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Falcons Off Season News

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Barnwell grades free-agent deals

http://espn.go.com/nfl/story/_/id/14932572/grading-big-free-agent-deals-nfl

Alex Mack (Falcons): B

Having struggled to replace longtime center Todd McClure since the 13-year veteran retired after 2012, Atlanta went to the very top of the market and came away with the best center available. Mack excelled during his brief stint under current Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan in Cleveland, which lasted only five games in 2014 before Mack went down with a season-ending fractured fibula. (Browns fans once noted that Cleveland averaged 26.8 points per game before Mack's injury and 15 points per game afterward as a way to regain hope about the 2015 season, but that didn't last.)

Peter King reports that Mack's five-year deal will average $9.5 million per season, which will keep Mack among the highest-paid centers in football. You could argue that it's a little dangerous to pay that much for a 30-year-old offensive lineman one year removed from a serious lower leg injury, but centers seem to last longer than linemen at other positions. Jeff Saturday, playing in a zone scheme, was effective into his late 30s as a member of the Colts. The Falcons are still built upon a wildly high-variance stars-and-scrubs strategy, and they'll need Mack to stay healthy, but this should give them a massive upgrade at what has been a point of weakness for several years.

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Barnwell grades free-agent deals

http://espn.go.com/nfl/story/_/id/14932572/grading-big-free-agent-deals-nfl

Thursday, March 10

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Mohamed Sanu (Falcons): C

After waiving Leonard Hankerson during the season and cutting Roddy White after it, the Falcons were really down to second-year wideoutJustin Hardy across from superstar No. 1 Julio Jones. Given how much emphasis coordinator Kyle Shanahan's offense places on its top target, it was fair to wonder whether the Falcons might try to get by with cheaper options as their secondary wideouts and use the cap space they have to improve on defense. Instead they gave Sanu something very similar to the deal Golden Tategot from the Lions two years ago: five years and $32.5 million with $14 million fully guaranteed at signing.

Mohamed Sanu got a deal similar to Golden Tate. Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

It's a lot to ask from a receiver who ceded his starting job with the Bengals to Marvin Jones last year and who hasn't really had a season that showed he's worth this sort of commitment. Sanu has been almost exclusively an underneath receiver during his career; among the 60 wide receivers with 150 catches or more since Sanu entered the league, he is 49th in terms of average air yards per pass attempt. That should make it easy for him to pick up yards after the catch, and he's 10th in that category, but the entire package adds up to only 11.8 yards per reception. And given that he is thrown such short passes, Sanu's catch rate -- 61.8 percent -- is disappointing. The Falcons probably could have picked up somebody like Jeremy Kerley, who was just waived by the Jets, and gotten similar production at a fraction of the price. Unless there's some untapped potential that Sanu hasn't shown behind Jones and A.J. Green, this looks like an overpay with money the Falcons really should have committed to shore up holes in their defense.

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Sean Weatherspoon back visiting Falcons with hopes to revive career

6:35 PM ET
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    Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer

Although Sean Weatherspoon got a chance to play in the NFC Championship game with the Arizona Cardinals, one could tell a part of him missed playing in Atlanta.

The linebacker and former first-round draft pick of the Atlanta Falcons didn't rule out a return when he signed just a one-year deal with the Cardinals. Well, Weatherspoon is back in town Thursday taking a physical with hopes of suiting up for the Falcons once again.

"I would love to come back and revive the feeling we had at the [Georgia] Dome, and revive my career," Weatherspoon told ESPN.com.

The veteran is scheduled to have dinner with head coach Dan Quinn along with defensive coordinator Richard Smith and linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich, among others. Weatherspoon talked to both Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff before arriving in town. Of course, it was Dimitroff who drafted Weatherspoon in the first place.

But the sides parted ways prior to last season as they could not agree on a contract. The Falcons were hesitant due to Weatherspoon's injury history, which included missing the entire 2013 season with an Achilles tear. He played in all 16 games just once in four seasons with the Falcons.

However, the Falcons are desperate at inside linebacker right now with only one player -- middle linebacker Paul Worrilow -- set to be under contract once he signs his one-year, $2.553 million restricted free-agent tender. The Falcons pursued Danny Trevathan of the Denver Broncos, but he signed with theChicago Bears. They expressed interest in Jerrell Freeman from theIndianapolis Colts but have yet to sign him. Veteran James Laurinatis was brought in for a visit but did not immediately sign.

In other words, there is a good chance Weatherspoon could return, provided he checks out healthy. Last year with the Cardinals, he suffered a hamstring injury early on and played a reserve role. The 28-year-old played in 14 games with no starts, finishing the season with 11 total tackles in 121 snaps played.

Weatherspoon developed a reputation as a vocal leader before leaving Atlanta. The way Quinn sounded last season, it seemed like he never wanted Weatherspoon to leave in the first place.

"I know he's got that kind of attitude," Quinn said last February. "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."

Maybe Weatherspoon will be a part of it soon.

I can see this as Depth but not as a starter.

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Don't expect much from Mohamed Sanu in Atlanta

  • Mike ClayESPN Writer

 

Eyeing a replacement for Roddy White, the Falcons signed ex-Bengals wide receiver Mohamed Sanu to a five-year, $32.5 million contract. The expensive price tag is further evidence of the growing necessity for wide receiver depth across the league, as Sanu is at best a pedestrian talent at the position.

A 2012 third-round pick, Sanu hauled in 152 passes for 1,793 yards and 11 touchdowns during his four years in Cincinnati. A versatile weapon, Sanu also attempted five passes (he completed all five for 177 yards and two scores) and carried the ball 26 times for 153 yards and two more touchdowns.

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Sanu usually worked as Cincinnati's No. 3 wideout and a situational gadget player, but, with A.J. Green, Marvin Jones and Tyler Eifertmissing significant time with injuries, he was forced into playing 93 percent of the team's snaps during a career-year in 2014. He parlayed the playing time into 56 receptions, 790 yards and five touchdowns, but was mostly inefficient and dropped seven passes that season.

Across four seasons, Sanu has finished a week among the top 10 wide receivers in fantasy points four times and among the top 20 receivers four additional times. Despite Cincinnati's offensive explosion in 2015, Sanu failed to record a single top-20 week and was inside the top 30 only twice.

Sanu is not a particularly good wide receiver, but Atlanta was (and still is) extremely desperate for offensive playmakers. The versatile Sanu is the current favorite for a starting gig opposite Julio Jones, which would put him in position for decent volume in Atlanta's pass-first, high-volume offense. That said, Sanu's inefficiencies could very well lead to sophomore Justin Hardy or a future draft/free-agent acquisition overtaking him on the depth chart. Sanu is a fine late-round flier, but both his floor and ceiling are very low.

Well do know who this writer is but I'm going to take a wait and see approach with Sanu.

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14 hours ago, ya_boi_j said:

I'm in wait and see mode regarding Sanu. Never saw anything from him to get excited about 

Yeah me too. Well fcuk he better considering his contract

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Falcons' Derrick Shelby values lessons from Ndamukong Suh, Cameron Wake

  • Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer

New Atlanta Falcons defensive lineman Derrick Shelby developed a reputation for his ability to defend the run during his four seasons with the Miami Dolphins.

The 6-foot-2-inch, 280-pound Shelby, however, believes his pass-rush skills are much better than advertised, thanks in large part to lessons learned fromNdamukong Suh and Cameron Wake.

"Obviously with Cam Wake, I would just pick his brain as much as I could," Shelby said. "Randy Starks was there and I picked his brain. Jared Odrick, too. And this past year even with Suh, every rep we took, I was like, 'What were you thinking here? Why did you take this path?' I think players don't do that enough. Those guys definitely helped me progress.

"After that, you have to figure out what works best for you, and then you go from there."

Shelby wasn't a 10-sack guy with the Dolphins. He did, however, show flashes of ability to pressure opposing quarterbacks. Last season, he started the last nine games after Wake was shelved for the season with an Achilles tear. In the final eight games, Shelby had 3.5 sacks. On one, he got the edge on Cowboys Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith rushing from right end. On another, he pushed Patriots left guard Josh Kline seven yards back, all the way into quarterbackTom Brady on an interior rush.

"I'm a thumper," Shelby said. "I'm straight power. I try to push to the quarterback and rip off and get to him that way. I'm not one of those Von Miller types."

Falcons coach Dan Quinn talked about the role he envisions for Shelby in his defense.

"Derrick Shelby has real good versatility to play defensive tackle in our nickel package, defensive end," Quinn said. "I see Derrick's role as really increasing as a pass-rusher, especially on the inside. We're going to play him both at end in our base package and tackle in our nickel package. Love his quickness for a guy who is 280 pounds. The length, I think he's just right in the middle. So, I'm looking forward to working with him, physically, as a rusher."

The Falcons sorely need to improve their pass rush after finishing last in league with 19 sacks last season. They are counting on a big second season from Vic Beasley Jr., who said he won't need surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder. And the Falcons re-signed veteran defensive end Adrian Clayborn, who is expected to rush primarily off the edge rather than the interior like he did for a large portion of the time last season.

 

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Falcons to conduct private workout with LSU's Deion Jones

  • Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer

The Atlanta Falcons, seeking more speed at linebacker, have a private workout scheduled with draft prospect Deion Jones from LSU on Thursday.

The 6-foot-1-inch, 221-pound Jones is fresh off running a 4.38 in the 40-yard dash at LSU's Pro Day, faster than the 4.59 he posted at the NFL combine. He started generating interest from the Falcons during the Senior Bowl.

"Definitely excited," Jones said about the upcoming workout.

Jones, projected as a late second or early third-round pick, also posted a 35 1/2 inch vertical jump and did 18 reps at 225 pounds on the bench press during his Pro Day.

LSU coach Les Miles offered high praise after Jones' blazing 40 time.

"Not a lot of linebackers in history will run like that," Miles said. "That guy may be the fastest linebacker that I personally have been around that had any size to him at all. He’s absolutely the first. That fits into the NFL game as a guy that can move and make plays and has ball skills. He’s going to fit right into the NFL game."

Jones said he has a number of workouts upcoming.

"I just want to show them how hard I work and that I can get after it," Jones said.

The New Orleans native said during the Senior Bowl that his father, a diehard Saints fan, might not like him going to the Falcons. Maybe those thoughts have changed considering the Falcons' interest.

"He'll get over it," Jones said. "He won't have a choice."

Last season at LSU, Jones had a team-leading 100 total tackles, 13.5 tackles for losses, five sacks, two interceptions, and a forced fumble.

It's no secret the Falcons need help at linebacker, particularly at the weak-side spot following the release of injury-prone Justin Durant. They pursued bothDanny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman in free agency only to see both sign with the Bears. They re-signed former first-round draft pick Sean Weatherspoon to a one-year deal with no guaranteed money in order for him to prove himself. The only other inside linebacker in the mix is starting middle linebacker and leading tackler Paul Worrilow, who signed his one-year, $2.553 million restricted free agent tender Wednesday.

There is a strong possibility the Falcons could target a speedy linebacker such as Ohio State's Darron Lee with the 17th overall pick in the draft. It wouldn't be a surprise to see them follow up with another linebacker such as Jones after that, considering the need at the position.

Falcons coach Dan Quinn has emphasized the need for speed since the beginning of the offseason.

*Could roll with two LBs as our first two picks.

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Falcons bring 16 staffers to see Leonard Floyd, Georgia prospects

  • Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer

ATHENS, Ga. -- The Atlanta Falcons had a combination of 16 coaches and front office staff members Wednesday at the University of Georgia to check out first-round linebacker prospect Leonard Floyd and his teammates at pro day.

Head coach Dan Quinn watched the action alongside general manager Thomas Dimitroff and assistant general manager Scott Pioli. Defensive line coach Bryan Cox helped with drills, while linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich stood next to Quinn observing Floyd.

Special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong and special teams assistant Eric Sutulovich conducted drills with kickers Marshall Morgan and Patrick Beless near the end of the session, while running backs coach Bobby Turner had an extended conversation with fullback Quayvon Hicks.

Leonard Floyd worked out at Georgia's pro day in front of a sizable Falcons contingent. AP Photo/John Bazemore

The others Falcons coaches in attendance included defensive assistants Marquand Manuel, Jerome Henderson, Chad Walker and Doug Mallory, along with assistant offensive line coach Keith Carter and special teams intern Lance Schulters.

Director of college scouting Steve Sabo and scout Anthony Robinson also attended the session.

Having such a large contingent at the pro day appeared to symbolize a change in philosophy for the Falcons, who made changes their pro personnel and college scouting departments this offseason. However, Dimitroff sounded as if such was normal procedure.

The Falcons didn't have a big group at Georgia's pro day last year.

"I think it was unfortunate last year; we had some timing issues," Dimitroff said. "We happened to be on the road at another private workout that we were doing, and it presented itself that we were there. So we, obvious, didn't have the same coverage.

"We do believe, there's no question, that we need to cover the local teams very, very well because that's important to us. It's a philosophy about making sure that you tap in into the Georgia talent."

The 6-6, 248-pound Floyd, a inside-outside linebacker/pass-rusher who played all over the field at Georgia, has been projected to go to the Falcons at No. 17 in some mock drafts. Floyd did not complete all the testing Wednesday after coming down with a stomach illness, but he has the length the Falcons desire.

"Obviously, he's a top-notch athlete who has the ability to get up and around the corner, and he's a very versatile athlete," Dimitroff said. "He's multi-facet in his approach to this game, and that's always a positive."

Floyd posted a 35-inch vertical during the workout. A New York Jetsrepresentative took Floyd away for an extended conversation immediately after the pro day workout. Floyd said he has a private workout scheduled Monday with the Oakland Raiders a dinner scheduled March 25 with Indianapolis Colts.

"I feel like I rush the best," Floyd said of his talent. "Whether it's rushing against the tackle or either rushing against a running back, I feel like I pass-rush the best."

Another Georgia linebacker, Jordan Jenkins, said he has private workouts upcoming with the Raiders, New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints. Jenkins ran the 40 in 4.76 seconds Wednesday and had a 38-inch vertical, according to the numbers compiled by the school.

The Falcons sorely need to improve their pass-rush after finishing last in the league with 19 sacks last season. They also need linebackers capable of getting out in coverage.

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and Buffalo Bills coach Rex Ryan also attended the pro day.

 

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Georgia's Leonard Floyd views himself as DeMarcus Ware

  • Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer

Draft prospect Leonard Floyd from Georgia, a projected first-round pick, wants to model his game after one NFL player in particular.

``I want to be the spitting image of DeMarcus Ware,'' Floyd said of the Broncos' veteran, who has 134.5 career sacks. ``He's dominant. He makes tackles look weak and scared. I just want to be able to dominate the game like he has -- for years, too.''

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Floyd, a defensive end/linebacker, could be someone the Falcons seriously consider with the 17th overall pick. They sent 16 staff members out to Georgia's pro day on Wednesday, where Floyd was the main attraction despite not completing the workout due to a stomach ailment.

But the Falcons are well aware of Floyd's star potential based on his film. Floyd had an extensive conversation with head coach Dan Quinn on Wednesday.

``I got a great vibe from him,'' Floyd said. ``I can tell he's a great person. But I'm getting good vibes from everyone. But, yes, I good a good vibe from him.''

The Falcons view Floyd as potentially an inside linebacker with the ability to thrive as a blitzer, and he's a guy who has the length and range to cover tight ends, such as Carolina's Greg Olsen, from sideline to sideline. Teams around the league seem to be split on what position best suits Floyd, but he views himself as a pass-rusher first.

``I see myself with that speed off the edge, or either playing some inside [linebacker] and on third down, going to the edge,'' Floyd said.

As a coach noted Wednesday, there was one game film during which Floyd lined up at inside linebacker, outside linebacker and defensive end all in one half.

The biggest obstacle for Floyd, however, will be overcoming concerns about his weight. He's slight in build and won't overpower offensive linemen. Floyd stands 6-6 and currently weighs 248 pounds.

``I want to be at least 255; that's my goal,'' Floyd said. ``I just have to keep eating. Three times a day, just making sure I get it in.''

So is it first round or bust for Floyd?

``Just first round,'' he said. ``Don't put no bust behind it.''

 

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On ‎3‎/‎14‎/‎2016 at 8:33 PM, blkbigdog35 said:

Don't expect much from Mohamed Sanu in Atlanta

  • Mike ClayESPN Writer

 

Eyeing a replacement for Roddy White, the Falcons signed ex-Bengals wide receiver Mohamed Sanu to a five-year, $32.5 million contract. The expensive price tag is further evidence of the growing necessity for wide receiver depth across the league, as Sanu is at best a pedestrian talent at the position.

A 2012 third-round pick, Sanu hauled in 152 passes for 1,793 yards and 11 touchdowns during his four years in Cincinnati. A versatile weapon, Sanu also attempted five passes (he completed all five for 177 yards and two scores) and carried the ball 26 times for 153 yards and two more touchdowns.

EDITOR'S PICKS

 

Sanu usually worked as Cincinnati's No. 3 wideout and a situational gadget player, but, with A.J. Green, Marvin Jones and Tyler Eifertmissing significant time with injuries, he was forced into playing 93 percent of the team's snaps during a career-year in 2014. He parlayed the playing time into 56 receptions, 790 yards and five touchdowns, but was mostly inefficient and dropped seven passes that season.

Across four seasons, Sanu has finished a week among the top 10 wide receivers in fantasy points four times and among the top 20 receivers four additional times. Despite Cincinnati's offensive explosion in 2015, Sanu failed to record a single top-20 week and was inside the top 30 only twice.

Sanu is not a particularly good wide receiver, but Atlanta was (and still is) extremely desperate for offensive playmakers. The versatile Sanu is the current favorite for a starting gig opposite Julio Jones, which would put him in position for decent volume in Atlanta's pass-first, high-volume offense. That said, Sanu's inefficiencies could very well lead to sophomore Justin Hardy or a future draft/free-agent acquisition overtaking him on the depth chart. Sanu is a fine late-round flier, but both his floor and ceiling are very low.

Well do know who this writer is but I'm going to take a wait and see approach with Sanu.

This is a fantasy football article. No one would draft Sanu as a starter in fantasy or any other number two wide receiver except for depth. 800 yards and 6 TDs isn't enough production to draft Sanu in fantasy but that's probably all we need out of him to go to the playoffs and move the chains.

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8 hours ago, Ben Day Hoe said:

This is a fantasy football article. No one would draft Sanu as a starter in fantasy or any other number two wide receiver except for depth. 800 yards and 6 TDs isn't enough production to draft Sanu in fantasy but that's probably all we need out of him to go to the playoffs and move the chains.

I totally agree but those numbers you posted would greatly help out this offense.  

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Falcons owner Arthur Blank disappointed by coaches' conduct at combine

  • Tania GanguliESPN Staff Writer

BOCA RATON, Fla. -- Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank says he was disappointed in the conduct of two assistant coaches at the NFL scouting combine.

"Sure. Yeah. So was our coach," Blank told ESPN. "I think [head coach Dan Quinn has] dealt with both of them directly -- both of the position coaches where that took place -- and made our values clear and our culture clear to them and to the other coaches as well. I know it's not who we are and it's not who our coach is."

Secondary coach Marquand Manuel asked draft prospect Eli Apple about his sexual orientation while at the combine. A second combine incident involved defensive line coach Bryan Cox shoving an Arizona Cardinals scout during an informal interview session.

"The Falcons coach, one of the coaches, was like, 'So do you like men?'" Apple told Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia. "It was like the first thing he asked me. It was weird. I was just like, 'No.' He was like, 'If you're going to come to Atlanta, sometimes that's how it is around here. You're going to have to get used to it.' I guess he was joking, but they just ask most of these questions to see how you're going to react."

Quinn said in a statement at the time that the question was not asked during a formal interview but that he spoke to all the coaches on his staff about the incident. He added the Falcons had a training seminar at the facility with a league-approved counselor regarding social responsibility.

"I take full responsibility for the inappropriate question I asked at the combine," Marquand said in a statement released on March 7. "It was wrong and I apologize to Eli Apple, Mr. Blank, the entire Falcons organization, my family and our Falcon fans for my insensitivity.

"I understand it was inappropriate and the offense people have taken to it. I have had an individual counseling session on social responsibility today and was part of a staff session as well and found it very valuable in learning from this situation."

 

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Arthur Blank: No need to further urge governor not to sign anti-gay bill

6:04 PM ET
  • mcclure_vaughn_m.jpg&w=80&h=80&scale=cro
    Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer

Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank said there is no need to urge Georgia Governor Nathan Deal not to sign an anti-gay bill that could jeopardize the city of Atlanta's chance of hosting the Super Bowl.

Speaking to ESPN.com's Tania Ganguli at the NFL owners meetings, Blank said his statement on Friday's denouncing House Bill 757 was enough of a message. The legislation aims to enable religious leaders to refuse to perform same sex-marriages and allow tax-funded groups to deny services to gay men and lesbians.

"I've already made my statement and I've communicated to the governor and his staff in that way,"Blank told Ganguli. "I think the governor knows how I feel.

" I have great respect for the governor and for his leadership over the years and his values, and I know he's heard from both sides and people in the business community and the civic community. I think he'll think this through and come to a thoughtful decision. I'm optimistic he'll handle it in a way in keeping with his decision making in the past. … I have great trust and confidence in the governor. I'm sure that the process will end up in a good place for us and for the city and state.''

Deal acknowledged he has a tough decision to make and plans to review the bill in April. The pressure from business owners across the state, from Blank's strong statement, and from the NFL could sway Deal from signing the bill.

There is no doubt the matters needs to be resolved sooner than later. Atlanta is bidding on the 2019 and 2020 Super Bowls, hoping to host one in the new, $1.4 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium, set to be open in the summer of 2017. The bids for those Super Bowls will be awarded at the spring meeting in Charlotte (May 23-25) with Miami, Tampa, New Orleans, and Los Angeles the other contenders.

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Arthur Blank's admiration for departed Roddy White unquestioned

12:20 AM ET
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    Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer

Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank knew it wouldn't be easy to part ways with the franchise's all-time leading receiver.

Three weeks later, it wasn't any easier for Blank to talk about Roddy White no longer being a part of his franchise. Blank reiterated his great respect for White during a conversation with ESPN.com's Tania Ganguli at the owners meetings in Boca Raton, Florida.

"Very difficult when you lose a player that has that kind of relationship with your franchise for 12 years both on and off the field," Blank said. "You respect the decision process that football operations, coaching staff and personnel had to go through in making these difficult decisions. That’s what they have to do.

"[It] doesn’t take away from my personal feelings about [White] or what he meant to our franchise or what he means to our family. Our family is not only my family, but the family of Atlanta."

The 34-year-old White, who was released with two years left on his contract, left Atlanta with some bitter feelings toward offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. White has yet to find a new job, but many anticipate the Tampa Bay Buccaneersand new head coach Dirk Koetter, formerly the Falcons offensive coordinator, will show interest eventually.

Koetter, who called White the single-most competitive player he ever coached, is likely to address the matter when he sits down with the media Wednesday morning at the owners meetings.

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Dan Quinn: Devin Hester would get green light despite rule change

12:18 PM ET
  • mcclure_vaughn_m.jpg&w=80&h=80&scale=cro
    Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer

The Atlanta Falcons still have a decision to make regarding the roster status of veteran return man Devin Hester, but a healthy Hester probably would get the green light on some kickoff returns despite an NFL rules change.

NFL owners approved a new rule that would have the ball spotted at the 25-yard line rather than the 20 on touchbacks. The intent appears to be to limit the number of returns and the injuries that come with such a violent part of the game, although the number of short kickoffs could increase as well to negate the 25-yard markoff.

If the Falcons bring back Devin Hester it won't be to catch kickoffs and kneel in the end zone. AP Photo/John Bazemore

Such a chance to decrease returns would appear to limit the effectiveness of a player such as Hester, who has a career average of 24.9 yards per kickoff return. Considering plenty of kickoffs go deep into the end zone, the tradeoff for a 25-yard return as opposed to having the ball spotted at the 25 would entice returners to take the sure 25.

Falcons coach Dan Quinn said that won't necessarily be the case with Hester, provided Hester is on the roster and gets his step back following toe surgery.

"Boy, I think if it was really deep, there would be some times where we say, `OK, we'll take at the 25, we're comfortable with that,'" Quinn said. "I think there are special players like Dev and others returners around the league, they'll still get green-lighted. Here's a guy who is on the club for this unique reason, we've got to go.

"The league this [past] year, the average was about 60-percent touchbacks, so only 40 percent came out for an overall number. That's a high number going into it. But the guys who have the unique stuff, I think you take your shot. There also might be a time that we need a spark here and it's the fourth quarter. You give a guy a green light when he has unique stuff. It may not be the kickoff in the second quarter that he's 8 yards deep, but you might think about it at the end of the game to say, `Hey, this is our time to take a shot. He's coming out if he's 9 yards deep.' It will be a lot of discussion during the year, for sure. ... There's a lot of strategy.''

Again, there is uncertainty about the roster status of the 33-year-old Hester, who holds the NFL record with 20 career return touchdowns. He is due to make $3 million in 2016 and has a cap figure of $3,833,334 going into the final year of his contract. Releasing Hester would save the Falcons $3 million against the cap, but no move is expected until Hester recovers from toe surgery, an injury that limited him to five games last season.

Hester, no longer utilized as a wide receiver, made the Pro Bowl as a returner during his first season with the Falcons (2014). That year, he had 28 kickoff returns of 20-plus yards, including a 66-yarder.

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Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer 

Unsigned Chris Chester, the Falcons starting RG from last season, is still an option, according to coach Dan Quinn. Chester, who said he would ponder whether to continue his career following offseason shoulder surgery, still wants to play and has drawn interest from three other teams outside of the Falcons, according to a league source.

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Falcons weighing guard options with Ted Larsen visit

  • Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer

Despite the addition of three-time Pro Bowl center Alex Mack, the Falcons are far from content with the interior of the offensive line.

The team continued its search for guard help Thursday by hosting free-agentTed Larsen, last with Arizona. Larsen started the final 10 games of 2015, taking over for an injured Jonathan Cooper.

ESPN Insider Adam Caplan previously reported that Seattle and San Francisco expressed interest in Larsen, a former sixth-round draft pick of New England who played four years in Tampa and two with Arizona.

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Chris Chester was the Falcons' starting right guard last season but remains unsigned. The 33-year-old veteran plans to keep playing despite offseason shoulder surgery. Chester is generating interest from three teams other than the Falcons, but coach Dan Quinn said Wednesday that Chester remains an option.

If the season started today, Mike Person likely would be the best option at right guard, and the team is not sold on Person after a failed experiment at center.

The Falcons also could go the draft route for guard help. They put North Carolina State offensive lineman Joe Thuney through position drills Thursday. Thuney is capable of playing any position along the line.

Larsen visit coincided with a visit from free agent outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw, last with the Ravens.

In other news, the Falcons announced the re-signing of veteran linebackerPhilip Wheeler.

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Courtney Upshaw gives Falcons a physical LB, decision to make on Reed

 

Vaughn McClure

ESPN.com |  Top 6th 


 

Falcons coach Dan Quinn always preaches playing fast and physical. Quinn now has a physical linebacker in the fold in Courtney Upshaw.

The former second-round pick of the Baltimore Ravens out of Alabama agreed to terms with the Falcons on a one-year deal Friday evening. He is likely to step into a role at strongside linebacker, where the Falcons thought they had a capable physical presence in Brooks Reed, last year's most costly free-agent signing.

In the 26-year-old Upshaw, the Falcons get a 6-foot-2, 272-pound load of a linebacker. This is how one longtime NFL personnel man assessed what Upshaw could bring to the Falcons:


"He's a big, power rusher. He doesn't get a lot of sacks, but the Falcons need some power, too. He's not going to beat you with all kind of quickness and athletic ability and movement. He's going to beat you with strength, size, and power. He's a run-stopper who will get some rush. It will be more or less about pushing people back into the quarterback. Guys like that don't get 10 sacks. They get like five or six and that's a big year for them."

We'll see how Quinn views Upshaw's role when he addresses the media to talk about the signing.

Meanwhile, questions remain about Reed's role moving forward and how Upshaw's signing affects O'Brien Schofield, one of last year's team leaders and a guy Quinn wanted back with the Falcons. Schofield earned the starting role at strongside linebacker ahead of Reed last season, but it was a role Schofield wasn't all that comfortable with because it took him out of pass-rush situations.

Schofield has other options, although he does have an offer on the table from the Falcons. But he might not have a significant role on defense in Atlanta, as compared to somewhere else.

As for Reed, the Falcons put him more in a nickel-rusher role at the end of last season. He didn't contribute much, with no sacks and just 17 tackles in 13 games (five starts).

Would the Falcons admit they made a mistake and part ways with Reed? That might be hard to imagine, considering it was the first so-called big acquisition under Quinn's watch. But we'll see how the scenario unfolds. A total of $2.1 million of Reed's $2.5 million base salary in 2016 became fully guaranteed on the third day of the new league year. Cutting Reed would count $320,000 against the cap.
The Atlanta Falcons have agreed to contract terms with former Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw, the team announced Friday evening.

Financial terms were not immediately available, but a source told ESPN that the deal is for one year.

Upshaw also visited the New York Jets before agreeing to join the Falcons.

The Ravens' top pick in the 2012 draft (35th overall), Upshaw, 26, was an unheralded edge-setter in Baltimore, ranking fourth on the team with 177 tackles since his rookie season.

He didn't live up to expectations as a pass-rusher and eventually split time at outside linebacker with Elvis Dumervil. Upshaw finished with five sacks in four seasons and went a stretch of 36 games without recording a full sack.
Upshaw started for the Ravens in their 2012 Super Bowl season and never missed a game during his time in Baltimore. He was one of two Ravens starters who were unrestricted free agents, along with offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele.
In Atlanta, Upshaw is likely to fill the need for a physical presence at strongside linebacker. The Falcons thought they found the answer last year in free agency when they signed Brooks Reed to a five-year, $22.5 million contract, which included $9 million guaranteed. However, Reed struggled to find his place after undergoing groin surgery and eventually lost his starting role to O'Brien Schofield.

Schofield, who was offered a contract to return to the Falcons, might not have a place on the team now with Upshaw's signing.

Upshaw joins a Falcons free-agent signing class that also includes three-time Pro Bowl center Alex Mack from the Cleveland Browns, wide receiver Mohamed Sanu from the Cincinnati Bengals, quarterback Matt Schaub from the Ravens and defensive lineman Derrick Shelby from the Miami Dolphins.

The Falcons also re-signed linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, a former first-round draft pick who played for the Arizona Cardinals last season.

ESPN Ravens reporter Jamison Hensley contributed to this report.

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Breaking down Courtney Upshaw's one-year contract with Falcons

3:48 PM ET
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    Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer

The Falcons' latest move in free agency was the addition of Courtney Upshaw, a physical outside linebacker who was a second-round draft pick of the Baltimore Ravens in 2012 out of Alabama.

Upshaw signed just a one-year deal with the Falcons worth $1.25 million. Here is how the deal breaks down:

Base salary: $760,000

Signing bonus: $390,000

Roster bonus: $100,000 ($6,250 per game on 46-man roster)

Other: Up to $250,000 in incentives based on playing time (not likely to be earned)

2016 cap numbers for players Falcons signed from other teams:

C Alex Mack (Browns): $4,050,000

WR Mohamed Sanu (Bengals): $2,400,000

DL Derrick Shelby (Dolphins): $2,250,000

QB Matt Schaub (Ravens): $1,750,000

WR Sean Weatherspoon (Cardinals): $1,437,500

OLB Courtney Upshaw: $1,250,000

OL Tom Compton (Redskins): $760,000

LB LaRoy Reynolds (Bears): $675,000

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Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, teammates gather for passing camp

8:53 PM ET
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    Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said it would be a good idea to get the guys together this offseason to throw for unscheduled workouts.

His words came to fruition Tuesday.

Entertainer Luther Campbell, who mentored Falcons running back Devonta Freeman growing up in Miami, broke the news of the Falcons gathering at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale for workout sessions. Freeman was part of the group with event-organizer Ryan along with Julio Jones, newcomer Mohamed Sanu, and receivers Justin Hardy and Nick Williams, among others. Tight end Jacob Tamme previously stated his intentions to be a part of such activities, like he did in the past while teammates with Peyton Manning. As promised, Tamme made the trip to Florida, as did fellow tight end Levine Toilolo.

Cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford also were part of the group, among other defensive backs.

The group basically went through a warm-up session Tuesday of catching passes and working out, according to one source. Heavy rains eventually cut the workout short. The group will be together until Thursday.

This is a good sign for the Falcons as they try to shake off their offensive woes from last season.

Ryan, who had 16 interceptions and five lost fumbles last season, was asked on radio after the season if such sessions could help build offensive and team chemistry.

"I think that's something that we do need to do," Ryan told former teammate and radio personality Brian Finneran on 680 the Fan. "For a long time, we had been a veteran team at those positions, whether it be at the tight end spot with Tony Gonzalez or wide receivers where we had veteran guys for a long time. I think we're young. We're young across the board.

"I think extra time put in together, whether it be here in Atlanta -- so many guys are here in the offseason, which is huge for us -- or whether it's getting together somewhere else and spending some time together and working together and trying to iron out some of the details and be a little bit more refined than we were this past season, I think that's a really good idea."

The workout sessions are scheduled to continue at 10 a.m. Wednesday. The Falcons return to their own facility for the offseason program on April 18.

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Atlanta Falcons

 


ESPN.com  


 

cornerback Jalen Collins has been suspended without pay for the first four games of the 2016 season for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances, the team announced Friday.

"We are disappointed to hear the news regarding Jalen today," Falcons coach Dan Quinn said in a prepared statement. "I have already spoken to Jalen about this, and I have no doubt this will be something that he will learn from."

The Falcons took a chance on Collins when they drafted him out of LSU in the second round last season. Collins admitted failing multiple drug tests related to marijuana while in school.

Collins was a disappointment as a rookie, starting only two games. The Falcons had envisioned him as the type of lanky, physical corner capable of complementing Desmond Trufant on the outside, with Robert Alford covering in the slot. Alford maintained his starting role outside as Collins had 12 tackles with no interceptions and no passes defensed.

"I felt I could have done better," Collins told ESPN.com after the season. "I really didn't play to the best of my ability throughout the whole season."

Collins can participate in the offseason program starting April 18 and preseason practices and games.

With the uncertainty over what Collins will be able to contribute next season, Falcons are likely to look at cornerbacks in the draft.

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