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Falcons Offseason News

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Nick Wright thinks the Falcons confirmed all the stereotypes of a ‘soft, finesse, dome football team’


Jan 15, 2018 at 10:06a ET

FOX Sports  


- I would love to sit here and give Philly credit. Because I have been skeptical of them. I was skeptical pre Carson Wentz injury. I was super skeptical post Carson Wentz injury. Now they won. They're going to host the NFC title game. So I'd love to sit here and talk about how the story is the Philadelphia Eagles. But that is not the story of this football game to me.

The story is the Atlanta Falcons confirming every negative stereotype of a soft finesse dome football team out in some cold weather. You score zero points in the second half? Philly has the running back fumble in the first drive of the game. They muff a punt early in the game. They put the ball on the ground four separate times early in this football game. And you have one touchdown the whole game? It's after the muffed punt? You don't have a single prolonged touchdown drive the entire football game? You were up at halftime of a playoff game where Nick Foles, the other quarterback. The other team doesn't even score a touchdown on the second half. They get two field goals. And you lose that game?

Other than Julio Jones, who showed up for Atlanta's offense? Matt Ryan, who is-- Julio Jones, by the way, had to be the Falcons' best offensive player. And because of the passes Matt Ryan was throwing, their best defensive player with three pass break ups early in the game. Like, it was-- this was an embarrassing performance for Atlanta, which had it all set up for them. You play well against the Rams. You don't seem ready. They don't give the ball to Todd Gurley. You then get to play the Eagles and Nick Foles for a chance to play the Vikings and go back to Super Bowl.

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Atlanta Falcons have key free agency decisions to make


UPI | 2018-01-15T14:35:50-05:00



of 3

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- First up on the offseason agenda for the Atlanta Falcons is to get ready for free agency.

After the defending NFC champs were eliminated from the playoffs Saturday by the Eagles, there are some key personnel decisions to make before the new business year rolls around in March.

The NFL salary cap has been projected to be between $174 million and $178 million, according to NFL Media. The official number will not be known until March.

Last season's salary cap was $167 million. The Falcons are in the bottom third of the league and are projected to have $18 million in available salary-cap space.

They can cut some players and renegotiate some deals in order to create some more room.

The 49ers, Browns, Jets and Colts are projected to have more than $80 million in salary-cap space can and that could drive up the market for players that the Falcons want to retain.

The Falcons must decide if they want to re-sign defensive tackle Dontari Poe, defensive end Adrian Clayborn and kicker Matt Bryant.

Poe played this past season on an incentive-laden contract, which had a base salary of $8 million. He bet on himself and had a solid season. He played 868 defensive snaps, the second highest on the team behind defensive tackle Grady Jarrett's 870. He also played eight snaps on offense.

Poe was the seventh-highest paid defensive tackle in the league. The Dolphins' Ndamukong Suh is slated to be the highest paid defensive tackle in the league at $16.9 million next season.

Clayborn led the team in sacks with 10.5. He played 576 snaps, the third-highest total along the defensive line. He had the 21st highest base salary of defensive ends in the league. Brooks Reed was 17th with a base salary of $4.1 million.

Bryant will turn 43 on May 29, but showed no signs of slowing down. He was the Falcons' key offensive weapon last season and the reason they reached the playoffs and won a game on the road. He made nine field goals in the two playoff games.

Bryant was the 11th-highest paid kicker in the league last season at $1.45 million. The Panthers' Graham Gano and the Cowboys' Dan Bailey were the top-paid kickers at $3.2 million in 2017.

In addition to the big three, fullback Derrick Coleman and Ben Garland, who finished the season at the starting left guard, are also set to become free agents.

Garland's situation will be tied to the decision on whether to bring back starting left guard Andy Levitre, who's set to make $7 million in 2018. He suffered a torn triceps and missed three full games and played just five snaps in one game.

Other projected unrestricted free agents include wide receiver Taylor Gabriel, linebacker Kemal Ishmael, returner Andre Roberts, defensive tackles Courtney Upshaw and Ahtyba Rubin, offensive tackle Austin Pasztor, cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson, linebackers Sean Weatherspoon and Jordan Tripp, cornerback Leon McFadden and wide receiver Nick Williams.


--PASSING OFFENSE: C-minus - The Falcons called a sprint-out to the right on fourth-and-2 with the game on the line. The Eagles knew the play. Jones fell down, but got back up and nearly made a circus catch on a jump-ball pass that Ryan tossed up for him. The pass fell incomplete. Ryan's touchdown pass to Freeman looked like part shovel pass and part shot put as he bounced up on one leg and heaved it across his body into the end zone. Ryan moved the ball around to six receivers. Mohamed Sanu had a 24-yard reception in the second quarter. With the Falcons down 12-10 and needing a drive, Freeman failed to pick up blitzing safety Rodney McLeod on first down. The Falcons couldn't overcome the 10-yard loss and were forced to punt. Jones caught nine passes for 101 yards. Ryan completed 22-of-36 passes for 210 yards.

--RUSHING OFFENSE: C - Freeman wasn't healthy and shouldn't have been playing with a sprained knee. The Falcons were determined to run the ball outside against the Eagles. They tested defensive tackles Fletcher Cox and Tim Jernigan on the interior sparingly. During the opening drive, on first-and-10 from the Eagles' 17-yard line, they tried to run up the middle, but Cox split a double-team block from center Alex Mack and right guard Wes Schweitzer. Cox dropped Freeman for a 1-yard loss. Cox had his way most of the day. The Falcons continued to use tackle Ty Sambrailo as a blocking tight end. Freeman struggled on his stretch runs, while Coleman was able to work the edges. The Eagles entered the game with the league's top-ranked run defense, which gave up 79.2 yards per game in the regular season. Coleman rushed 10 times for 79 yards.

--PASS DEFENSE: C -- After a punt late in the second quarter, safety Keanu Neal had a potential interception clank off his knee. Eagles wide receiver Torrey Smith caught the deflection and ran 20 yards to the 50. A 15-yard pass to Alshon Jeffery got the Eagles in position for a last-second 53-yard field goal from Jake Elliott. The Falcons had the Eagles backed up at their 7-yard line in the third quarter. Foles completed five consecutive passes, three to Jeffery to move the Eagles into field-goal range to retake the lead 12-10 with 11 seconds left in the third quarter. QB Nick Foles completed 23-of-30 passes for 246 yards.

--RUSH DEFENSE: C -- The Eagles fooled the Falcons early with an inside hand-off to wide receiver Nelson Agholor. On fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line, the Eagles ran LeGarrette Blount outside. Falcons linebacker LaRoy Reynolds was working his way over to the play, but Eagles tight end Trey Burton leveled him with a block. The Eagles stayed with the run and started to grind out some yardage late against the Falcons.

--SPECIAL TEAMS: C -- The Falcons' punt coverage team, for the second game in a row, came up big. One of Matt Bosher's punts hit Eagles defensive end Bryan Braman. Reynolds recovered the loose ball. The Falcons converted the turnover into a touchdown.

--COACHING: F -- The Falcons wasted two timeouts in the first half to get the defense organized. When the offense was driving right before the half and needed a timeout after a sack, it didn't have one. The Falcons ended up punting back to the Eagles, who drove for a field goal. The Falcons were horrendous on third downs and in the red zone. A more powerful team could have pounded out those final two yards. The short-yardage package failed them again. This should have been fixed after the failed third-and-1 in the Super Bowl last season.



Copyright © 2018 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. TERMS OF USE | PRIVACY POLICY

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Top draft needs for the Falcons in 2018


By Kevin Knight@FalcoholicKevin Jan 15, 2018, 2:00pm EST

The Falcoholic  


With the 2017 season coming to a close, we begin to look ahead to some of the most pressing needs for the Falcons in the 2018 NFL Draft.

Ah, 2017 season, we barely knew ye. After a disappointing end to the Falcons’ playoff run, we at least receive some clarity on where the Falcons stand heading into 2018. They’re a talented roster plagued by some coaching issues but not many glaring weaknesses. The defense took a huge step forward followed by the offense taking a huge step back. This team was competitive and even won a playoff game on the road, but they weren’t quite Super Bowl-caliber in their current iteration.

We now know that the Falcons will be picking 26th in the upcoming 2018 NFL Draft. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the Falcons’ most pressing positional needs this offseason (unfortunately, offensive coordinator is not a draft-able position).

Defensive tackle

With Dontari Poe and hybrid player Adrian Clayborn almost certainly leaving the Falcons in free agency, the need for a young, athletic talent on the interior to pair with Grady Jarrett approaches the top of the list. The Falcons could go in a lot of different directions here—do they prefer to target a dual-threat interior monster early in the draft, or a more specialized player later on?

There are several very intriguing options with Atlanta’s first round pick. Christian Wilkins from Clemson, Da’Ron Payne from Alabama, Maurice Hurst from Michigan, and Vita Vea from Washington are all good players. At 26th overall, it’s likely that at least one of these players will be available. How these prospects perform at the Senior Bowl and NFL Combine will likely help in determining which is the best fit for the Falcons.


The Falcons have, slowly but surely, been investing resources into the guard position. However, with the potential for Andy Levitre leaving—his $8M cap hit in 2018 is simply too much, and the Falcons don’t have much leverage in asking him to take a pay cut—and the solid but unspectacular play of Wes Schweitzer and Ben Garland, the time to invest a Day 2 pick into the position may be coming.

We don’t really know what we have in last year’s 4th-round pick, Sean Harlow, and I think it’s likely that we see improvement from Schweitzer in 2018. But adding another talented interior offensive lineman into the mix can only help things, and better depth is never a bad thing. All I know is that the duo of Garland and Schweitzer absolutely cannot cut it against premier NFL defensive lines, and that’s the type of opposition they’ll face in the playoffs.


The Falcons could use some better depth at CB, and if the right player materializes, they could try to find an upgrade at nickel too. Brian Poole is a great tackler and a solid player in coverage, but he’s simply not as reliable in man coverage as the rest of the secondary. It’s possible the Falcons could try to convert Poole to a sort of hybrid safety role, playing in big nickel and dime situations.

Regardless of what the Falcons elect to do with Poole, the team should absolutely move to upgrade what is arguably the weakest link in the secondary—if the opportunity presents itself. Even if that player doesn’t start right away, shoring up the CB depth is never a bad idea. You can never have too many talented CBs—remember when both Trufant and Poole went down in a game? I’d much rather trot out a promising rookie than C.J. Goodwin or Blidi Wreh-Wilson.

Offensive weapons

I say “offensive weapons” because on a team like the Falcons--who don’t have many pressing needs—they could easily take a “best weapon available” strategy in the mid-to-late rounds of the 2018 NFL Draft. WR3 is a potential area of need with Taylor Gabriel almost certainly leaving (thanks Sark for having no idea how to utilize him). Talent could be added at RB with Tevin Coleman likely getting starter money elsewhere in 2019. TE is also a possibility with Hooper not necessarily seizing the starting role and Saubert MIA in 2017.

I believe the Falcons should add another RB in the middle rounds due to the absolutely stacked draft class. If the right players are there at the right spots, it would be great to add more talent to the WR and TE corps as well. It’s nice to have flexibility going into the draft, which could allow the Falcons to pick and choose the best values at any offensive skill position. Having someone that could return kicks, too, could allow the team to move on from Andre Roberts—who had a middling season in 2017.

Edge defender

This one is lower on the list now, but could be higher depending on the decisions that the Falcons make with their veterans. Brooks Reed has a $5.4M cap hit. Derrick Shelby has a $5.75M cap hit. Adrian Clayborn is a free agent and will likely demand more than Atlanta can pay. Outside of those three, Vic Beasley and Takkarist McKinley are the only two true edge defenders left on the roster.

Reed has been a solid rotational piece, and Shelby has been one of the Falcons’ best run defenders on the outside. But both are, arguably, overpaid for their level of contribution to the defense. If the Falcons elect to move on from one or both of them, and can’t bring back Clayborn, the need for depth at EDGE becomes a higher priority. Finding a young player that can help out in the rotation at an affordable draft price would be ideal heading into 2018.

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Atlanta Falcons don’t get much love from pro football writers


By James Rael@falcoholicjames Jan 16, 2018, 7:03pm EST

The Falcoholic  


Fact: Julio Jones’ favorite book is “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”

The Atlanta Falcons fell short of their ultimate goal for the 2017 season. With time I’m sure we’ll all move on and start to get excited about the future. Right now we’re still mourning last weekend’s loss in the divisional round, and that’s OK.

Meanwhile, we’ve entered the time of year when various awards and accolades are handed out. Yesterday the Pro Football Writers of America (an organization of accredited writers that cover the NFL) released their All NFL, All AFC, and All NFC teams yesterday. The Falcons weren’t prominently featured.

Only one Falcons player made the “All NFC” team: Julio Jones. This is Jones’ third consecutive selection to the All NFC team. Jones had yet another productive campaign, but he wasn’t one of the NFL’s two best receivers in their estimation. (That’s why he’s on the All NFC team, as opposed to the All NFL team.) The exclusion of all other Falcons is a little head scratching. Quarterback and blocker extraordinaire Alex Mack should’ve garnered some consideration.

Your thoughts?


© 2018 Vox Media, Inc. All Rights Reserved Sports data © STATS 2016

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Atlanta Falcons OC Steve Sarkisian expected to return in 2018


UPI | 2018-01-16T19:01:38-05:00


Despite reports that Steve Sarkisian's job as the Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator might be in jeopardy, head coach Dan Quinn reportedly will not be making a change at that key position.

The Falcons are expected to retain Sarkisian for next season, unless something unforeseen occurs, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Tuesday.

Sarkisian will have the full support of Quinn, according to the report.

In his first season as the Falcons' offensive coordinator, Sarkisian got much of the fans' blame for the team's decline in offensive production.

When Kyle Shanahan was the team's offensive coordinator in 2016, the Falcons ranked second in the NFL in yards per game (415.8), quarterback Matt Ryan was named MVP, the Falcons finished 11-5 during the regular season and got to the Super Bowl.

Under Sarkisian this past season, the Falcons slipped to 364.8 yards per game, finished 10-6 in the regular season and lost in the second round of the playoffs to the Philadelphia Eagles.

The Falcons scored only 10 points against the Eagles and were shut out in the second half. They failed to score after having first-and-goal from the Eagles' 9-yard line at the end of the game.

"There's a lot of things that Sark has brought to our team that we really like in terms of, that could take a long time to go through the different spots," Quinn said Saturday. "So it's easy to place blame all onto one person. That's a shared responsibility when we don't achieve at the level that we would like to."


Copyright © 2018 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. TERMS OF USE | PRIVACY POLICY

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Cardinals to interview Falcons assistant a second time


UPI | 2018-01-17T19:13:56-05:00


The Arizona Cardinals will bring back Atlanta Falcons assistant Keith Armstrong for a second interview for their vacant head coaching vacancy, according to a published report.

Armstrong, the special teams coordinator of the Falcons, will interview with Arizona for a second time on Friday, Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reported.

The Cardinals reportedly have interviewed nine assistant coaches for the position and, per the Arizona Republic, six are still in the running to succeed Bruce Arians.

Other candidates are two coaches with the Philadelphia Eagles -- defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz and quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo -- along with Cardinals defensive coordinator James Bettcher, New England Patriots linebackers coach Brian Flores and Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks.

Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak on Wednesday declined a second interview with Arizona, citing family issues.

Armstrong just completed his 10th season with Atlanta. His coverage units routinely are ranked among the league's top 10. Prior to joining the Falcons, Armstrong spent seven seasons in a similar capacity with the Miami Dolphins.

Arians, 65, retired on New Year's Day after five seasons as the team's head coach. He owned a 49-30-1 mark with the Cardinals and was a two-time NFL Coach of the Year recipient, capturing the honor in 2012 with the Indianapolis Colts and 2014 with the Cardinals.


Copyright © 2018 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. TERMS OF USE | PRIVACY POLICY

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Falcons say extension for QB Matt Ryan is top priority


Michael Rothstein

ESPN.com | 4:56 PM ET


FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said an extension for quarterback Matt Ryan is a top priority this offseason as Ryan moves into the final year of his contract.

"No real comment, just the fact that it will be a focus this offseason," Dimitroff said. "That's one that, interestingly enough, will help create flexibility in what we're doing forward with a number of moves we may be making. Yes, Matt's focus will be the No. 1 focus.'"

Owner Arthur Blank said Ryan "needs to be compensated well, and he will be" after Ryan was named the MVP following the 2016 Super Bowl season. Although Ryan's production dropped off this past season, the Falcons' confidence in him hasn't wavered. Coach Dan Quinn said "we're **** fortunate we've got him," in talking about Ryan's value to the franchise.

Through 10 NFL seasons, Ryan has completed 3,630-of-5,593 passes for 41,796 yards with 260 touchdowns, 126 interceptions, and a career-passer rating of 93.4.

Ryan, the third-overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft, signed a five-year, $103.75 million extension in July of 2013 that included $59 million guaranteed. He is scheduled to make $19.25 million in 2018 with a $21.65 million cap hit, but a longer-term deal could lower that cap figure, creating the flexibility Dimitroff mentioned.

Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford, a close friend of Ryan's, signed a five-year, $135 million contract back in September that included $92 million guaranteed and a $50 million signing bonus, both NFL highs. Stafford and Ryan are represented by the same agent, Tom Condon.

"You're always looking at market value," Dimitroff said. "And you're looking at how the cap is going up. And you're looking at a lot of different things, of course. The reality on it is, when you're the quarterback of Matt's caliber, you're going to set a certain tone for how teams are negotiating.

"I think it's not going to be that difficult of a negotiation, quite honestly. I think we're going to be in a good spot with it. Yeah, we do have to be creative. We always have to be creative."

The Falcons typically complete such lucrative, long-term deals prior to the start of training camp.

Ryan, who turns 33 in May, believes he has plenty of good years left. Dimitroff can see Ryan playing into his 40s, like New England's Tom Brady.

"Personally, that is my feeling," Dimitroff said. "I think he's a guy who takes care of his body both on and off the field properly. He does a lot work on the field. He's good about his nutrition and his approach. ... We want him to be a part of this organization for a long time coming."

Dimitroff said re-signing kicker Matt Bryant, who turns 43 in May, also is a priority. Bryant made 34 of 39 field goals this past season and all 35 extra points.

"Matt Bryant is one that we're going to talk to here soon about what's going on next season," Dimitroff said. "I think Matt did a heck of a job for us this year. In a lot of ways, he stepped up to the ball and rose to the occasion. I was very proud of him, as I know Dan was. Having a guy who continues to fight age, but he does a very good job with it. He continues to come through for us. He's an important part."

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Atlanta Falcons interview Ken Dorsey for quarterbacks coach vacancy


UPI | 2018-01-18T16:21:04-05:00


The Atlanta Falcons will interview Ken Dorsey for the vacant quarterbacks coach opening, according to a report.

Dorsey, who was fired by the Carolina Panthers along with offensive coordinator Mike Shula following a postseason loss at New Orleans, will be the third coach to interview for the position, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

"We are right in the middle of it," Falcons head coach Dan Quinn told the newspaper of the search for a successor to Bush Hamdan, who moved on to become the offensive coordinator at the University of Washington.

Dorsey served as Carolina's quarterbacks coach from 2013-17 following two seasons as a pro scout for the team. The former University of Miami quarterback played six seasons in the NFL (2003-08) before finishing his playing career in the CFL in 2010.

Greg Knapp, a former offensive coordinator with the Falcons, and former Jacksonville Jaguars coordinator Jedd Fisch already have interviewed for the post.

Also on Thursday, Quinn announced offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian will be returning to the team.


Copyright © 2018 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. TERMS OF USE | PRIVACY POLICY

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Falcons hire Greg Knapp as new quarterbacks coach, SN source says


Alex MarvezUpdated at 9:57 a.m. ETUpdated at 9:57 a.m. ET

Sporting News  


Watch NFL with fuboTV

Matt Ryan has a new tutor.

A source told Sporting News that Atlanta has hired Greg Knapp as its new quarterbacks coach.

The well-traveled Knapp is returning to the franchise where he was offensive coordinator from 2004 to 2006 when Michael Vick was at quarterback. Besides holding that position with the Falcons, Knapp has previously served as OC in San Francisco (2001 to 2003), Oakland (2007-2008, 2012) and Seattle (2009).

Knapp also is learned in the type of West Coast-style offense the Falcons are running from his time working under ex-Atlanta coordinator Kyle Shanahan and former Houston head coach Gary Kubiak during respective stints with the Texans (2010 and 2011) and Broncos (2013-2016).

Knapp, 54, is replacing Bush Hamdan, who is returning to the University of Washington staff after one year with the Falcons.

Knapp and Falcons offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian are now entrusted with helping Ryan return to his MVP level of 2016. Ryan’s completion percentage (69.9 to 64.7), passing yards (4,944 to 4,095) and touchdowns (38 to 20) declined significantly in Sarkisian’s first year replacing Shanahan. Ryan also threw 12 interceptions compared to seven the previous season.

Atlanta (11-7) was eliminated in the second round of the playoffs last weekend by Philadelphia.

Alex Marvez can be heard from 9 a.m. to 12:25 pm ET Sunday and 7 to 11 p.m. ET Monday on SiriusXM NFL Radio.


© 2018 Sporting News Media and its licensors. All rights reserved.

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Every playoff team that has beaten the Falcons in the Matt Ryan era has gone to the Super Bowl


By Dave Choate Jan 22, 2018, 8:00am EST

The Falcoholic  


When the Eagles beat the **** out of the Vikings last night, they didn’t just set up a 2005 Super Bowl rematch with the New England Patriots. They also became the fifth team to beat the Atlanta Falcons in the playoffs and ultimately make it to the Super Bowl while Matt Ryan has been under center. That’s...depressing.

Astute reader DyingLobster on Twitter was the first to point this out to me last night, and it was bracing both to realize the caliber of opponents the Falcons have played during their playoff runs and to realize how maddeningly close they were to being a Super Bowl team more than once pre-2016.

It all began in 2008, Matt Ryan’s rookie season, when the Falcons battled the Arizona Cardinals pretty fiercely before some poor Keith Brooking coverage helped doom them. It continued in 2010, when the Falcons were shellacked by a Packers team that would go on to win the Super Bowl. It got way worse in 2011, when the Falcons scored just two points against the Giants team that would go on to triumph over the Patriots in the Super Bowl. And it was heartbreaking to watch in 2012, when the Falcons got the game of Matt Ryan’s life but ceded a big lead and watched the 49ers go on to lose to the Ravens in the big game.

Now, five years later, history has repeated itself. The Eagles fought through what looks like a hellaciously impressive defensive effort from the Falcons to win 15-10, and now they get the honor and pleasure of trying not to lose to the Patriots in the Super Bowl. The Falcons have needed to be good an awful lot of the time over the last decade to keep winding up in this position, but in the end they’ve only been good enough to actually make the Super Bowl once in that span, and they’re still in search of their first Lombardi Trophy.

We’ll hope that Falcons fix that particular trend in 2018, when they’ll have the chance to win one in Atlanta and still will have one of the NFL’s most talented rosters on paper. I’m awfully tired of watching other teams roll past Atlanta en route to the Super Bowl, and next year might be the best opportunity the Falcons get for a while.


© 2018 Vox Media, Inc. All Rights Reserved Sports data © STATS 2016

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Rumor: Broncos have several suitors for Trevor Siemian, including the Atlanta Falcons


By Scotty Payne@Skotty_Payne Jan 23, 2018, 5:00am MST

Mile High Report  


Roster Watch is reporting that the Broncos have several suitors for quarterback Trevor Siemian and that the Atlanta Falcons could have interest after hiring former Broncos quarterbacks coach Greg Knapp.

The Broncos are moving on from Trevor Siemian because he failed to be a consistent starting option for them the past two seasons and his injury woes kept him off the field a bit. Also, the Broncos are on the lookout for a new starting quarterback which makes Siemian expendable.

Several teams will be looking for a starting quarterback this offseason including the Cleveland Browns, New York Jets, Miami Dolphins, Washington, Arizona Cardinals, and the Buffalo Bills. Now, Siemian likely will not be handed a starting job, but he could provide competition for a young first or second round pick.

He could also serve as a steady backup behind an established veteran say like the Atlanta Falcons starter Matt Ryan as they speculated. Matt Schaub is currently Ryan’s backup so Siemian could serve as an upgrade there.

Knapp was Gary Kubiak’s quarterback's coach when the Broncos selected him in the seventh round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Knapp even went to work Siemian out prior to the draft and was a big supporter of his while in Denver. So you can do some dot connecting there.

I wouldn’t expect much in return for Siemian. A conditional pick that goes up depending on how much he plays for if/when he is dealt this offseason seems like a fair return.

Either way, it appears that Siemian’s time with the Broncos is coming to an end.

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Atlanta Falcons Turn to ‘Plan D’ to Return to the Thick of the NFC Postseason




•The development of players plays vital role in Atlanta overcoming Super Bowl 51 failures and returning to the cusp of another NFC championship game berth
•Other sections include: how Kirk Cousins holds all the cards; why Green Bay has a good plan in place; the truth about Jon Gruden’s coaching capabilities, and more

You probably won’t be paying much attention to Wes Schweitzer late on Saturday afternoon. He is, after all, a right guard, and right guards don’t flash much on TV unless they’re doing something really, really wrong. So to you, he’ll probably just kind of be there among the Falcons offensive linemen.

But to the guys running the show in Atlanta, he embodies where the team is.

The Falcons spent the 195th pick in the 2016 draft on Schweitzer, and promptly shelved him. He made the team. He didn’t get so much as to wear a game jersey all year. And he developed through the team’s Plan D program. That meant working with backup guard Ben Garland after practice. It meant extra classroom work. It meant time with the player engagement and athletic performance staffs.

It wasn’t as valuable as the experience that Schweitzer's draft classmates Keanu Neal, Deion Jones, De’Vondre Cambell and Austin Hooper were getting. But it was the next best thing. Most importantly, because he committed to it, it worked.

“It’s a major feather in (line coach) Chris Morgan’s cap, because he really focused on developing Wes for the very situation that occurred this year,” GM Thomas Dimitroff said from his office Wednesday. “We were on the hunt for a right guard when Chris Chester retired, and we knew Wes was going to be right in that mix, and he battled his *** off, both he and Ben (Garland), and he won the job fair and square.

“And he continues to learn on the fly, because he wasn’t on the field last year, and he’s learning fast.”

Let’s be honest. Most of the talk on the Falcons since Super Bowl LI has focused on one of two things—the collapse in that game and blown leads early this season, and the loss of Kyle Shanahan and the offense’s struggles. That’s fair since both have colored how the 2017 team got here.

And yet, by “here”, we mean the divisional playoffs. This Falcons team picked apart all year is one of eight left standing, and one win over a Nick Foles-led Eagles group from returning to the NFC Championship Game.

How’d they do it? Plan D is a big part of it. And Schweitzer qualifies as Exhibit A.

In this week’s Game Plan, we’re going to hit you with a lot of rumors from the NFL’s annual job market; explain why Brian Gutekunst was the right pick for right now in Green Bay; dig deeper into where Foles holds Philly back and where he doesn’t; show you how Lane Kiffin was a big part of Jon Gruden’s demise in Tampa; and break down the strong leverage point from which Kirk Cousins will operate.

But we’re going to start with an Atlanta contingent that was doubted, and seemed almost spooked, earlier in the season—and somehow lived through it to strike Midnight on the Rams’ Cinderella season last weekend, and head into this weekend as a very real threat to repeat as NFC champion out of the bracket’s final seed.

And the story of Atlanta is well told through that win in LA, because it was the defense that, once again, carried the night. The Falcons’ young front got to Jared Goff consistently, 2013 draft picks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford shined at corner, and all of it bought time for the star-studded offense to get untracked.

Nine of the defense’s 11 starters were homegrown, and six of those nine have come aboard since Dan Quinn came on in 2015. He and Dimitroff began to push Plan D to the point where it’s become a big part of everything the Falcons do. And those numbers are counting the contributions of 2017 rookies Takk McKinley and Duke Riley, who played key roles as reserves.

So what exactly is Plan D? The “D” is for development, and the phrase was coined by Dimitroff to emphasize the importance of Atlanta becoming a machine in bringing up quality young talent through the program as he survived Mike Smith’s firing in 2015 and was part of the group that picked Quinn to take over.

One of the reasons Quinn appealed to that group, in fact, was that he was part of a Seattle group that drafted and developed what had become arguably the league’s best roster. Quinn told them that he was invested in developing talent and committed to playing draft picks early, which was just what Dimitroff wanted to hear as he and his staff worked to get the franchise out of a slump.

“We had a very challenging draft in 2012, and we’ve spent a lot of time since 2012 looking at where we need to shore up our focus and how we need to adjust moving forward,” Dimitroff said. “And a lot of it has to do with lucid communication with the coaching staff, and discerning what’s needed, and where the stresses are within the roster from year to year. That’s important, everyone knows it, that’s not a mystery.

“When you have co-team-builders, it’s vital that you communicate well on how you’re building the roster.”

That was the first piece and, in many ways, it really came to life a year after the Dimitroff/Quinn pairing was consummated with the draft that brought a Kam Chancellor-type strong safety (Keanu Neal), a undersized heat-seeking middle linebacker (Deion Jones), and a KJ Wright clone (De’Vondre Campbell) in the first four rounds.

The second piece is actually developing the talent that arrives. For some guys, as both Dimitroff and Quinn wanted, it meant playing right away. That’s how it was for those three aforementioned rising stars. For others, like Schweitzer, it was a result of Quinn and his staff allotting time. “We put so much time in,” Dimitroff said. “Practice time, and outside work or off-practice work, we felt like he was being developed as well as he could without being a starter.”

But it hardly ends there, for any of them. It’s also in growing the players as people and into leaders, which means even those who quickly get into the lineup remain immersed in developing with their peers.

“An emerging leadership plan is something we focused on for sure with players like that,” Dimitroff continued. “We’ve had players who continue to rise to the occasion, like (Deion Jones) and like Grady Jarrett, younger guys who continue to show their ability on the field, and in how they lead the team. That’s another element of Plan D that’s important to us, to continue to determine who those guys are going to be, the next wave of leaders on this football team.”

The final result has been pretty enviable. The Falcons offense returned largely intact this year, and yet, with the loss of Shanahan, stumbled out of the gate. But because a handful of young defensive players took the next step, that unit evolved into a Top 10 group capable of buying its counterpart time to work its problems out. It created an environment where the Falcons don’t have to score 30 points every week to win anymore.

And where there were holes, like the one created by Chester’s retirement, the program had new talent ready. It’s how Schweizer became such a good example of what’s going on there.

‘”I’m very encouraged with our roster and I’m encouraged with the organization’s approach to the roster, the way the coaches are coaching our players, the way we’re utilizing our talent,” Dimitroff said. “We’ve become more and more aware as we’ve stayed together with the continuity of our staff, that it’s very beneficial to how we can continue develop players, and continue to play with the roster.

“That said, any time you have some success, you’re not always not gonna have drafts or acquisitions that are gonna blow the roof off. That’s the reality. But hopefully, you can continue to grow the talent and when there’s attrition, you’re able to rise people up through the depth of your roster.”

The idea is for the cycle that churned out Schweizer to keep spinning, and to that end we can introduce you to Domontae Kazee and Eric Saubert. The former’s a corner, the latter’s a tight end, both were drafted in the fifth round last year and each has shown the sort of signs that Schweizer did last year.

You probably haven’t heard much about either. But if Plan D works again, you will soon.

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Considering the ideal Atlanta Falcons free agent haul for 2018


Dave Choate



Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The team will have limited dollars, so here’s how we’d use them if we had our druthers.

Cory Woodroof

The Falcons have areas they’re going to have to address this free agency. Before we discuss outside guys, let’s look at the three big names internally up for extensions -- Adrian Clayborn, Dontari Poe, Taylor Gabriel. Let’s say Poe and Gabriel get away (one for the money, two for the Garoppolo), and the team re-signs Clayborn. Of other in-house FAs, K Matt Bryant, DT Ahtyba Rubin, LB LaRoy Reynolds and CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson would be ideal candidates to return. Of new faces, I’m big on the team adding a red zone threat, so let’s say Cincy TE Tyler Eifert gets loose from the Bengals. He’s a big-bodied TE with red zone production, and if not for his injury history, would be a top-paid player at the position. With Austin Hooper in tow, the team can afford to gamble on a one-year prove-it deal with Eifert, and rotate he and Hooper around as co-TE1s. Matt Ryan would love having a big TE like Eifert to use in the end zone. Nabbing a fullback would also be nice, and Saints FB Zach Line (PFF’s third-best FB in 2017) is going to be available. He would fill a major need, and make our worst enemy weaker. I’m all in on that scenario. Of new defensive players, consider the status of SeahawksDE Michael Bennett. It’s been tossed about here and there that Seattle may part ways with him one way or the other this offseason, and particularly if he’s released, Atlanta need to make a big push for him. The Falcons would likely be his preferred destination with Dan Quinn his old coach in SEA, and it’d be the kind of statement move that would put this defense up a notch in the league, and the rest of the NFC on notice. I think a trade feels more likely, but if he’s a FA, Atlanta needs to get him. They probably add one or two other new depth guys I could even begin to guess -- like a random linebacker and a veteran offensive lineman. If all of this falls through, Atlanta could focus on adding to the DT, WR and OL spots in the draft.


I’ll keep it simple and go with a basic philosophy rather than specific names. Thomas Dimitroff openly describes himself as a “pure needs-based guy” when it comes to the draft. I prefer a modified version of the BPA approach. One key element of that approach (and one which the TV analysts never bother to mention) is to use free agency to plug the holes so that you aren’t painted into a corner and forced to use your first and/or second round picks at specific positions.

(It’s also important to understand the difference between wanting an upgrade and needing to fill a hole. You might want a better player than the one you have, but if the current guy is remotely competent, it’s not a hole. For example, right guard was a question mark last offseason with Chris Chester’s departure. But it was not a true hole as we had Schweitzer in the pipeline and Garland for competition. By comparison, we didn’t have candidates on the roster when we first lost Justin Blalock. That was a true hole.)

So, my wish list for free agency is for our braintrust to plug holes (including any created by their own cap moves) well enough to head into the draft with all of us having absolutely no clue what they will do with their top three picks.

Dave Choate

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. This Falcons team is largely not broken, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, so I think the team’s first priority in free agency should be to retain key players. As Cory mentioned above, Adrian Clayborn, Ahtyba Rubin, LaRoy Reynolds, and Blidi Wreh-Wilson should all be back at reasonable prices, and ideally you’d see Dontari Poe return as well, especially if the Falcons aren’t targeting a defensive tackle in the first round or two of the draft. If Steve Sarkisian can do a better job getting Taylor Gabriel involved in the offense, let’s make that happen, too.

From there, it’s about addressing minor holes, especially if you do scoop up Poe or my preferred target Sheldon Richardson. I’d like to see Atlanta consider a veteran cornerback option to compete with Brian Poole at the nickel and give the team four quality corners--T.J. Carrie from Oakland/Las Vegas and E.J. Gaines from Buffalo spring to mind as potential quality additions--and look at a free agent fullback with more blocking acumen than Derrick Coleman.

As usual, the Falcons should and likely will do their best work in the draft. This free agency period should be about keeping the band together and improving within the narrow confines of the salary

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Pregame tributes to late grandmother inspired Falcons rookie Takk McKinley


Mike Reiss

ESPN.com | 8:18 AM ET


Atlanta Falcons defensive end Takkarist McKinley played inspired football during his rookie season, but a pregame ritual gave the lively first-round draft pick that much more motivation.

Whenever the players retreated to the locker room prior to kickoff, McKinley pulled out his cell phone and stared at a photo of his late grandmother, Myrtle Collins, who died in 2011 following heart complications. Football fans across the nation became familiar with the unbreakable bond McKinley had with his grandmother during the first night of the NFL draft. While toting a framed picture of Collins, he had an emotional outburst when he vowed to fulfill a promise to her to get out of the rugged Oakland area and make an impact in the NFL.

The picture on his phone isn't the same portrait, yet it carries just as much significance.

"When it was time to go out on the field for the last time after the coaches speak, I'd look at the picture, get emotional," McKinley said. "It was just a picture of her sitting on the couch. It was just memories."

McKinley sometimes flipped to another picture in the same sequence that showed him smiling with his arm wrapped around Collins as she sat in a recliner. Both images drove him to play that much harder.

"She's why I'm here, and what I play the game for," McKinley said. "I say something while looking at those pictures, but at the same time, I'm going to keep that between me and her."

Collins would be proud of her grandson's rookie showing. McKinley provided a glimpse of his tremendous upside with six sacks, one shy of the Falcons' rookie record set by Mike Pitts in 1983. McKinley, the 26th overall pick, had one less sack than first-overall pick Myles Garrett of the Cleveland Browns, who played 119 more defensive snaps.

McKinley's statistics also included 10 quarterback hits, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, 20 combined tackles, and seven tackles for loss in 381 snaps.


Falcons coach Dan Quinn knew what type of talent McKinley had just from evaluating the former UCLA Bruin during the pre-draft process. He watched McKinley mature as a player with each passing game.

"We loved the speed; we loved the toughness," Quinn said. "So for him not to have an offseason, all of a sudden come in and make an impact like he did and keep growing as it went, I think the guy has got a really big future. I love his toughness. That's the style and identity. He's another member of that group that has some of that run-and-hit factor that we really covet. There are a number of guys that have that, and we're certainly glad to have him as part of that."

McKinley immediately brought more personality to the locker room, with his turquoise dreads and tendency to speak his mind on social media. On the field, he wasn't afraid to mix it up with teammates, either. He got into a little shoving match with left tackle Jake Matthews during training camp and then had a more intense scuffle with offensive tackle Ty Sambrailo during an October practice.

"The physicality that he plays with, you don't see that all the time with rookies," veteran defensive lineman Adrian Clayborn said of McKinley. "Sometimes, they're kind of timid, but he's definitely physical. That's going to help him when he continues to learn the other stuff that comes with being a pro."

The Falcons envision a potent rush tandem of Vic Beasley Jr. coming off the left edge and McKinley off the right for years to come. When Beasley missed some time this past season because of a hamstring injury, it gave McKinley a chance to work from both sides, a challenge he embraced while refining his rush technique. He quickly learned how just trying to beat an opponent with a bull rush wasn't going to cut it in the NFL, so he worked on counter moves while adjusting to a three-point stance rather than two-point.

Asked to recall which play from his rookie season was the most memorable, McKinley said his first NFL sack at Detroit in Week 3. After he beat left tackle Greg Robinson around the edge and pulled Matthew Stafford to the ground, he pointed to the sky in honor of his grandmother, knowing he had fulfilled the promise to get to the quarterback.

"That is a moment I'll always remember," McKinley said. "Hopefully, I can get plenty more."

If McKinley needs any added incentive, all he has to do is glance at his phone.

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NFL.com’s tip for Falcons to reach Super Bowl LIII


Alex Makrides

ajc | 12:04 p.m Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2018Sports


After another disappointing playoff ending, NFL.com editor Gregg Rosenthal has a tip for the Atlanta Falcons if they want to make a run towards Super Bowl LIII. Rosenthal believes the Falcons need to let offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian “install his own offense.”


Sarkisian took over the play-calling duties in 2017 after former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan left to become the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. In 2016, Shanahan’s offense yielded the highest points per game average in the NFL (33.8), second-highest yards per game average (415.8), an MVP quarterback in Matt Ryan and a trip to the Super Bowl. With such a successful offensive scheme, Sarkisian was tasked with attempting to run Shanahan’s offense while implementing his own offense.


“The compromise led to a steep learning curve for Sarkisian and a copy of a copy of a copy of the exciting Falcons attack from 2016,” Rosenthal wrote.





The Falcons explosive offense wasn’t the same in 2017. The team averged more than 11 points less per game, while Ryan threw 18 less touchdowns and five more interceptions.


If the Falcons reach the 2019 Super Bowl, they will become the first team to play in a Super Bowl in their home stadium. Super Bowl LIII will take place at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

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Falcons need some fine-tuning to make return to Super Bowl

It will be offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian's job to get the Falcons back up among the highest scoring teams in the league next season. AP Photo/John Bazemore
7:00 AM ET
  • mcclure_vaughn.png&w=160&h=160&scale=cro
    Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer
    • Covered Bears for seven seasons at Chicago Tribune
    • Also worked at Chicago Sun-Times, Fresno Bee
    • Honorable mention, Football Writers Association of America for enterprise writing, 2002

Here's a look at the Super Bowl prospects of the Atlanta Falcons, who finished the season 10-6. The tiers consist of: Realistic Super Bowl expectations; Should contend, but there are question marks; Middle of the pack; Lots of work to do; and Nowhere close.

Westgate odds to win the Super Bowl LIII: 18-1

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Should contend, but there are question marks: The Falcons and owner Arthur Blank would love nothing more than to become the first team to play a Super Bowl in its own stadium. In order to make that a reality, the Falcons have to rediscover the offensive success they enjoyed during their 2016 Super Bowl run, when they averaged a league-best 33.8 points per game. The missing element from that team is offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, now the head of the San Francisco 49ers. New coordinator Steve Sarkisian wasn't able to uphold the standard in his first season, but coach Dan Quinn expressed full confidence in Sarkisian heading into the 2018 season.

The Falcons have a franchise quarterback in Matt Ryan, a game-changing receiver in Julio Jones, and a potent, 1-2 running back combo in Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, provided they remain together. But the Falcons need to upgrade the interior of the offensive line next to Pro Bowl center Alex Mack, and could use another serious deep threat to pair with Jones. Last season's 11.7 points per game slide proved to be detrimental.

The Falcons have all the elements of a top-tier defense, as Quinn has assembled one of the fastest units around. But to actually win a Super Bowl, they need to continue to upgrade the defensive line so pressure on opposing quarterbacks, particularly up the middle, is consistent. Deion Jones, Keanu Neal, Vic Beasley Jr., and Takk McKinley are young stars who could make the Falcons a feared group for years to come. But the Falcons should always be on the hunt for more playmakers, particularly in the secondary.

And the Falcons won't enjoy as much success as they desire without making the necessary improvements on special teams. The first matter of business is re-signing reliable kicker Matt Bryant, who turns 43 in May.

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Defensive discipline was a mixed bag for the Atlanta Falcons in 2017


James Rael



Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Fact: Marquand Manuel eats 400 gummy bears a day

The Atlanta Falcons defense is quickly becoming one of the NFL’s best. Their talented young core is incredibly popular. They’ve started to eclipse a talent-heavy offense that took the NFL by storm just one year ago. But there’s still room for growth. Let’s take a look at how disciplined the Falcons defense played in 2017. (Note: the penalty totals discussed below are accepted penalties; declined or offsetting penalties aren’t counted.)

The Falcons defense had 10 defensive pass interference penalties in 2017, the NFL’s 9th highest total. These penalties resulted in 199 penalty yards. They were also flagged for defensive holding 10 times, the NFL’s 9th highest total. This resulted in 50 penalty yards. Overall Falcons defensive backs were flagged 27 times, resulting in 301 penalty yards.

To their credit, the Falcons were only drawn offsides on defense 3 times in 2017. That’s the NFL’s second lowest total. (The Kansas City Chiefs defense led the league by only drawing an offsides penalty twice.)

Robert Alford was the Falcons’ most penalized defensive back (and their most penalized player overall). He drew 7 penalty flags on defense this season, the league’s 3rd highest among DBs. (Five defensive holding and two defensive pass interference.) He also had an offensive holding penalty, for what that’s worth. (It has nothing to do with the actual subject of this article, but while we’re at it, let’s all give fellow DB Brian Poole a round of applause for somehow racking up 3 offensive holding penalties this season.)

Adrian Clayborn was the Falcons’ most penalized defensive lineman. He drew 4 penalty flags this season, which is a pretty low total, relatively speaking. Deion Jones was the Falcons’ most penalized linebacker, also drawing 4 penalty flags this season. (Again, a pretty low total, particulary given his role on defense.)

Bottom line: the defense is an obvious strength, but the passing defense should strive to play more disciplined football in 2018. Your thoughts?


© Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

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PFF gives the Falcons one player they must resign and one dream free agent


By Matthew Chambers@FalcoholicMatt Feb 18, 2018, 3:00pm EST

The Falcoholic  


There are few places that take a deeper dive into the NFL than Pro Football Focus. There’s also few places I routinely criticize more than PFF for some absurd grades, but a lot of what they suggest is very notable. They give the Atlanta Falcons a few moves and a few potential players for this offseason, and their needs stack up pretty closely to where we see them.

Who do the Falcons need to resign?

Ricardo Allen, S, 81.4 overall grade

Entering the offseason as a restricted free agent, Allen is expected to stay put in Atlanta barring an unforeseen fallout. Just 26 years old, Allen has put together two consecutive seasons of strong play in 2016 and 2017 after joining the Falcons as a fifth-rounder out of Purdue in 2014. Playing over 2,400 defensive snaps in the two-year span, Allen earned 81.7 and 81.4 overall grades, respectively, as the Falcons’ primary free safety alongside Keanu Neal. While small in stature (5-foot-9, 185 pounds), Allen excelled in coverage, leading all qualifying NFL safeties in coverage snaps played per reception allowed (71.0), yards allowed per coverage snap (0.18) and coverage snaps played per target (39.4).

My favorite memory of the 2014 draft class is Ricardo Allen is probably the best overall player the Falcons brought in. And Mike Smith cut him. Oh man, 2014 was such a disaster.

We are big fans of Allen. Being a late rounder under Mike Smith is usually a kiss of death, but Allen has battled back into one of the league’s best young safeties. There’s no question he is going to get paid, but I don’t think it is clear that will be in Atlanta. There’s a logjam of very talented, young players up for new deals in the next two years. Allen is the only one with a potential and realistic replacement. As soon as you start adding up all the new contracts, you realize why Arthur Blank was asking Matt Ryan for a team-friendly deal.

Who is Atlanta’s dream signing?

PFF’s All-Pro left guard this past season, Norwell has quietly become one of the few premier guards in this league, notching 82.0-plus overall grades in all four years of his career and capping his strong start off with a career-high 88.8 overall grade in his contract year.

With Andy Levitre battling injury throughout the tail-end of the season, Falcons guards Ben Garland and Wes Schweitzer finished the season as the team’s two starters at guard. The youthful duo’s lack of experience was on full display, as both finished with sub-45.0 overall grades on the season. It’s unlikely either of the two is in the conversation as long-term solutions, and Levitre will be entering his 10th season in 2018 if he chooses to keep his cleats off the rack. As such, signing a 26-year-old guard in his prime like Norwell fits the bill for Dimitroff & Co.

I’ve had Norwell at the top of my free agency wish list for about a month. Defensive tackles in free agency are pretty weak, and I’d rather give Dimitroff a chance to coach up some young guys. Just looking at Takkarist McKinley, Grady Jarrett, and occasionally Vic Beasley, he’s been very successful with young talent.

At guard, Norwell could step in immediately. I think the Falcons could keep Levitre, and let the duo of Schweitzer and Sean Harlow battle for Levitre’s spot next year. That’s not to say it won’t be cheap: early rumors suggest the New York Giants plan to make him the league’s highest paid guard.

That could break down a number of ways, either most guaranteed, most overall, or highest average, but I’ll assume the Falcons would need to give him $12 million per year. These usually get back-loaded a bit, but the Falcons would need to cut some overpriced veterans they can replace in the draft. Yes, I’m looking at you Brooks Reed, Derrick Shelby, Levine Toilolo, and Matt Schaub.

Who else does PFF like for the Falcons? They like former Titans guard Josh Kline as a cheaper Norwell alternative. Next, PFF likes a cheaper wide receiver like Terrelle Pryor. I mentioned Pryor and a number of other wide receivers the Falcons could rely on as a WR2/WR3 that can provide more consistency than Taylor Gabriel. There are a number of risky wide receivers available this offseason. Some will get paid, and some will play on prove-it deals. The Falcons can wait and get someone cheaper a week or two into free agency.

I will hand it to PFF for putting together a solid offseason plan. I’d like to see Atlanta address tight end in free agency as well. The offense could be dangerous with Hooper and another pass catching option. That would allow the team to focus on defensive line help throughout the draft.


© 2018 Vox Media, Inc. All Rights Reserved Sports data © STATS 2016

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AJC identifies five players on Falcons NFL Scouting Combine radar

Gentlemen, start your draft interest boards!

By Cory Woodroof@CoryWoodroof47 Feb 23, 2018, 10:00am EST

The Falcoholic  


With the NFL Combine ready to kick off next week, you’re about to see the floodgates open on who the Atlanta Falcons are actively scouting and meeting with leading up to the 2018 draft. Hold on to your butts, etc.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution’s D. Orlando Ledbetter has identified five players who will be on the Falcons’ radar come combine time, and it’s a list of usual suspects, well, mostly usual.

Georgia G Isaiah Wynn, Ohio State G/C Billy Price, Michigan DT Maurice Hurst, Washington DT Vita Vea and Auburn G Braden Smith all get mentions here.

Wynn, Price, Hurst and Vea are all familiar names around this conversation — the first two of them versatile interior linemen, the other two monstrous presences at defensive tackle, but Smith’s a new one, or at least not one we see a lot of thrown around the Falcons’ campfire.

He played at Auburn for four years (Thomas Dimitroff’s senior bells go off) and was compared to Ivan Drago from Rocky IV as a freshman, which on its own is enough to get my interests piqued.

NFL.com has him projected to go within rounds three and four of the draft, with analyst Lance Zierlein prognosticating on his fate.

Braden Smith has an NFL-ready frame and will impress evaluators with the eyeball test. When the eyeballs are focused on the tape, they will see a player who is more than capable of matching power with power, but can be too regimented in his movement and overall play. Smith is a grinder whose play could vary greatly based upon the matchup across from him. He has size and power, but the holes in his game are unlikely to be patched up with coaching. He can become an average to solid starter.

Though, CBS’s draft board has him as their 43rd best player, and the draft’s third-best guard behind Quenton Nelson and Will Hernandez (curiously, they have Wynn listed as a tackle). (This ain’t an exact science, folks.)

As a matter of fact, The Falcoholic’s draft guru Eric Robinson mocked Smith to the birds in the second round of his latest scenario.

The Falcons will have a decision to make this offseason with veteran guard Andy Levitre. The chances of him being back in 2018 are good given his skill, although they will have to restructure his contract if they want to keep him around and free up money for other signings.

The other starter, Wes Schweitzer, was decent in his first year as a starter but much was left to be desired. In Smith, the Falcons get a 6’6 blocker who is NFL strong already and adds some toughness that Schweitzer may not necessarily be equipped with.

Smith might not sound quite like a round one guy right now, but he could be a good second or third rounder for the team to take a chance on. And, who knows, maybe he’s the next workout warrior to test his way up the draft board. If he rises, he rises.

So, meet Braden Smith. You might be hearing more about him down the road.

In general, it’s pretty common sense to think the team likes all of those guys, and I’m sure you can throw names like Taven Bryan, Da’Ron Payne and Hernandez into the conversation as well. And many others. This process is just beginning, and there are going to be a lot of names...well, named.

But, D-Led told us to watch out for these guys specifically, so, we’re watching for them.


© 2018 Vox Media, Inc. All Rights Reserved Sports data © STATS 2016

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Falcons' Ricardo Allen: Time to set sights on being No. 1 defense


Vaughn McClure

ESPN.com | 9:01 AM ET


Atlanta Falcons free safety Ricardo Allen believes his team has all the components to develop into a top-5 defense next season, if not the league's best defense.

The Falcons return at least nine starters on defense, with defensive lineman Dontari Poe and Adrian Clayborn the only ones set to become unrestricted free agents. Allen is expected to be re-signed as a restricted free agent.


Coach Dan Quinn and his staff head into this week's NFL combine looking to bolster the defensive line and add more depth in the secondary.

"I want to be a top-5 defense, and I think that's a goal we can set," Allen told ESPN. "We set a goal coming from being one of the worst defenses to pushing ourselves in the top 10 [last season]. We set that goal, and we did it. And I think now it's time to set a higher standard. The standards that we set, if we're willing to chase it, 'Let's try to chase this top 5.' Shoot, why not try to be the best defense?

"I don't see it as any disrespect to anyone else around, but I feel like if we do what we do and we play to our best ability, I think we can be probably the No. 1 defense. Or at least a top-5 defense, for sure."

The Falcons finished eighth in scoring defense last season, surrendering 19.7 points per game, and finished ninth in total defense, yielding 318.4 yards. It marked the first time the Falcons finished in the top 10 in scoring defense and total defense since 1998. In 2016, the defense ranked 27th in points allowed [25.4 ppg.] and 25th in total defense [371.2 ypg.].

The Minnesota Vikings had the league's top defense last season, allowing just 15.8 points and 275.9 yards per game. The Jacksonville Jaguars were second in both categories at 16.8 points and 286.1 yards per game.


"It's not too many people that we have to build pieces on," Allen said of the defensive makeup. "This defense is starting to come along. Last year, we had two Pro Bowlers [linebacker Deion Jones and strong safety Keanu Neal]. Hopefully this year, we'll have much more. We're starting to turn into a team full of dogs. Everyone in the league knows who we are now. They know when you come through Atlanta, you have to come through this defense. It's not just a team you're going to come in and put up points against. It don't work like that no more."

The Falcons, built on speed and toughness, have a solid young defensive core with Jones, Neal, and linebacker De'Vondre Campbell making tremendous strides during their second seasons. Allen was the quarterback of the defense as one of the designated team leaders and has been the surest tackler on defense. Cornerback Robert Alford stepped up his game and started to make more plays on the ball. And rookie defensive end Takkarist McKinley injected plenty of energy despite not getting as many reps as he probably should have during his rookie season.

The Falcons could make that jump Allen is talking about if one-time Pro Bowlers Vic Beasley Jr. and Desmond Trufant regain their swagger and play at a dominant level in 2018.

But Allen was the first to say one player could be the key to it all.

"Grady [Jarrett]," Allen said of the rising nose tackle. "He's one of the people that gets it started on every play. If you watch the way that he goes about it, that he beats up those centers and guards, you can just tell they don't want to go against him. He's strong enough to blow you back and just beat you and bull-rush you. Then he's fast enough if you try to reach him, he'll slip you. And then he has good pass rush. ... I don't think there's many weaknesses in his game."

The Falcons face five offenses next season that finished in the top 10 in scoring last season: the Philadelphia Eagles, New Orleans Saints, Detroit Lions, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Baltimore Ravens. They face four that finished in the top 10 in yards per game -- the Saints, Steelers, Eagles, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

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Falcons should focus on both lines at combine

Former Georgia offensive lineman Isaiah Wynn helped his stock with a strong Senior Bowl. Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire
8:42 AM ET
  • mcclure_vaughn.png&w=160&h=160&scale=cro
    Vaughn McClureESPN Staff Writer
    • Covered Bears for seven seasons at Chicago Tribune
    • Also worked at Chicago Sun-Times, Fresno Bee
    • Honorable mention, Football Writers Association of America for enterprise writing, 2002

A closer look at the positions the Atlanta Falcons could target at the NFL combine in Indianapolis:

Positions of need: The Falcons likely will prioritize the offensive and defensive lines because coach Dan Quinn always emphasizes winning the line of scrimmage battle first. The debate might be whether to prioritize either a disruptive defensive tackle capable of stopping the run and rushing the passer or an athletic and strong offensive lineman capable of solidifying the guard position. Guards typically don't get selected in the first round, although the Falcons pick late at No. 26. They also could use a speedy deep threat to complement Julio Jones if Taylor Gabriel is no longer part of the plans. They need more depth at cornerback, strong safety and linebacker.



When: April 26-28
Where: Arlington, Texas
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Three players the Falcons should focus on at combine:

  • Isaiah Wynn (G), Georgia: Wynn is the guy ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. has going to the Falcons in his latest mock draft. Wynn dominated at the Senior Bowl practices at guard after spending last season as the Bulldogs' starting left tackle. Most figured he'd make an easier transition to guard -- based on being a little shorter (6-foot-2, 302 pounds) -- than most tackles. He would be an intriguing option and an immediate fan favorite as a player in the Falcons' backyard. And Wynn coming off a torn labrum shouldn't be an issue, at least for the Falcons. Two of their past three first-round picks -- Vic Beasley Jr. and Takk McKinley -- had shoulder issues coming out of college.

  • Mo Hurst (DT), Michigan: Quinn wants everybody along his defensive line to have the ability to get after the passer. The Falcons have a solid foundation on the edges with 2016 sack champ Beasley paired with McKinley. Grady Jarrett will be a star interior lineman for years to come. Now the Falcons need to add another dominating defensive tackle to the mix, and Hurst would be a good fit. During his Michigan career, the 6-foot-2, 282-pounder accumulated 134 tackles, 33 tackles for loss, 12.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, two pass breakups and one blocked field goal.

  • D.J. Chark (WR), LSU: Again, the Falcons need a big-time deep threat, and Chark is a Day 2 draft prospect who could fill that role. If you watch him on film, you'll see that he breaks loose after catches, can go up and get the ball, excels in end-arounds, and shows tremendous concentration and ability to adjust to the ball. He's 6-foot-3, 187 pounds and has that length the Falcons always desire. And they seem to like LSU players, drafting one Tiger in each of the past three drafts. Chark was the co-Most Outstanding Player for the South at the Senior Bowl with five catches for 160 yards and a 75-yard touchdown. He averaged 20.5 yards per catch at LSU.

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Falcons to clear almost $7M in cap space by cutting Derrick Shelby, Levine Toilolo


Vaughn McClure

ESPN.com | 7:29 PM ET


INDIANAPOLIS -- The Atlanta Falcons began the process of creating more cap space by informing tight end Levine Toilolo and defensive lineman Derrick Shelby of their releases, which will save nearly $7 million against this year's cap.

Toilolo, a 2013 fourth-round draft pick from Stanford, confirmed his release via Twitter.

The backup tight end had two years and $7.5 million left on the three-year, $12 million extension ($4.5 million guaranteed) he signed in March 2017. His release, designated by the team as a post-June 1 cut, saves $3.5 million against the cap rather than $2.5 million.

Meanwhile, the Falcons announced the release of the veteran Shelby, who signed a four-year, $18 million free-agent deal ($7.5 million guaranteed) after leaving the Miami Dolphins. It provides a cap savings of $3.25 million.

Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff hinted at some tough decisions coming up this week with the team trying to retool for a Super Bowl run. Toilolo had developed into a rather solid blocker but wasn't the red zone or downfield threat the Falcons need at the position. He started 12 of 15 games last season and caught 12 passes for 122 yards and one touchdown.

Meanwhile, Shelby wasn't a big part of the defensive line rotation with 30 combined tackles and one sack in 16 games, with 14 starts.

The Falcons are in the process of upgrading the tight end position, although they've expressed confidence in Austin Hooper coming off an underwhelming year. The team had a formal meeting with top tight end prospect Hayden Hurst from South Carolina during this week's NFL combine. There also has been talk at the combine of the Falcons possibly pursuing Carolina Panthers tight end Ed Dickson, who is headed for free agency.

In terms of how Shelby's release affects the defensive line, it really doesn't change the outlook. The Falcons entered the offseason intent on improving the interior pass rush. The first step was allowing two-time Pro Bowler Dontari Poe, a run-stuffer, to hit the free-agent market. Shelby had flashes but didn't provide consistent pass-rush help from the interior.

The Falcons will continue to find ways to be "creative" and create more cap space with free agency set for March 14. Signing one-time league MVP Matt Ryan to an extension is another part of the equation, with the quarterback set to count $21.65 million against the cap entering the final year of his deal. An extension could lower that number significantly.

The Falcons also are looking into extensions for nose tackle Grady Jarrett, left tackle Jake Matthews and free safety Ricardo Allen, while also expressing a desire to re-sign veteran kicker Matt Bryant.

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Michael Bennett


ESPN.com | 9:07 PM ET


Nothing is imminent, one of the sources said.

Bennett, 32, signed a three-year extension in December 2016. The contract has three years remaining, with base salaries of $1.65 million, $6 million and $7.5 million. ESPN's Brady Henderson reported last week that the Seahawks were open to trading Bennett.

The Falcons need an established pass-rusher, especially on the interior of the defensive line, with Dontari Poe gone after one season and the team cutting Derrick Shelby. Also, Adrian Clayborn, who led the Falcons with 9.5 sacks last season, is bound for free agency and expected to sign elsewhere. Bennett had 8.5 sacks and 24 quarterback hits last season and has 54 career sacks.

There is a natural tie between Bennett and the Falcons. Coach Dan Quinn used to be the defensive coordinator and defensive line coach in Seattle and has a close relationship with Bennett. Defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel used to be a defensive assistant in Seattle and has close ties to Bennett as well.

The parameters involved in such a trade are unclear. The last time the Falcons traded for a veteran starter, they surrendered two sixth-round picks to Tennessee for left guard Andy Levitre.

In a recent trade for a pass-rusher, the Dolphins acquired Robert Quinn by sending a midround pick to the Rams, likely a third- or fourth-rounder, a source told ESPN's Adam Schefter. The Rams and Dolphins are also swapping late-round picks.

The Falcons entered the offseason intent on bolstering their offensive and defensive lines. They have two exceptional young edge-rushers in 2016 sack champ Vic Beasley Jr. and Takk McKinley, plus a budding superstar in nose tackle Grady Jarrett. Bennett could help solidify an athletic, fast defense that ranked in the top 10 in both yards allowed and scoring last season.

Bennett is known to be outspoken and took a stance against social injustice by sitting during the national anthem. Those who have played with him and coached him say he is a great teammate.

Bennett is represented by Doug Hendrickson, the agent who represents Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff.

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Falcons reportedly meet with OL Austin Golson at Auburn Pro Day


By Dave Choate Mar 10, 2018, 8:00am EST

The Falcoholic  


Austin Golson is not one of the biggest names in this draft class, but he’s one of the many intriguing offensive linemen in a deep class. He also appears to be on Atlanta’s radar.

Per D. Orlando Ledbetter, the Falcons were at Auburn’s Pro Day and met with Golson. No word on whether they also met with Braden Smith, a more highly-regarded guard prospect also from Auburn, but Golson’s worth considering on his own merits.

Golson’s best attribute might be his versatility, as he’s played all five positions along the line in his college career. He carries a reputation as a capable run blocker who is light on his feet, and he’s certainly able to play both guard and center if called upon to do so. He’ll have to add functional strength at the NFL level and may not have the talent to be a full-time starter, but as a versatile interior lineman with some upside, he’d be a sensible enough pick for Atlanta.

The Falcons still seem likely to invest in the guard position earlier than this, but it’s possible that Golson will be an option in the fourth round or later if he’s hanging around, or that he’ll be a fallback option if the Falcons miss out on some of their top targets. With a fairly deep class along the offensive line, it’s sort of impossible to tell what level of interest the team has in Golson, but this visit means he’s a name you should pay attention to.


© 2018 Vox Media, Inc. All Rights Reserved Sports data © STATS 2016

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