The way things ended last year, I'm just not going to end my career like that. That's not going to happen.

"I feel like when put in the right situation and given the opportunity to play, I would still be able to help somebody. I want to end the way it's supposed to end."

Umenyiora confirmed he is mulling a media opportunity in his birthplace of London, which was first reported by ESPN NFL Insider Adam Caplan. But Umenyiora, who trimmed down to 245 pounds, insisted playing at least one more season of football is at the forefront of his thoughts.

"I think I'll know exactly when the time [to retire] is right," Umenyiora said. "When you're physically not able to play anymore, you've got to be honest with yourself. You have to watch tape and study yourself from when you had good years, when you had not-so-good years. You have to look at your explosion, how you're playing the game; if you still want to practice. And you have to have enough pride that you're not going to go out there and embarrass yourself. You don't want to go out there and look like a fool.

I think the league will let you know when you're done. Ain't no charity cases being handed out. Either they feel like you can help them or that's it for you. If you're unable to play, they'll tell you because you're not going to have a job.

- Osi Umenyiora

"More importantly, I think the league will let you know when you're done. Ain't no charity cases being handed out. Either they feel like you can help them or that's it for you. If you're unable to play, they'll tell you because you're not going to have a job."

The Falcons and new coach Dan Quinn are expected to go in a different direction with the addition of younger pass-rushers -- a reality Umenyiora is willing to accept.

"Do I expect to get a look from the Falcons? Absolutely," Umenyiora said. "I think I did the right things when I was there, especially last year. I did and said all the right things, and I'm in great shape. Whether or not they decide to re-sign me, that's another story. But do I expect them to look into it? I would think so."

Umenyiora signed a two-year, $11 million contract with the Falcons prior to the 2013 season. He made an immediate splash with a 68-yard interception return for a touchdown in his second game with the team. Umenyiora, starting 13 of 16 games, lead the Falcons with 7.5 sacks during the 2013 campaign but was moved into designated pass rusher role by year's end.

Last season, Umenyiora played 326 of 1,038 defensive snaps and finished with just 2.5 sacks. He didn't start a single game.

Umenyiora has 85 career sacks, including 75 in nine seasons with the New York Giants. Ending his career where he started it no doubt has crossed Umenyiora's mind as he approaches free agency: He wants to retire a Giant.

"It was nearly a third of my life that I was there in New York, and I did a lot of good things there," Umenyiora said. "As a team, we won some Super Bowls. I was able to go to a couple of Pro Bowls and be like an All-Pro player over there. Unless I'm able to do that somewhere else -- which I don't know how likely that is -- then it would only make sense, whenever it is that I retire.

"I'm not going to play another 10 years. I'm not going to play another three years. Whenever it is that I retire, I think it would only make sense for me to do that as a Giant."

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Wednesday, February 25, 2015
Antone Smith: Who wouldn't want to be a Falcon?

By Vaughn McClure

He was no doubt the Atlanta Falcons' MVP through the first half of last season. Now, Antone Smith is just waiting to see what his NFL future holds.

The diminutive running back, who has averaged 49 yards per scoring play on seven career touchdowns, continues to patiently wait for news on a new a contract. While nothing has been relayed to Smith personally just yet, word at the NFL combine last week was Smith indeed is one of the players with an expiring contract the Falcons have prioritized to bring back. But there also were whispers in Indianapolis about the New York Giants being interested in Smith. Not to mention former Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter is now in Tampa and knows how special a talent Smith is.

Smith, who turns 30 in September, has low mileage with just 44 touches in five NFL seasons.

New Falcons coach Dan Quinn has emphasized the need for speed, which is Smith's biggest asset when he's healthy. Plus, owner Arthur Blank previously expressed a desire to keep Smith around for years to come.

"Who wouldn't want to be a Falcon?" Smith said. "Heck yeah, I want to be here."

There is one obstacle Smith has to overcome, however. He is still in the process of rehabbing the broken right leg that prematurely ended his 2014 season.

"I can't do too much right now," Smith said. "It's about getting strength back in the leg. It was a broken tibia. I have no idea when I'm going to start running again. But my thought is, I'm always going to be confident in myself. I'll be back to full strength."

With four touchdowns of 40 or more yards last season, Smith ranked third in the league behind Green Bay's Jordy Nelson (seven) and Washington's DeSean Jackson (five), according to ESPN Stats & Information. Smith had five touchdowns overall on 36 touches while playing in 10 games.

"He made us more explosive," former Falcons offensive line coach Mike Tice said of Smith. "His percentage of explosive plays were lights out."

Smith's speed and explosion would be ideal in new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan's outside-zone blocking scheme, which depends on a one-cut-and-go mentality for the running backs. Shanahan, Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff have raved about how second-year backDevonta Freeman could thrive in the new system. And the Falcons could add another veteran back such as Justin Forsett, with Steven Jackson expected to be released.

No matter what, there should be a place in Shanahan's offense for a dynamic playmaker such as Smith.

"That system can fit any back," Smith said. "The sky's the limit in that system. If I am a Falcon, that would be my pedigree right there."

Not to be forgotten is Smith's contribution on special teams as a gunner. He led the Falcons with 10 special-teams tackles during the 2013 season.

The humble Smith, as usual, downplayed his significance to the team.

"I feel like I'm just like anybody else," Smith said. "I just like to play football. I never really look at how valuable I am. I just want to play."

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Wednesday, February 25, 2015
Falcons sign kicker Matt Bryant to extension

By Vaughn McClure

The Atlanta Falcons announced that they signed kicker Matt Bryant to an extension.

Terms of the deal were not immediately available.

Bryant, who turns 40 in May and was set to become a free agent, will enter his 15th NFL season in 2015 after beginning his career with the New York Giants in 2002. He's been with the Falcons for the last six seasons.

Bryant obviously was a priority for new Falcons coach Dan Quinn. Last season, Bryant made 29 of 32 field goals, including a long of 54 yards. He carries a streak of 38 consecutive field goals from within 50 yards, dating back to 2013.

Wednesday marked the second consecutive day the Falcons signed one of their own impending free agents to a contract extension. On Tuesday, they signed defensive lineman Cliff Matthews and fullback Patrick DiMarco to contract extensions.

Players such as linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, wide receiver/special-teamer Eric Weems and running back Antone Smith appear to be priorities for the Falcons.

The free-agency negotiating period begins March 7 with contracts set to expire on March 10 at 4 p.m, the start of the new league year.

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hursday, February 26, 2015
Falcons release RB Steven Jackson

By Vaughn McClure

The Atlanta Falcons have released veteran running back Steven Jackson, the team announced Thursday, a move that will save the team $3.75 million against the salary cap.

nfl_atl_cr_300x200.jpgThe Falcons released RB Steven Jackson, a move that saves the team $3.75 million against the cap.

Jackson, who turns 32 in July and had one year left on his contract, originally signed a three-year, $12 million deal with the Falcons that included $4 million guaranteed. Jackson spent his first nine seasons with the St. Louis Rams after entering the league as the 24th overall pick of the 2004 NFL draft.

The decision to release Jackson was far from a surprise as the Falcons figure to reshape their roster significantly under new coach Dan Quinn.

Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan brings with him a zone-blocking scheme where running backs are expected to thrive with a one-cut-and-go mentality. Although Jackson still runs with power, his older legs are not the ideal complement for such a system.

Jackson gained 1,250 yards on 347 carries with 12 touchdowns in 27 games with the Falcons. He averaged a career-low 3.5 yards per rush in 2013, his first season in Atlanta.

Jackson did, however, achieve a milestone while with the Falcons. He surpassed 11,000 career rushing yards last season, becoming the 19th player in NFL history to accomplish that feat and joining the likes of Hall of Famers Walter Payton, Emmitt Smith and Barry Sanders.

Jackson has 11,388 career rushing yards on 2,743 carries with 68 touchdowns.

The Falcons now proceed with second-year player Devonta Freeman as the primary running back. The status of both Jacquizz Rodgers and Antone Smith are unclear as they head for free agency, although the team has prioritized bringing Smith back. The Falcons could add another veteran running back and are expected to check into Justin Forsett from the Ravens if he reaches free agency.

Quinn and Shanahan already have preached having more offensive balance for what has been a pass-happy offense.

Last year, the Falcons ranked 24th in the NFL with 93.6 rushing yards per game. Jackson had the team's lone 100-yard rushing game with 101 in a 29-18 win over the Arizona Cardinals.

The only Falcon running back who averaged better than 3.8 yards per carry last season was Smith, who averaged 6.3 yards on 23 carries before suffering a season-ending broken leg.

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Friday, February 27, 2015
Where Falcons stand with cap following release of four players

By Vaughn McClure

The Atlanta Falcons cleared some cap space Thursday with the release of veteran running back Steven Jackson.

Jackson had one year left on his contract. By cutting him, the Falcons saved $3.75 million in cap room.

As of Thursday afternoon, before the announcement of Jackson's release, the Falcons stood $23,163,843 under what is projected to be a $143 million cap, according to ESPN Stats and Information. That number included the combined $1,442,500 cap figures for two players who signed extensions this week: Defensive lineman Cliff Matthews ($745,000 cap number) and fullback Patrick DiMarco ($697,500).

Factoring in Jackson's release and Friday's release of receiver Harry Douglas and guard Justin Blalock -- moves that saved another $7.29 million against the cap -- that would take the number to $34,203,843, which is a good amount of room for a team in dire need of an impact pass-rushers, a solid receiver or even pass-catching tight end, not to mention help at linebacker, defensive backs and perhaps even running back.

Then you have to subtract kicker Matt Bryant's 2015 cap number of $2,483,333 after he signed a three-year, $8.5 million contract extension. That would put the cap space at $31,720,510.

Lastly, the Falcons waived defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi late Friday, a move which provided a cap savings of $660,000. That would bump the current cap-space number to $31,060,510.

Blalock had the third-highest cap figure going into the 2015 with Jackson seventh and Douglas' was ninth. Now, the Top 10 are the following:

1. Matt Ryan -- $19,500,000

2. Julio Jones -- $10,176,000

3. Sam Baker -- $7,300,000

4. Roddy White -- $5,540,625

5. William Moore -- $5,525,000

6. Paul Soliai -- $4,400,000

7. Jon Asamoah -- $4,300,000

8. Joe Hawley -- $4,000,000

9. Tyson Jackson -- $3,850,000

10. Jake Matthews -- $3,733,977

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Friday, February 27, 2015
Breaking down Matt Bryant's three-year extension

By Vaughn McClure

The Atlanta Falcons kept kicker Matt Bryant in the fold with a three-year contract extension with a maximum value of $8.5 million. His average of $2.83 million per year puts him in the top 10 among the highest-paid kickers, right at No. 10.

Here is how Bryant's contract breaks down:

Signing bonus: $1 million

Base salaries: $1,350,000 (2015), $1,550,000 (2016), $1,200,000 (2017)

Cap numbers: $2,483,333 (2015), $3,183,333 (2016), $2,833,334 (2017)

Roster bonuses: $50,000 per game active, $800,000 max value (2015); $81,250 per game active, $1,300,000 max value (2016); $81,250 per game active, $1,300,000 max value (2017)

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Friday, February 27, 2015
Dan Quinn wants Sean Weatherspoon back in fold

By Vaughn McClure

Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn expressed a desire to keep linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, who becomes a free agent March 10.

"With him, it's that toughness and the speed that he can play with so, yes, definitely someone that we're talking to," Quinn said Friday. "I know he's got that kind of attitude. And you know me, just from watching our style of defense, it's fast and physical. And that's what Sean is. So, we're certainly hoping that he can be a big part of it moving forward."

Weatherspoon, a first-round pick in the 2010 draft, missed all of last season with an Achilles' tear suffered while rehabbing a knee injury. During the 2013 season, Weatherspoon played in just seven games after suffering a Lisfranc ligament sprain in his foot.

Quinn was asked if he was concerned about Weatherspoon's injury history.

"I think you always are," he said. "But at the same time, what's the rehab like? You can tell when a guy is going for it in that way, too. All that factors in.

"By the same token, he hit a string of bad luck. Can he come back and play at a level that he's capable of? That's what we're excited to find out."

General manager Thomas Dimitroff was adamant about needing to have Weatherspoon, a guy he drafted, back on the team. But the final decision on the 53-man roster is Quinn's. It is likely to come down to how much money Weatherspoon is willing to accept from the Falcons, who are unlikely to overpay based on Weatherspoon's health issues. He averaged more than $3 million per year in his first contract, which included $10.45 million guaranteed.

If deemed to be healthy, Weatherspoon should attract attention on the open market if he reaches free agency. If so, at least one AFC team is interested in pursuing Weatherspoon.

The Falcons are expected to check into veteran linebackers bound for free agency such as David Harris from the New York Jets, Mason Foster from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Malcolm Smith from the Seattle Seahawks. Ex-New Orleans Saints player Jonathan Casillas could be in that mix as well.

The Falcons so far have signed three players to contract extensions before they hit free agency: kicker Matt Bryant, defensive lineman Cliff Matthews and fullback Patrick DiMarco.

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Friday, February 27, 2015
Jonathan Massaquoi also no longer in Falcons' plans

By Vaughn McClure

Jonathan Massaquoi was supposed to be a promising young talent with the ability to emerge as a respected pass rusher for the Atlanta Falcons.

As it turns out, Massaquoi will have to develop his talent elsewhere.

Massaquoi was one of four players the Falcons parted ways with when he was waived late Friday. The former 2012 fifth-round pick out of Troy joined running back Steven Jackson, wide receiver Harry Douglas and guard Justin Blalock as players who were released.

Waiving Massaquoi only saved the Falcons $660,000 against the cap, so it wasn't about money. If anything, it was a testament how far Massaquoi fell out of favor with the organization.

Massaquoi has talent. He showed flashes of it last season, particularly in games against the Chicago Bears and Baltimore Ravens. But he rubbed some folks the wrong way with his carefree approach.

One member of the previous staff said Massaquoi was in the doghouse because he skipped treatments on the right foot he injured during a game against the Detroit Lions in London. Massaquoi was tabbed a "good kid who made some poor decisions and needs some structure."

Massaquoi saw his playing time diminish throughout the 2014 season and was even benched. He spoke out about his lack of snaps to, which didn't rattle the coaches as much as some thought it did. In fact, defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said at the time that he admired a player willing to express such confidence in his abilities.

Still, there was a disconnect between the Falcons and Massaquoi, who ended up playing 311 defensive snaps, finishing the season with two sacks and seven quarterback hits.

New coach Dan Quinn retained defensive line coach Bryan Cox, so Cox no doubt relayed his thoughts about Massaquoi. At least one player told he believed Massaquoi had all the talent in the world but needed to tone down his attitude.

We will see if Massaquoi develops his talent with another team.

As for Quinn and the Falcons, they obviously have a plan to fix a non-existent pass rush. It will be interesting to see how that plan unfolds.

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Will the franchise tag sting the Falcons?

By Vaughn McClure | March 2, 2015 9:50:46 AM PST

The Atlanta Falcons won't use the franchise tag on any of their players this season, but they could feel the affect of the tag being used around the league.

With the obvious need to sign a pass-rusher or two, the Falcons could see some of the top available players at the position locked down due to the franchise tag, which has to be executed before 4 p.m. ET Monday. Some of the candidates to be tagged include Kansas City's Justin Houston, Buffalo's Jerry Hughes and Jason Pierre-Paul of the New York Giants.

The Falcons are projected to be armed with more than $30 million in cap space, which gives them room to spend. But that doesn't necessarily mean they would invest top dollar if a guy such as Pierre-Paul or Hughes reaches free agency. Houston will be tagged for sure, so he can't even be in the conversation.

Last year, the Washington Redskins tagged a player the Falcons would have targeted, pass-rusher Brian Orakpo, at a price of $11,455,000. The Falcons proceeded to invest $25 guaranteed to secure big run-stuffers Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson, a move that essentially backfired.

New Falcons coach Dan Quinn has a plan, so don't expect the Falcons to be discouraged if the franchise tag keeps them from pursuing one of the top-tier pass-rushers in free agency.

And by the way, the secret is out now on Baltimore Ravens' reserve Pernell McPhee, who might have been a great option for the Falcons as an under-the-radar pass-rusher, but now is being mentioned as a top-dollar player.

Maybe the Falcons will have another shot at Orakpo, if he doesn't get re-signed. But Orakpo could be a concern based on his injury history, including a season-ending pectoral injury last year. Maybe they'll have to turn their attention to guys such as Derrick Morgan from Tennessee or Brandon Graham from Philadelphia.

We should get more clarity on what options are out there for the Falcons by the end of the day today.

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Mild-mannered Corey Peters has measured approach to free agency

By Vaughn McClure | March 2, 2015 2:00:31 PM PST

Corey Peters has a plan.

When his football career is over, the Atlanta Falcons defensive lineman hopes to establish a charter school and possibly become the principal or head counselor there. He is working toward his goal now, finishing up his final semester of online courses offered by Michigan State University to achieve his master's in education.


Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Corey Peters should attract plenty of interest on the open market if he reaches free agency.

"That would be my way of giving back," Peters said of the charter school. "I'm sure I'm going to do something in the school system."

But Peters is in no rush to begin his new profession. At age 26, he still has plenty of good NFL years left in him. That's why Peters should be a valued commodity on the free-agent market, if he doesn't re-sign with the Falcons.

It is unclear exactly where the Falcons and Peters stand at this point, but there have been ongoing discussions between both parties. Peters signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract to remain with the Falcons last season coming off an Achilles tear. He will attract strong interest from more than a handful of teams if he reaches free agency, based on the buzz at this year's NFL combine. He's also fully healthy this offseason, which should only enhance his case.

Peters has had a conversation with Falcons coach Dan Quinn.

"It was just an introductory call," Peters said. "It was quick. I just know that everybody seems to have a lot of respect for him. They all seem to love him. I've talked to several players that have played under him. I've never heard anybody say a bad thing about him."

Peters definitely would fit in the new defensive scheme. Quinn preaches how his players need to have versatility, and Peters has shown the ability to play inside and on the edge. Quinn wants his defensive tackles to be pass-rushers, too, and Peters has seven sacks over the last two seasons and 11 for his career.

Despite the defensive woes the Falcons had last season, Peters made the most of his opportunities. He finished with 26 tackles, two sacks, six tackles for losses and five quarterback hits in 511 snaps played. He had his best effort in a 56-14 win over Tampa Bay, finishing with a sack, four tackles for losses and two quarterback hits. He also was a difference-maker in a starting role in place of Paul Soliai during a 29-18 win over Arizona.

Not to mention Peters is an asset in the locker room. He is slated to represent the Falcons on March 16 as this year's recipient of the Ed Block Courage award, as voted by his teammates.

So how much is Peters worth? His agent, Greg Linton, could argue that Peters was more valuable than Tyson Jackson, who was brought in at $5 million per year to stuff the run but fell far below expectations. But the Falcons, in turn, probably would want Peters at half the price.

However it all unfolds, Peters refuses to stress himself out about negotiations.

"I'm excited and anxious just to see how everything plays out," Peters said. "I feel good about the process and look forward to whatever may come of it.

"I think it's important to look at the entire body of work. I think through the course of my career, I've had setbacks but I've continued to make improvements. And I look to continue to do that moving forward. I have enough tape to evaluate. I'm just looking forward to the opportunity to continue to my career."

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Tuesday, March 3, 2015
Tight end Niles Paul will be on Falcons' radar

By Vaughn McClure

Pass-rusher Brian Orakpo isn't the only Washington Redskins player the Atlanta Falcons will look into once the free-agent negotiating period begins Saturday.

It's a safe bet the Falcons will express interest in tight end Niles Paul, if Paul is not re-signed before then. The 6-foot-1, 245-pound Paul is one of several tight ends headed for free agency who has played in Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan's scheme. The others include Jordan Cameron of the Cleveland Browns and Owen Daniels of the Baltimore Ravens. Cameron has had concussion issues, while Daniels will turn 33 during the 2015 season.

Paul, who turns 26 in August, wouldn't be a flashy pickup, but the Falcons aren't expected to invest heavily in a top tight end, such as Denver's Julius Thomas. However, Paul, a former fifth-round draft pick who just completed his fourth NFL season, would be more than capable of playing his role.

Just ask former Redskins quarterback Rex Grossman, who was teammates with Paul for three seasons.

"He's as tough as s---," Grossman said of Paul. "He's like the one guy in the locker room you do not want to pick a fight with. He's just a tough wide receiver/tight end who shows up on special teams all the time.

"That's kind of how he got his reputation as a rookie, on special teams. Then after a couple of years, they moved him to tight end because he was so strong and could show that, especially in the zone running scheme where basically all you have to do is get your hat in front of the defensive linemen and cut them off. He was strong enough to hold them off in situations where he actually had to do the things normal tight ends do."

Paul, who started his NFL career at wide receiver and then became the starting fullback before transitioning to tight end, obviously can catch the ball. He caught a career-high 39 passes for 507 yards and a touchdown in 2014 while starting seven games.

Paul was a track athlete coming out of high school before attending Nebraska. He posted a 40-yard dash time of 4.51 at the NFL combine.

"Obviously, he's a mismatch for linebackers trying to cover him, with his speed," Grossman said. "I think tight end is a great position for him. A lot of teams have big tight ends that are like extra offensive linemen. I think he's the opposite of that. But he's athletic and really strong. He's perfect for Kyle's system. They don't ask him to block Jason Pierre-Paul one on one."

ESPN analyst Ryan Clark, who played in Washington last season, offered his thoughts on what Paul brings to a team.

"Tough player," Clark said. "He's a grinder. He played really well and produced big as the No. 1 pass-catching tight end when Jordan Reed (hamstring) was out. He's also a really good special-teams guy and a good locker room dude as well."

The Falcons have a tight end with playing experience in Levine Toilolo, yet it remains unclear what role the 6-8 Toilolo will have coming off a season with his share of drops.

Shanahan previously discussed his expectations of a tight end. We will see if Paul reunites with his old coach and ends up in a Falcons uniform.

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Tuesday, March 3, 2015
Falcons bring back Nate Stupar on one-year extension

By Vaughn McClure

The Atlanta Falcons signed linebacker Nate Stupar to a one-year contract extension worth the minimum of $585,000.

Stupar was a key special teams contributor last season after being claimed off waivers from the Jacksonville Jaguars. He finished the season with sev3n special teams tackles, second on the team behind Eric Weems (11).

Stupar became the fourth players to be signed to an extension before the start of free agency, joining kicker Matt Bryant, defensive lineman Cliff Matthews and fullback Patrick DiMarco.

The Falcons are trying to keep another key special teams player in Weems, but no contract has been agreed to just yet.

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Tuesday, March 3, 2015
Todd McShay talks receiver options for Falcons

By Vaughn McClure

Last week's release of Harry Douglas left the Atlanta Falcons with a void to fill at receiver, if they weren't planning to fill it already.

Douglas' departure, coupled with the aging of Roddy White (33), means the Falcons have to invest in the position for the immediate future to go alongside the explosive Julio Jones. That could mean targeting a receiver in the second or third rounds of this year's NFL draft -- provided the Falcons don't lose one of those picks as a result of the NFL's investigation into them piping in crowd noise.

Securing a pass-rusher will be the Falcons' first-round priority. If they do target a receiver after that, ESPN draft expert Todd McShay talked about possible options.

"In the second round, Phillip Dorsett is a guy with speed from Miami, an explosive guy who could play in the slot who can stretch the field vertically," McShay said.

"Jaelen Strong (Arizona State), to me, is an intriguing prospect because he's a big, physical receiver who doesn't have elite, down-the-field ability, but he creates separation when the ball is in the air. He's up there in the top two or three in ball skills of all the receivers. I think he might be in that early second-round range, so he could be a good fit. And I think Dorsett is late second, early third round."

McShay also mentioned a former teammate of Falcons running back Devonta Freeman.

"Florida State's Rashad Greene, I think, is a little underrated, too," McShay said. "He's probably going to be going early third round. He's not the biggest receiver. He's not the fastest receiver. He just gets open and makes plays. And I think he's going to exceed his draft slot."

USC's Nelson Agholor would be a great catch, too.

"I like him a lot," McShay said. "I've got a mid-second-round grade on him. He's tough. He goes over the middle and makes the tough catches. He runs after the catch. He does all the little things. He grew on me on tape. It's not a perfect comparison, but he's got a little bit of Robert Woods in him."

Here's a quick look at some notable combine numbers for the four receivers McShay mentioned.

  • Phillip Dorsett (5-9, 185), Miami (Fla.) -- 4.33 (40-yard), 37-inch (vertical), 6.70 (3-cone drills), 13 reps (bench press)
  • Rashad Greene (5-11, 182), Florida State -- 4.53 (40-yard), 36.5 (vertical), 6.88 (3-cone drill)
  • Jaelen Strong (6-2, 217), Arizona State --4.44 (40-yard), 42-inch (vertical)
  • Nelson Agholor (6-1, 198), USC -- 4.42 (40-yard); 12 (bench press reps)

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Wednesday, March 4, 2015
How the McCoy-Alonso trade might affect the Falcons

By Vaughn McClure

The big news this week, of course, was ESPN Insider Adam Schefter's scoop on the Philadelphia Eagles trading running back LeSean McCoy to the Buffalo Bills for linebacker Kiko Alonso.

The move could have a ripple effect for the Atlanta Falcons, with the free-agent negotiating period set to begin Saturday. Linebacker is a priority position for the Falcons going into free agency, along with edge rusher and safety.

The Falcons were expected to at least look into New York Jets linebacker David Harris. However, the void left by Alonso means the Bills and Rex Ryan, the Jets' previous coach, will no doubt make a serious run at Harris. Not to mention the Jets and new coach Todd Bowles want to re-sign Harris, meaning there could be a bidding war.

Don't expect the Falcons to get involved, if such occurs. Yes, Harris is an impact player who would fit nicely in coach Dan Quinn's scheme. Plus Quinn, a former assistant with the Jets, is familiar with Harris' talent. However, the Falcons surely won't overpay for any player -- not a standout linebacker or even an impact pass-rusher.

There will be other linebacker options for the Falcons to pursue. First and foremost, they have to worry about re-signing their own in Sean Weatherspoon. Talks with Weatherspoon are ongoing, and both Quinn and general Thomas Dimitroff expressed a desire to bring him back coming off an Achilles tear.

Tampa Bay's Mason Foster will generate interest on the open market. He has a direct tie to the Falcons' staff, having been drafted by assistant head coach Raheem Morris when Morris was the Buccaneers' head coach. Foster, 26, started as a rookie but has had to adjust to three different defensive coordinators in four NFL seasons. Continuity moving forward would no doubt help his cause.

Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith from Seattle played under Quinn the past two seasons when Quinn was the Seahawks defensive coordinator. Smith is an outside linebacker with the versatility to play middle linebacker, and his familiarity with Quinn's scheme makes him a viable option despite Smith not being a regular starter throughout his career.

Word is veteran linebacker Lance Briggs, 34, from the Chicago Bears would be open to moving to Atlanta as he winds down his NFL career. That's not to say the Falcons would be interested in Briggs, but the seven-time Pro Bowler might have a good year left in him, if healthy.

And if free agency doesn't fill the Falcons' linebacker need, there's always the draft.

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Thursday, March 5, 2015
Vic Beasley impressed by Dan Quinn, Falcons

By Vaughn McClure

CLEMSON, S.C. -- When Vic Beasley addressed the media during this year's NFL combine in Indianapolis, the Clemson pass-rusher couldn't hide his affection for his hometown Atlanta Falcons.

After spending time talking to new Falcons coach Dan Quinn at the event, Beasley walked away even more impressed with his favorite team.

"Coach Quinn, just his whole demeanor, he's a very influential coach," Beasley said during Clemson's pro day on Thursday. "He pushes his players. I can tell that just by the way he speaks and the way he carries himself."

Beasley met various members of the organization, including owner Arthur Blank, but Quinn is the only one Beasley huddled with extensively. The two talked about how Beasley would fit in the Falcons' scheme, specifically in regard to the "Leo" hybrid defensive end/rush linebacker position. Quinn runs a 4-3 under defense with some 3-4 personnel tendencies.

"He just said that he had guys like [current Seattle Seahawk] Bruce Irvin and other similar guys to me that could play that Leo position," Beasley said. "That's kind of where we connected right there. I fit the Leo position because a guy like Bruce Irvin, we're similar body types. And we have similar games. We're both great edge-rushers."

The question is, after his outstanding combine performance will Beasley be available if the Falcons stand pat with the eighth overall pick? ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has Atlanta selecting Beasley in his latest mock

Beasley, who is tentatively scheduled to visit the Falcons on March 30, naturally wants to be the first pass-rusher off the board. At the same time, he can't help but envision the possibility of playing for the Falcons.

"It's a high possibility, and that would be like a dream come true," Beasley said. "But whatever team I go to, I'm going to be exceptionally happy and treat that team like it's the Falcons, like I grew up rooting for them.

"But as far as the Falcons, Dan Quinn is a great guy. I saw him build that defense in Seattle, and I think he plans to do the same in Atlanta."

The Falcons already understand the type of quality player they would get in Beasley. Those most familiar with him would tell you he's equally a high-quality person.

An example of such occurred prior to Thursday's pro day at Clemson. Beasley lost his uncle to cancer and was back home in Adairsville, Georgia, for the funeral this week. He spent time with his family and left at 4 a.m. Thursday morning to get back to Clemson in time for a 7 a.m weigh-in session, carrying a heavy heart. Beasley kept his emotions in check as he cordially greeted scouts and coaches, then answered every question from the media.

"I'm just more proud of who he is as a man," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. "He's just a great person. He's a very serious, focused guy. He's very committed to being great, and when I say committed I'm talking about what he puts in his body and what he allows in his mind; how he trains in the weight room, how he studies the game. He's just fully committed.

"And off the field, you don't notice him. He's quiet, but he plays loud. He plays really loud. He's not a rah-rah guy. He's not a crowd guy. He's just a guy who's going to show up every day. ... Whoever gets him is going to get a guy that's going to handle himself like a pro from the day he gets there because that's how he is right now and has been that way."

I'm liking this kid more and more!!!

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Coach Quinn is a motivator. That's gonna lead to some good things. Hageman should shine with him as HC

My assumption as well because I think we have a few young guys like hageman, Maponga, goodman and Matthews that will be coached up to be very productive.

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My assumption as well because I think we have a few young guys like hageman, Maponga, goodman and Matthews that will be coached up to be very productive.

yep buddy

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Friday, March 6, 2015
Eric Weems agrees to return to Falcons

By Vaughn McClure

Key special-team Eric Weems has agreed to a two-year contract extension with the Atlanta Falcons, according to a source with knowledge of the situation.

Weems, a wide receiver who has played eight NFL seasons, led the team with 11 special teams tackles last season and was named a Pro Bowl alternate. He also caught 10 passes for 102 yards and two touchdowns.

Terms of Weems' deal were not immediately available. Prior to last season, he signed a one-year deal worth $730,000 after being released by the Chicago.

Weems, who turns 30 in July, entered the league with the Falcons back in 2007. He has been a favorite of special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong for quite a while.

The Falcons have signed a handful of their players to contract extensions prior to the start of free agency: kicker Matt Bryant, safety Charles Godfrey, fullback Patrick DiMarco, defensive lineman Cliff Matthews, and linebacker Nate Stupar.

The team released running back Steven Jackson, guard Justin Blalock, and receiver Harry Douglas and waived defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi, who was claimed by Tennessee.

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Friday, March 6, 2015
Walter Thurmond III could be Falcons' key Seahawks FA target

By Vaughn McClure

It's no secret the Atlanta Falcons are likely to target at least a couple of players familiar with Dan Quinn and the Seattle Seahawks' defensive scheme.

The first guy mentioned when free-agent rumors started circulating was Seahawks cornerback Byron Maxwell, who is bound for free agency after 12 starts under Quinn, then the Seahawks defensive coordinator, last season. However, Maxwell is likely to draw plenty of interest, particularly from the cornerback-needy Philadelphia Eagles.

Although the Falcons currently have around $30 million in cap space, they probably would have to overspend for Maxwell. They might be better off calling an audible.

There is another former Seahawks defensive back who makes plenty of sense for the Falcons. Walter Thurmond III, currently still under contract with the New York Giants, is not expected to re-sign with the team -- according to multiple sources -- and will hit the open market next week. Thurmond, who turns 28 in August, played his first four NFL seasons with the Seahawks, starting eight games.

He is not a big-splash name. And the 5-foot-11-inch, 190-pound Thurmond is coming off a season-ending pectoral injury. But Thurmond has played in Quinn's scheme and would be an upgrade at nickel back.

There have been injury concerns for Thurmond throughout his career, and he was suspended four games for violating the league's substance abuse policy. That said, Quinn seems like a positive coach who is willing to work with players who have had missteps, particularly if he is familiar with him. Thurmond signed a one-year, $3.5 million contract with the Giants, so his price tag should be reasonable coming off an injury.

The Falcons need help in the secondary alongside Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford, who is recovering from a broken wrist. The safety situation remains uncertain with William Moore coming off a separated shoulder, Dezmen Southward destined for a move to cornerback and former starting free safety Dwight Lowery looking like he won't be back. Kemal Ishmael and Charles Godfrey are the other primary safeties in the mix, and the Falcons are expected to target a taller safety in free agency.

That safety could be another former Seahawk: Ron Parker, currently with the Kansas City Chiefs. The 6-foot, 206-pound Parker had two stints in Seattle in 2011 and 2012 and started 15 games for the Chiefs this past season. He's got that cornerback/safety versatility Quinn is looking for in a defensive back, although Parker didn't cross paths with Quinn while in Seattle.

The other names associated with Quinn have been out there plenty. Seahawks defensive end O'Brien Scofield could give the Falcons much-needed depth at pass-rusher while his teammate, linebacker Malcolm Smith, is a Super Bowl MVP who is capable of coming in and playing middle linebacker for the Falcons.

One other notable name is Jeron Johnson, a tough safety who played his first four seasons in Seattle and is set to hit the open market, if not re-signed.

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Sean Weatherspoon unlikely to be back with Falcons
  • 0ap1000000236552.jpg
  • By Kevin Patra
  • Around the NFL writer
  • Published: March 7, 2015 at 01:10 p.m.
  • Updated: March 7, 2015 at 01:26 p.m.

The Atlanta Falcons talked up the return of Sean Weatherspoon this offseason. However, it appears those words were all for naught.


NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reports that the linebacker will hit the open market and is unlikely to be back in Atlanta, per a source involved in the situation.

Weatherspoon, who missed all of last season with a torn Achilles, had been a priority for the Falcons to bring back.

"Sean Weatherspoon is going to be an important part of building this defense and building this team," general manager Thomas Dimitroff said last month. "He has that side of him and that leadership that we need across the board."

But things change quickly in the NFL. It's unclear which side pulled back to allow the 27-year-old to hit the market.

In desperate need of boosting their pass rush, the Falcons will have to look outside their building once free agency opens on Tuesday.

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Best fits for free agent defensive backs
  • 0ap1000000236552.jpg
  • By Kevin Patra
  • Around the NFL writer
  • Published: March 6, 2015 at 02:50 p.m.
  • Updated: March 6, 2015 at 04:16 p.m.

2. Byron Maxwell, CB, Seattle Seahawks

The 6-foot-1 corner thrived in the Seahawks' Cover 3 defense. Maxwell's size and physicality sets him apart from other corners on the market. The biggest question mark regarding Maxwell is his ability to flourish outside of the daunting Seattle secondary. Teams will have to measure whether or not the 27-year-old can be a true No. 1 corner or is best suited in the tandem role he played with the Seahawks.

Free-agent fit: Plenty of corner-needy teams will fight for Maxwell's services, but I still see the Falcons as the best "fit" in terms of scheme and need. Playing alongside Desmond Trufant would give Atlanta a stellar one-two punch in Dan Quinn's defense. Maxwell's knowledge of the scheme would give the new coach a jump on installing his system. Of course, the Eagles, Jets and Giants, among others, have money to toss around at corners.

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