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The Atlanta Falcons will pick No. 17 in 2016 NFL draft

  • Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer

Here's a quick look at the top three positional needs for the Falcons:

1. Linebacker: The Falcons need a talented playmaker in the second level of the defense and a player who will be a sure tackler. A couple of years ago, theBaltimore Ravens had the No. 17 overall pick and found a Pro Bowl linebacker in C.J. Mosley. The last time the Falcons had a Pro Bowl linebacker was Keith Brooking in 2005. Notre Dame's Jaylon Smith and UCLA's Myles Jack might be two options. Smith is coming off a significant knee injury suffered in his bowl game that could drop him down the draft boards. Jack also is recovering from amajor knee injury.

2. Wide receiver: A complement to Julio Jones is sorely needed, whether the Falcons decide to keep veteran Roddy White in the fold or not. Justin Hardy is a nice third or fourth option. Matt Ryan needs more playmakers around him so he doesn't have to force feed Jones. Laquon Treadwell from Ole Miss has had injury issues but is an explosive playmaker and is considered a top-10 talent. Ohio State's Michael Thomas doesn't have elite speed,but he has a big frame at 6-foot-3, 210 pounds. He'd be intriguing if he declares.

3. Center: The last center to go in the top 20 of the draft was Mike Pouncey, the 15th overall pick of the Miami Dolphins in 2011. Pouncey is a three-time Pro Bowl pick. The Falcons sorely need to solidify the position after the failed experiment of converted guard Mike Person. Gino Gradkowski got a look in the season finale, but it's unclear how much he affected the situation moving forward. Again, drafting a center in the first round is a longshot. If anyone gets consideration, it might be USC's Max Tuerk, who can get out and block in a zone blocking scheme. But Tuerk is coming off a major knee injury, which he suffered in October.

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Roddy White says 'I'm not interested in taking a pay cut'

  • Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer

Atlanta Falcons veteran wide receiver Roddy White said he won't sacrifice his salary in order to remain with the team.

"I'm not interested in taking a pay cut," White told ESPN on Monday afternoon. (Well I be damm Roddy you made need to in order to stay with the team!!)

White, who is signed through 2017, is due $4.25 million next season and would count $6,043,750 against the salary cap. The Falcons could reduce the $4.25 million in cash due ($2.75 million base salary and $1.5 million roster bonus) and give him a chance to make it up in incentives.

White echoed the same stance he took during an interview with Steak Shapiro and former Falcons wide receiver Brian Finneran on 680 the Fan radio Monday.

White, 34, saw his role reduced under new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. He finished 2015 fourth on the team with 43 receptions for 506 yards and one touchdown.

Last week, White said he wanted to be a Falcon "forever" and finish out his contract in the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which is set to open in 2017. Falcons coach Dan Quinn praised White for the leadership he showed at the end of the season, and teammates Matt Ryan and Julio Jones spoke up on White's behalf.

"He's the best [and] has been for a long time, since I've been here," Ryan said last week. "Second to none. He's as great a competitor as I've ever been around and as good a player as there is, but even better in the locker room; just a great teammate, good friend. And I'm hoping that it keeps going a long time."

White, a 2005 first-round draft pick out of UAB, has 808 career receptions for 10,863 yards and 63 touchdowns. He is the franchise's all-time leading receiver.

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Falcons guard Chris Chester to have shoulder surgery

  • Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons veteran right guard Chris Chester, who started all 16 games during the 2015 season, will undergo surgery on his right shoulder.

"As soon as possible," Chester told ESPN.com of the timetable for the surgery. "The rotator cuff kind of got jammed up a little bit. It's nothing major, but it's an issue that's going to have to get addressed."

Chester suffered the injury in a Week 12 loss to Minnesota and played through the pain. He was held out of Wednesday practices from Week 13 on.

Chester signed a one-year, $2.8 million contract with the Falcons and will hit free agency in March if not re-signed. He turns 33 next Tuesday and wants to continue his playing career in Atlanta.

"I've really enjoyed my time here," Chester said. "Things didn't go the way we would have liked them to go, but I really enjoyed myself here. Coach [Dan] Quinn, the coaches, the owner are great.

"There are a lot of moving parts. I would love to come back here. The nature of the business is pretty complicated, but I love it here."

Chester was asked how many more years he wants to play.

"I don't know, I'm week to week," he said. "I'm day to day, really. I've still got it, but there's a lot ... I've got to think about my family and my body and my health and stuff. There's a lot to think about."

The Falcons have plenty to consider as well. Quinn said solidifying the lines on both sides of the ball is at the forefront of his thoughts and a "huge emphasis" this offseason. The offensive line didn't perform up to expectations, although there were moments the front five looked good paving holes for 1,000-yard rusher Devonta Freeman in the zone blocking scheme.

Chester was known for his ability to run block in offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan's system, which he became familiar with while playing under Shanahan in Washington. However, Chester is viewed as undersized in terms of pass protection.

Quinn was asked to evaluate the performances of his veteran starting guards, Chester and Andy Levitre.

"I thought both of them, in the run game, they showed their quickness to get outside," Quinn said. "As we're going through the whole process of it, both of them have unique stuff in terms of the speed that they can play with. I thought Andy, especially, adapted quickly to the scheme, where Chris had been part of the wide-zone scheme for a while with Baltimore and at Washington.

"I was pleased with both of them."

That doesn't necessarily mean they'll be the starting guards next season. Quinn and his coaches are still in the midst of the roster evaluation process and seem likely to move on from Chester and Levitre. The Falcons need to get bigger on the interior of the offensive line, and Chester and Levitre were more stop-gap players than anything else. Chester fought hard while playing with one arm, while Levitre wore down at the end of the season and finished with a team-high 11 penalties.

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Matt Ryan says new offense was too much at times, as expected

  • Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer

Some folks cringed when word of Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan being overwhelmed by Kyle Shanahan's offense circulated.

It wasn't a tale. It was a reality.

But it was nothing less than expected with the adjustment to a new offensive scheme. Ryan made that clear during his weekly radio show appearance Tuesday on 680 the Fan.

"I think that's for everyone, when you're learning something new and it's different, at times there's is too much, right?" Ryan said. "I think Kyle did a great job as we went through the year of listening to guys, of responding to feedback, and then also having a better feel for what we were as an offense, too, of what our guys could do, and making a plan to fit that. And I thought the last four, five, or six weeks, we had good plans. Specifically the last three weeks, I thought we played better offensively and were able to win two of those three games."

As previously reported, Shanahan scaled back the playbook after the Tennessee game (Week 7). Such didn't necessarily translate into success, however, as turnovers plagued the Falcons and they went through a six-game losing streak. Shanahan also got away from the desired pass-run balance, something he expressed regret about. Then more aspects were reincorporated into the playbook during a 23-17 win against Jacksonville in Week 15.

Veteran receiver Roddy White knew the offense would be an adjustment for everyone despite a 5-0 start. He scoffed at the notion that intellect played a part in anyone, including Ryan, struggling to adjust to Shanahan's scheme.

"It has nothing to do with how smart you are," White told ESPN.com. "People don't know how fast you get a play call in, and all this happens in 15 seconds. You get the play in, you give it to the offense, you check, read routes, runs. You might have to check this at the line of scrimmage to get the protection right. Then you snap the ball, you read the coverage, and then you get rid of the ball.

"To formulate all that in 15 seconds, it's hard doing it in an offense that (Ryan) was in for six, seven years. So to bring change to him and have something brand new, and he has to go through the progressions, it's tough on him."

The Falcons made it tougher on themselves with 30 turnovers. Ryan had 16 interceptions and five lost fumbles, and five of those interceptions came on plays starting from the opponents' 20-yard line or closer. Running backDevonta Freeman fumbled on first-and-goal from the 3-yard line in the season finale, and fellow running back Tevin Coleman fumbled the ball away at the Saints' 9-yard line in Week 6 loss at New Orleans. Not to mention center Mike Person's bad snap on second-and-goal from the Tampa Bay 4-yard line that resulted in a turnover during a 23-20 loss to the Buccaneers in Week 8.

The season ended with Ryan throwing an interception to New Orleans safetyJamarca Sanford in traffic at the Falcons' 28-yard line. The ball was intended for Freeman, who did not run a good route. Still, Ryan should have progressed to Julio Jones. Sanford said he knew the angle route was coming. The Saints won the game, 20-17.

"I didn't see the guy undercutting on the outside," Ryan reiterated Tuesday. "He gets hidden a little bit behind our offensive line. ... In that situation, just move on in the progression and get somewhere else.

"Anytime you watch the film and it ends ugly, it's tough to watch."

Ryan wants to move on from a disappointing, 8-8 season. He did not perform up to expectation, but believes he'll be better with another year working alongside Shanahan.

"Certainly some of the plays that happened during the season, the way it ended this past Sunday, that will be motivation for us moving forward," Ryan said. "I think the other thing that becomes great motivation for everyone is that we fell short of our goals. We obviously want to be playing this week and have the opportunity to keep going in the postseason and win a championship. And first and foremost, that's probably what the best and greatest motivation for me will be."

Ryan, who just completed his eighth NFL season, has a 1-4 record in five playoff games. The Falcons have missed the postseason the past three seasons.

There definitely seems to be alot more to this with Kyle than we know but one can assume that some sh1t is about to be addressed.

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Adrian Clayborn named Falcons' Ed Block Courage Award winner

  • Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer

The Atlanta Falcons have announced that defensive lineman Adrian Clayborn is the team's winner of the Ed Block Courage Award.

The honor is given to a player who exemplifies commitments to sportsmanship and courage as well as to being a role model in the community. It is solely voted upon by the players.

"It means a lot because the whole team voted on it, obviously," Clayborn said Thursday. "It just means that my peers saw my leadership. They saw what football means to me and what I've done in the community, just all of that."

Clayborn mentioned Play 60 events and a shopping spree with families at Publix as the most rewarding community events.

"It's stuff like that, things that don't get talked about," Clayborn said. "It's great to give back to the community."

On the field, Clayborn completed his first season with the Falcons with a team-high 15 quarterback hits to go with three sacks and four tackles for loss.

Clayborn signed a one-year, $3 million deal before the 2015 season. Now it's the Falcons' move if they want to sign him to a new deal.

"I believe Dan Quinn is taking this team in the right direction," Clayborn said. "It's a first-class organization. If it works out where I can come back, I'd love to be a part of it."

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Atlanta Falcons to retain GM Thomas Dimitroff

  • Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer

Thomas Dimitroff will remain the general manager of the Atlanta Falcons, owner Arthur Blank announced Friday.

There has been uncertainty regarding the status of Dimitroff, who accepted a reduced role after the hiring of first-year coach Dan Quinn. But Quinn said part of the reason he took the job was the partnership with Dimitroff, and Blank cited that working relationship as a reason for keeping his GM.

Blank also said assistant general manager Scott Pioli will remain to assist Dimitroff.

"Over the last week, we have conducted an exhaustive review of every area of our team," Blank said in a statement. "Through this process it has become very clear to me that Coach Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff have built a productive working relationship over the last 11 months. There is very good alignment between Dan and Thomas on the direction we need to go to improve our team and I believe maintaining the continuity of that relationship, with Scott Pioli continuing to assist Thomas, is the right way forward."

Falcons owner Arthur Blank cited the strong working relationship between GM Thomas Dimitroff and coach Dan Quinn as the reason for keeping his front office intact after an 8-8 season in which "positive steps" were taken. Jason Getz/USA TODAY Sports

Blank said changes will be made to the pro personnel and college scouting departments after the Falcons finished with an 8-8 record and missed the playoffs for the third consecutive season.

"My commitment to our fans is to put the best possible product on the field each year," Blank said. "No one is satisfied with an 8-8 record, but I am very pleased with the direction of our team under the leadership of Dan Quinn and confident in his long-term approach. No question, we took some positive steps forward this year and have a good foundation our existing coaching staff can build upon."

Dimitroff was responsible for the drafting of Julio Jones, Matt Ryan, andDesmond Trufant, but he also had numerous draft failures and free-agent misses. None of his 2012 draft class remains in the NFL.

Once Quinn was hired, Blank gave him control over the 53-man roster, with Pioli given more responsibilities regarding the draft.

Quinn has been an advocate of the relationship with Dimitroff all along, saying the partnership was part of the reason he took the job in the first place.

The Falcons have just one playoff win in five appearances since Dimitroff became general manager in 2008.

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With upper management status quo, Falcons can't afford many more misses

  • Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer

Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank gave a clue which direction he was leaning with general manager Thomas Dimitroff after his team lost to the New Orleans Saints in the season finale.

"They've had a great partnership this year, and I think that's a good reflection on both of them," Blank said, referring to the tandem of Dimitroff and head coach Dan Quinn.

So it wasn't shocking when Blank released a statement Friday saying the partnership with Quinn and Dimitroff would continue into the 2016 season, with Scott Pioili remaining on board to assist Dimitroff. The restructuring of the pro personnel and college scouting departments has already begun, although the specifics of those moves have yet to be announced.

The next step for the Falcons? Getting things right. They can't afford too many more misses in free agency or the draft.

Although Dimitroff can pound his chest a little for the drafting of Julio Jones,Matt Ryan, and Desmond Trufant, he also might want to cover his head about the selections of Peria Jerry, Peter Konz, and Dezmen Southward, as well as having an entire 2012 draft class that is not currently on any NFL 53-man roster.

Although Dimitroff traded for Hall of Fame-bound tight end Tony Gonzalez, free-agent acquisitions such as Osi Umenyiora and Steven Jackson never panned out as expected. Neither has the free-agent class of 2014, which included run-stuffers Tyson Jackson and Paul Soliai and offensive lineman Jon Asamoah, who is now gone after an injury settlement. Those three received a combined $33 million guaranteed.

The first year of the Quinn-Dimitroff partnership had mixed results regarding bolstering the roster. Sure, the Falcons got a pass-rusher in Vic Beasley, but the rookie first-round draft pick had an average season with four sacks and revealed he played the entire season with a torn labrum in his right shoulder. The grade is incomplete on Beasley for that reason.

The Falcons' big free-agent "splash" was outside linebacker Brooks Reed, who signed five-year, $22.5 million deal that included $9 million guaranteed. Reed walked in the door dealing with groin injuries and eventually had preseason surgery. His impact was minimal, with 17 tackles in 331 snaps played.

Second-round draft pick Jalen Collins was supposed to be an immediately contributor with first-round talent, but the cornerback was an extreme disappointment and rarely saw the field on defense at season's end.

And the decision to cut ties with center Joe Hawley and put the position in the hands of converted guard Mike Person turned out to be costly. Person was abysmal snapping the ball, although he wasn't pulled until the last game of the season in favor of Gino Gradkowski. It's no wonder Ryan went on radio this week and said finding longevity at center is must.

Not to be forgotten was the acquisition of left guard Andy Levitre via a trade with the Tennessee Titans. The Falcons lost a sixth-round draft pick in 2016 and a conditional 2017 pick in the trade, and Levitre struggled when the team needed him to hold up the most. If the Falcons happen to part ways with Levitre, who is due base salaries $4 million, $5.25 million, and $7 million the next three seasons, it would leave another black mark regarding their decision-making.

Getting it right means securing protection for Ryan, and the entire interior of the offensive line should be addressed with bigger, more athletic players. Securing another pass-rusher opposite Beasley is a must, as is landing a playmaking linebacker. And the Falcons need a big receiver capable of beating one-on-one coverage to help alleviate the pressure on top target Julio Jones. Often-injured Leonard Hankerson wasn’t the answer.

The Falcons have five draft picks as it stands now after losing the sixth-rounder with Levitre and a fifth-rounder as result of the crowd noise violation from piping in sound. Regarding cap space, the Falcons are looking at about $20 million of space right now. That's before any players are released or any restructurings or extensions, so that number is sure to fluctuate.

Quinn was given final say over the 53-man roster, so it's time for him to really put his stamp on it. When he was the defensive coordinator in Seattle, he had players who had a certain edge to them. Not that the current group of Falcons is soft, but they could use a little more nastiness. That's why a player such as linebacker Bruce Irvin of the Seahawks makes sense, if he reaches free agency.

Most importantly for the Falcons is getting back into postseason contention. Mediocre won't be tolerated by the fans anymore, and Blank is extremely conscious of public opinion. He doesn't want a streak of four straight seasons without the playoffs going into the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in 2017.

Coming off an 8-8 season, the only place the Falcons can afford to go is up.

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Julio Jones named to All-Pro first team

3:03 PM ET
  • Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer

Atlanta Falcons Pro Bowl wide receiver Julio Jones was named to the Associated Press' All-Pro first team on Friday.

Jones, who didn't receive a single All-Pro vote last season, finished the season as the NFL's leader in receiving yards with 1,871, the second-most all time behind Detroit's Calvin Johnson (1,964). Jones tied fellow All-Pro Antonio Brown of the Pittsburgh Steelers with 136 catches.

Both of Jones' single-season totals set franchise records.

Jones is the first Falcons to be named All-Pro since tight end Tony Gonzalez was a first-teamer in 2012. Roddy White was the last Falcons wide receiver to make the team as a first-teamer in 2010.

Running back Devonta Freeman and fullback Patrick DiMarco were named All-Pro second team. Freeman became the first Falcon to surpass 1,000 yards since Michael Turner (2011) and scored 14 touchdowns, while DiMarco helped paved the way for Freeman's great season.

Falcons' Patrick DiMarco honored to make All-Pro second-team
  • Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer

Atlanta Falcons fullback Patrick DiMarco was named to the Associated Press All-Pro second team Friday along with Falcons running back Devonta Freeman.

Teammate Julio Jones was the Falcons' only first-team selection.

"They make everyone around them better," DiMarco said of Jones and Freeman. "I'm honored to get on the field with those guys. They are two of the best players in the NFL."

DiMarco said he was shocked when he received the news from agent Joel Turner of Turner Sports Management, which also represents All-Pro first-team fullback Mike Tolbert of Carolina.

"It's a true honor," said DiMarco, who was named a Pro Bowl alternate as well. "It's something, as an athlete, you always strive to have -- a good individual season. We didn't end up as good as we wanted to here in Atlanta but on an individual basis, I'm definitely honored to be second-team All-Pro.

"I was proud and happy. There were so many emotions running through me. It's something that I've been working five years for. It's a true testament to how hard I've worked and the amount of time I've put in to get to this level."

DiMarco entered the league as an undrafted rookie with the San Diego Chargersin 2011. The former South Carolina Gamecock had a stint in Kansas City before landing on the Falcons' practice squad in 2013. He's started 22 games the last three seasons with Atlanta.

In 2015, DiMarco helped paved the way for Freeman's 1,000-yard rushing season. He also caught 13 passes for 110 yards and two touchdowns.

"Definitely run blocking," DiMarco said when asked what aspect of his game improved the most. "I think the offensive scheme, the coaches did a good job of implementing it and working with the players to create a system that would make everybody play at a high level. It worked well with me, Devonta and Julio. Even Matt (Ryan), he did a good job adjusting to the offense.

"I'm excited for next year and what this team can do next year."

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Falcons secondary coach Marquand Manuel to interview with Jaguars

  • Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer

Atlanta Falcons secondary coach/senior defensive assistant Marquand Manuel is scheduled to meet with Jacksonville this Tuesday about its defensive coordinator position, according to a league source.

Manuel, who came to the Falcons from Seattle along with coach Dan Quinn, has a tie to the Jaguars. Jacksonville head coach Gus Bradley was the Seahawks' defensive coordinator in 2012, the same year Manuel began his coaching career as an assistant special-t eams coach.

In other words, Manuel is familiar with Bradley's scheme and would have no problems running it. He is known as a master motivator and, at age 36 and with eight years of NFL playing experience, can relate well to today's player. Falcons starting cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford constantly raved about how much they learned from Manuel in just one season.

If Manuel gets the job, he would replace Bob Babich, who was fired this week.

It doesn't appear Quinn is going to shake up the coaching staff with any major changes, such as replacing Kyle Shanahan as the offensive coordinator. He might lose a couple coaches to other teams, however. Along with Manuel's possible departure, special-teams coordinator Keith Armstrong is believed to be the first choice to fill the vacant special-teams coordinator role with the New York Jets, where college friend Todd Bowles is the head coach. However, the Falcons seem likely to make a push to keep Armstrong.

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The Atlanta Falcons have some major 2016 needs, and we're mulling them over

By Dave Choate @TheFalcoholic on Jan 8, 2016, 10:00a 42

Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

It's roundtable time, this time touching on the roster.

Scott Carasik

2016 Team Needs: Linebacker, Pass Rusher, Interior Offensive Line, Wide Receiver, Strong Safety

Devonta Freeman made the Pro Bowl despite the Falcons not being able to block for him effectively the second half of the season. Just imagine how good the Falcons offense could be if Matt Ryan had the ability to step up in the pocket and the center didn't fumble the ball. Add in another target for Ryan to help take pressure off of Julio Jonesand Jacob Tamme and the offense could hum a bit better.

On the other side of the ball, William Moore has shown that he needs to be replaced with his poor play and constant injuries. But more than him, Paul Worrilow and Justin Durant have been mediocre in the new defense. The Falcons would be better off with speed at linebacker. Also, with the defense being the league's worst in sack totals, it never hurts to add another good pass rusher to the mix. Atlanta's defense could easily go with any of these positions in the first round.

Dave Choate

Team needs: Linebacker, guard/center, tight end, wide receiver, pass rush

No surprises here. If the Falcons can dramatically upgrade their linebackers, add a quality player or two along the interior and at tight end and wide receiver, and pull down one more effective edge rusher, they'll be a **** of a lot better in 2016. Easier said than done, I know.

The DW

Team Needs: Linebacker, Center, OG, WR2

Honestly, I don't know how these four positions can't be considered the top ones. To me, any others are so far behind these needs that they don't even register. Paul Worrilow and Justin Durant just can't cut it in coverage, and our defense is consistently burned by running backs and tight ends. We need a fast, coverage capable linebacker to fill that gaping void. With all of the issues the Falcons had in snapping the ball this year, I can't imagine that sticking with Person/Stone/Gradkowski seems like a good plan to anyone. While Levitre and Chester did a decent job in the running game, they were revolving doors in pass protection - often allowing Ryan to get murdered on clear passing downs. While it's unlikely we replace both, we have to upgrade at least one of these positions. And as much as I love Roddy, he's clearly not the player he once was. Finding a good compliment to take the pressure off of Julio is going to be critical for getting this offense back on track.

Kendall Jackson

Team Needs: Center, guard, linebacker, pass rusher, safety, wide receiver

What don't the Falcons need? Matt Ryan needs interior protection and a center who can consistently snap the ball. It would help to have a legitimate threat across from Julio Jones, too. Defensively, the Falcons once again ranked at the bottom of the league in sacks. The linebackers were constantly victimized, and in the secondary, William Moore could be a cap casualty.

Allen Strk

Team Needs: Edge Rusher, Wide Receiver, Middle Linebacker

Center and safety would be included as well, but those three positions above were the most prevalent issues. A rotation of Brooks Reed, O'Brien Schofield, and Adrian Clayborn on the edge proved to be largely ineffective. With so many pass rushers available in free agency, it must be a priority after missing out on Derrick Morgan last year. The same can be said at wide receiver, as the list of quality number two receivers is staggering. While drafting another wide receiver would be wise, they can't waste a great opportunity to sign someone with upside such as Marvin Jones or Rishard Matthews. Middle linebacker should be addressed in the draft. Watching teams like Carolina and Minnesota invest top picks on linebackers should be a valuable lesson for all teams. It has played a significant role towards both teams developing into top five defensive units.

Matthew Chambers

Team needs: In no particular order, as they are all pretty big needs: Inside linebacker, center, wide receiver, tight end, strong safety, defensive end, and guard.

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Atlanta Falcons: What Players with expiring contracts need to be re-signed

by Colin Hubbard

3d ago

Like every NFL team who will be diving into the busy 2016 offseason, there will be several moves made in the coming weeks that will help shape the Atlanta Falcons heading into training camp and into the regular season.

the Falcons’ biggest free agent heading into the offseason was supposed to be the one, the only, Julio Jones but general manager Thomas Dimitroff, owner Arthur Blank and head coach Dan Quinn decided to lock him up before the 2015 season ever began.

With that massive transaction out of the way, the Falcons have several players that have expiring contracts at the moment but none of them will make-or-break the team going forward. Let’s take a look at who these players are according to Spotrac.com.


If you are a novice when it comes to contracts, restricted free agents and unrestricted free agents then here’s a quick break down.

Unrestricted free agents are players with expired contracts that have completed four or more accrued seasons of service and are free to sign with any franchise.

Restricted free agents can sign with another team but the original team he was with has an allotted time to match the offer. If the original team does not match offer then the new team has to give something up to the old team such as a compensation draft pick which almost makes the transaction like a trade.

So, when looking at free agents, just know that it’s a lot more likely that your team signs an unrestricted free agent rather than a restricted one.

With all of that being said, the Falcons have four notable unrestricted free agents. Those three players are outside linebacker O’brien Schofield, current starting right guard Chris Chester, defensive end Kroy Biermann and defensive end Adrian Clayborn.

Of those four only three should be resigned with that being Schofiled, Clayborn and Chester. Schofield did a wonderful job in his first year with the Falcons and added a much-needed energy boost to a rather quite Falcons’ defense. He is well worth a new contact and will get it without a doubt. Chester is 32 years of age and isn’t a long-term solution for the Falcons but did a terrific job in 2015. He’s worth another 1-year contract for the right price.

Clayborn had a decent year and showed the Falcons that he can in fact stay healthy and produce when he is in the right defensive package. Clayborn had three sacks on the year with minimal snaps and would be worth another 1-year contact to see how he progresses as Quinn builds a better defense.

Biermann on the other hand is as good as gone. Fans turned their back on Biermann a couple of years ago and haven’t even thought twice about changing their mind. Biermann will always be known as the guy that “almost” makes the play but never does. It’s time for Biermann and the Falcons to go their separate ways.

Other unrestricted free agents that are worthy of a new contact would be linebacker Phillip Wheeler and possibly tight end Tony Moeaki. Neither are them will get much playing time if they do get new contacts but they both played well while they were on the football field.

As far as the restricted free agents go on the Falcons, every one of them have a fairly good shot at being on the Falcons’ 53-man roster at the start of next season. Yes, that even includes linebacker Paul Worrilow. Right tackle Ryan Schrader was voted as the No.1 ranked RT by PFF and linebacker Nate Stupar had a very good 2015 season on both special teams and defense.

Worrilow’s future is up in the air at this point, but don’t jump to the conclusion that the Falcons will let him walk. Worrilow isn’t a longterm solution at middle linebacker, but the Falcons might not be able to find anyone all that much better than him to start in 2016.

The Falcons could go both ways with Worrilow. They could let him walk and pick up an extra draft pick to replace one that they lost due to noise-gate or they could resign him for a decent price and see what happens in the 2016 NFL draft.

Worrilow has led the Falcons in tackles in each of his first three years but failed to reach the 100-tackle mark in 2015.

Luckily for the Falcons, there aren’t any major free agents on their roster that they will have to deal with in the coming weeks. The team will be able to focus most of their attention on who they will want to go after in free agency and who they will want to draft in late April.

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The top-graded player on every NFL team


Using the Pro Football Focus player grades, here's a look at the top-graded player on all 32 teams, listed in alphabetical order by team:

Atlanta Falcons

WR Julio Jones: 96.0

Pro Football Focus Player Grades

Read this for more on how PFF grades every player in the league. Also, some stats, particularly sacks, are different than the league's records because PFF awards them differently.

The second-best wide receiver in the league behind Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown, Jones led the league with 1,871 yards. He had 10 drops to Brown's five, but that doesn't take away from his incredible season.

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With Rams move, Falcons could request consecutive West Coast games

  • Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer

Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay said the team will consider making a special request to the NFL to play consecutive West Coast games in 2016, with a trip to Los Angeles now added to the schedule.

The Falcons were scheduled to play in St. Louis until the Rams relocated to Los Angeles on Tuesday. Now, the Falcons have road games in Los Angeles, Oakland, Denver and Seattle, which could make an already tough schedule that much more grueling.

"It would make sense that might be something that we would consider; go out there, play a game and stay out there a week and play another game,’’ McKay told AtlantaFalcons.com regarding approaching the league about the schedule.

The Falcons played back-to-back road games against the San Francisco 49ersand Oakland Raiders in November 2000 and remained in the San Francisco Bay Area between games. Dan Reeves’ team lost to the 49ers, 16-6, then followed with a 41-14 loss to the Raiders.

Next season’s Falcons-Rams matchup is expected to be played at the Los Angeles Coliseum, wth a new stadium in Inglewood, California, targeted for 2019. The Falcons played in Los Angeles regularly prior to the 1995 season when the Rams were in L.A. and both teams were part of the NFC West.

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Brother's hoop dreams keep O'Brien Schofield's mind off free agency

  • Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer

ATHENS, Ga. -- The passionate energy Atlanta Falcons fans became accustomed to seeing from outside linebacker O'Brien Schofield was on display Wednesday, even without football being a part of the equation.

Schofield pumped his fist emphatically at one point. Then he shook his head in disgust while obviously questioning an official's call.

A basketball official, that is.

This night was all about the guy wearing the No. 5 orange uniform; a Tennessee Volunteers freshman forward named Admiral Schofield, who stands a couple inches taller and about 10 pounds heavier than his older brother. Like a proud father, O'Brien Schofield followed his little brother's every move in an 81-72 loss to the Georgia Bulldogs.

"I'm going to support my brother as much as I can because he needs it," Schofield said. "To see your little brother doing his thing, it's pretty powerful."

Linebacker O'Brien Schofield keeps free agency off his mind by following the hoops career of his little brother, Admiral, at Tennessee. Vaughn McClure/ESPN.com

Although Admiral scored just two points in 14 minutes Wednesday, he was fresh off being named the SEC's Freshman of the Week after averaging 16 points and seven rebounds in Tennessee's first two conference outings. O'Brien Schofield has attended four of his brother's games, including a narrow, 69-67 loss to Georgia Tech in Atlanta back in November.

"Whenever he's on the court, he's effective," Schofield said. "He's a strong presence. He works hard to get rebounds. When they get him in the game, he can score. It's obvious that he can score the basketball. I think it's going to be more exciting as he progresses through this year and they start designing plays for him to get the ball."

For the elder Schofield, being a basketball fan is a welcomed distraction for a guy headed toward free agency in March. He signed a one-year contract with the Falcons to reunite with Dan Quinn, his defensive coordinator in Seattle. Schofield finished the season with 30 tackles, three tackles for loss, two sacks, and 13 quarterback hits, but his value extended beyond the playing field as he quickly emerged as a team voice.

The business aspect of football is something Schofield refuses to consume himself with right now.

"I've stressed about [free agency] the last two times," he said. "It's definitely one of those things where there's nothing else you can do about it. You put your résumé out there, try to get your mind off it, and let your agent do his job. You just see how things go as far as the numbers."

There is no doubt Schofield wants to remain with the Falcons.

"I think I've got a special bond with my teammates and the coaches, just the organization as a whole," Schofield said. "Knowing how Coach Quinn has been in the past and just what he's been able to do in just one year in bringing the group together, I think that it's very promising. There's no doubt in my mind that the Falcons will win a championship with Dan Quinn."

Maybe Admiral Schofield will win a championship with the Volunteers at some point, considering his brother already has a Super Bowl ring. He knows he has the right person to keep him focused on such a goal.

"It's just exciting to have him out here to see me play," Admiral Schofield said of his older brother. "I had a rough night, but it's a learning experience for me. I'm a freshman. There are some things I have to learn about being ready, mentally, and that's one of the things that he mentors me about. Him being in the NFL really helps because he's at the top level. He knows a lot. He's been through a lot, so it's good to hear from him.''

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Falcons Jalen Collins hopes to rebound from rookie disappointment

  • Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer

Sift through the list of second-round picks from the 2015 NFL draft and you'll find that 21 of 32 selections started five or more games this past season.

Jalen Collins wasn't one of them.

The Atlanta Falcons cornerback, considered a first-round talent who dropped due to marijuana issues in college, managed just two starts in 16 games. He had virtually no impact on defense with 12 tackles, no interceptions, and no passes defensed. He didn't see the field on defense in the last four games against Carolina (twice), Jacksonville, and New Orleans. His biggest impact was on special teams, where he was third on the team with five special teams tackles.

Collins, the 43rd overall pick, played 282 defensive snaps. The only second-rounders who played fewer snaps on defense were Dallas Cowboys defensive end Randy Gregory, who missed four games, and Patriots safety Jordan Richards, who played in 14 games. Both Gregory and Richards played 229 defensive snaps.

Collins realizes he was a disappointment.

"Of course you're frustrated," Collins said of his rookie campaign. "I felt I could have done better. I really didn't play to the best of my ability throughout the whole season. Definitely a little frustrated, but I know it's a process. I'm just going to grind this offseason."

Will the Falcons regret selecting Collins? We'll see. Some of the second-rounders selected after him who had pre-draft workouts with the Falcons included Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks, Chargers linebacker Denzel Perryman, Chiefs center Mitch Morse, Ravens tight end Maxx Williams, Gregory, and Richards. Kendricks and Morse were named to the Pro Football Writers of America all-rookie team.

As for the 6-foot-1-inch, 203-pound Collins, his length and overall ability were supposed to earn him a spot opposite Pro Bowl alternate Desmond Trufant at cornerback ahead of Robert Alford. The Falcons tried such an alignment with Alford pushed inside as the nickel corner, but the experiment didn't work.

Collins obviously didn't play the ball well and got beat athletically. If anything else, at least he ended the season realizing his shortcomings.

"My focus is getting stronger, faster," Collins said. "Definitely my lateral quickness and focusing on my technique."

We'll see if Collins makes enough strides this offseason to make the coaches gain confidence in him. The Falcons seem likely to target a cornerback in free agency or the draft regardless.

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Ohio State WR Braxton Miller: I would love to help Julio Jones

  • Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer

MOBILE, Ala. -- One of the intriguing prospects at this year's Senior Bowl is Ohio State's Braxton Miller, a former big-play quarterback who made the transition to wide receiver in college.

Miller impressed on the first day of practices and got attention from plenty of teams, including an informal conversation with the Atlanta Falcons. Miller's tone perked up when asked about the possibility of joining Pro Bowler Julio Jones in Atlanta.

"I would love to come help out Julio in Atlanta," Miller told ESPN.com. "I would love to wear the red and black."

The Falcons need a receiver capable of establishing separation to complement Jones, and Miller is projected to be a second or third-round selection. Sure, he's still raw in terms of making the full transition to wide receiver. But as ESPN Insider and former NFL player Matt Bowen noted Tuesday, the 6-foot, 204-pound Miller has "ridiculous change of direction speed. So athletic. Better route runner than I expected."

Miller would be the first to say his route running needs to be polished. That's why he studied Jones coming out of Alabama and through Jones' years with the Falcons.

"Speed, size, and the way he runs his routes is off the charts," Miller said. "So, I want to be like that. ... The way he runs his routes is crazy. I love it. I'm going to have to hit him up, man, and talk to him about that."

Miller was a Heisman Trophy candidate as a spread-option quarterback. Then after suffering a shoulder injury in August of 2014 and falling to third on the quarterback depth chart, the two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year (2012, 2013) made the move to wide receiver.

Miller had 26 catches for 341 yards and three touchdowns this past season. He was third on the team in receiving behind top draft prospect Michael Thomasand Jalin Marshall.

So when did Miller start to feel comfortable at receiver?

"Midseason," Miller said. "You know, just doing everything. Blocking. Being on special teams. Running deep routes, short routes, intermediate routes. Sweeps. All types of stuff. They opened up the playbook like that. It's fun, man."

Miller views himself more as an Antonio Brown-type but draws inspiration from other top wide receivers such as DeAndre Hopkins, Tavon Austin, and, of course, Jones.

"I love [to] see guys make plays," Miller said. "Some guys can't."

Miller appreciates the feedback he has received from the Dallas Cowboyscoaches, who are coaching the North squad at the Senior Bowl.

"They love it," Miller said of his showing at receiver. "They said keep going because I'm a special guy, just keep showing your talents. You never know where you might end up in the draft. You just have to keep working, man."


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Falcons' Dan Quinn emphasizes Matt Ryan being comfortable in scheme

11:41 AM ET
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    Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer

Although the primary storyline from Thursday's Atlanta Falcons news conference was general manager Thomas Dimitroff saying he has to produce to keep his job, head coach Dan Quinn did weigh in on a few items as well.

One of the topics Quinn addressed was quarterback Matt Ryan's feelings about offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan's scheme. Ryan admitted he was overwhelmed at times in the new offense, although he never publicly criticized Shanahan or complained about it.

Quinn, who said the primary focus for Ryan will be cleaning up the turnovers, said Ryan expressed no qualms about the scheme during an exit meeting.

"Yeah, I asked that question directly, about the same one, because I wanted him to make sure," Quinn said. "I know he's comfortable in the system, (but) why did we have those turnovers that caused some of the negative situations to take place? He absolutely agreed, (saying) `Absolutely, I can dominate and play in the role that we want here.'"

Matt Ryan threw 16 interceptions in 2015, just one off his career high. AP Photo/Bob Leverone

Ryan posted his fifth consecutive season of 4,000-plus passing yards, but he also threw 16 interceptions, the second-most in his career after the 2013 season (17). He also had a career-high five fumbles lost. His 21 turnovers contributed to the Falcons' 30 giveaways, compared to 30 takeaways.

Quinn said he has no plans to make any other changes to his coaching staff, meaning Shanahan will be back. Shanahan will have another voice on offense in assistant head coach Raheem Morris, who was moved from defensive pass game coordinator to work with the wide receivers. Shanahan and Morris have a tight-knit relationship, so it's safe to say Shanahan will listen to any input Morris offers, even though Morris doesn't have a wealth of experience coaching offense.

A large part of Ryan getting more accustomed to the scheme will be addressing needs on the interior of the offensive line, needing bigger bodies to protect him. The Falcons also need another wide receiver capable of beating one-on-one coverage, with the added attention top target Julio Jones has drawn from opposing defenses.

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Speed at linebacker an offseason priority for Falcons


Vaughn McClure



Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn has toned down the "fast and physical" talk that dominated his dialogue after taking over the team.

Quinn's mindset, however, hasn't changed one bit as he tries to establish his style of defense. And a major part of the retooling effort is improving team speed, particularly at linebacker.

"We certainly want to find ways to see our speed and tackling at linebacker (improve)," Quinn said.

His reference was to both free agency and the draft. Quinn caught a glimpse of what type of speed some of the draft prospects possess during last week's Senior Bowl.

"I haven't dug in all the way with the group, but I have a real clear vision of what I'm looking for," Quinn said. "It's the space tackling. In college football right now, there are so many spread offenses. So space and tackling, that's where so much of the game is.

"It's not like the fullback dive and you're going to see how you can crush a guy. It's the deep routes that happen, the speed, the screen plays. For a linebacker, tackling in space is huge because it happens on third down, it happens on special teams, it happens so many times in the pass game. From a tackling standpoint, that's what I'm looking for the most: space tackling. That's where you can feel a guy's speed, and not how quickly I can get to that hole from four yards away. That's what I'm looking for when I'm evaluating the linebackers."

Alabama's Reggie Ragland can run and is physical, so he's a first-round talent who will be on most teams' radar throughout the draft process. The 6-foot-2, 252-pound Ragland didn't talk formally with the Falcons at the Senior Bowl.

Strictly from a speed perspective, LSU's Deion Jones drew rave reviews from coaches and scouts during the first few days of Senior Bowl practices. Jones had six tackles in the South's 27-16 win over the North this past Saturday.

"I guess it's just a part of my game," Jones said of his speed. "I like playing fast. I like to get after it. That's just part of my nature, man."

Jones had some casual conversations with the Falcons at the Senior Bowl, as he did with a number of teams. The projected third-rounder was asked about the possibility of being drafted by Atlanta.

"Being from New Orleans, it would be hard for my daddy to suck that up because he's a die-hard Saints fan," Jones said. "I think he would get used to it. I know the Falcons have good players and I know they compete."

The 6-foot-1-inch, 230-pound Jones was asked what he expected to run in the 40-yard dash at the combine.

"I don't know yet," he said. "About 4.4."

Another linebacker the Falcons have their eye on from the Senior Bowl is Kentucky's Josh Forrest (6-foot-3, 255 pounds), who had three tackles for the South team. The former wide receiver, who played hybrid linebacker/safety as a freshman, has the kind of length Quinn looks for in a player to go with the speed.

Some of the faster linebackers who declared as underclassmen include Notre Dame's Jaylon Smith, UCLA's Myles Jack and Ohio State's Darron Lee. Smith and Jack are coming off major knee surgeries.

ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. projects Jack, Ragland, and Smith to be top-20 picks, but Smith's recovery from ACL and MCL tears in his left knee has his status for the start of the 2016 season in doubt.

The Falcons need speedy linebackers ready to come in and contribute immediately. Veteran Justin Durant is probably the best and fastest linebacker on the team right now but he has dealt with too many nagging injuries.

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Dabo Swinney: Falcons' Vic Beasley is a tough kid

12:09 PM ET
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    Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer

Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn reiterated last week at the Senior Bowl how pass-rusher Vic Beasley won't undergo surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder.

The fact that Beasley played his entire rookie season with the injury and didn't miss a game or practice wasn't a surprise to Beasley's college coach, Clemson's Dabo Swinney.

"No, not surprised at all because Vic's a tough kid," said Swinney, who attended Senior Bowl practices. "I thought he had a good rookie year for a guy coming into a new situation. Obviously, it was good to see him make a game-winning sack/fumble on Cam [Newton] against the Panthers. That was a big moment for him. And hopefully that will get a lot of momentum going for him going into next season."

Vic Beasley's rookie season was highlighted by this strip of Cam Newton late in the Falcons' win over Carolina in December. Frank Mattia/Icon Sportswire

Beasley, the eighth overall pick in last year's draft, finished his rookie campaign with a franchise rookie record four sacks to go with five quarterback hits, two forced fumbles, and an interception. He set the bar high for himself by stating a goal of double-digit sacks, but Beasley refused to use the shoulder injury as an excuse for not being more productive, statically speaking.

"I know he learned a lot, and he's one of those guys that it's all still in front of him," Swinney said. "I'm really proud of him. And then Grady Jarrett [Falcons' fifth-round pick from Clemson], I thought, had a heck of a year as well. So, I'm proud of those guys."

Beasley and Jarrett are proud of their school, which is why both supported Clemson at the national title game in Arizona. The Tigers fell to Alabama, 45-40.

"That's one thing that we have at Clemson and you hear about it all the time; you hear about the family atmosphere," Swinney said. "It really is. It's a family. Guys love each other. And guys aren't happy to leave there. It's a place that, at some point, you've got to go. But they all love to come back and they stay in touch with our program. And they get back whenever they can. We had a ton of guys out there in Arizona supporting the team. It was great."

Maybe the Falcons will add another Clemson product to the defensive line soon. ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. projected the Falcons to select Tigers defensive end Kevin Dodd with the 17th overall pick, while ProFootball Focus has the Falcons taking Tigers defensive end Shaq Lawson.

No matter which direction the Falcons lean in the first round of the draft, they'll be counting on Beasley heavily during his second season.

"Vic loves to play," Swinney said. "He's not a guy who is looking to stand on the sidelines. He'll get that [shoulder] fixed, I'm sure, and be back 100 percent and ready to go. And he'll be even better next year."

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