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Atlanta must add a center and help on defense

Free agency starts this week and the Falcons should be very busy.

Thomas Dimitroff has undoubtedly spent the weekend in conference with the many former general managers in his front office, locked in and debating how to approach free agency as it starts this week in the NFL.

Dimitroff, Atlanta’s general manager, has a shaky track record when it comes to free agency. He’s had some hits (running back Michael Turner) but more misses (Ray Edwards, Dunta Robinson) in his tenure leading the Falcons.

This year Dimitroff has no choice but to be active. The Falcons have a lot of needs, some brought on by the postseason decisions to release veterans like safety William Moore, linebacker Justin Durant and this past week wide receiver Roddy White.

The call to release White was a necessary evil. The new coaching staff proved last year they were not going to fully utilize White, so why keep him around. It’s better to use that money to fill other needs.

One main need is at center, where the Falcons have been ordinary since the forced retirement of Todd McClure a few years ago. Atlanta should sign Alex Mack, a proven veteran who voided his contract with the Browns last week. Mack is one of the best centers in the game, but he will cost a lot.

The interior offensive line needs help. Atlanta needs a guard, as well. With two young and talented tackles, Jake Matthews and Ryan Schraeder, the Falcons are fine there. But a veteran to help lead the line and protect quarterback Matt Ryan is desperately needed.

Atlanta never really replaced Harry Douglas last year, as Leonard Hankerson didn’t work out. So they need two receivers with White now gone. Julio Jones can’t catch every Ryan pass.

It’s the defense however, that needs significant help. Most mock drafts have the Falcons getting a good defensive player with the 17th pick in the first round, but that’s just one player. They need help all around the defense.

Defensive lineman Paul Soliai will be released, while end Adrian Clayborn and linebacker O’Brien Schofield are free agents. That will make five defensive players (with Moore and Durant) who need to be replaced. And after the Falcons finished last in the NFL in sacks, once again the team will look for pass rushers.

Hawkinsville’s Charles Johnson, who was released by the Panthers this week, would be a good fit. Okay, the Falcons may want someone younger. Johnson turns 30 this summer. But could the Falcons find a better veteran to help lead the defense and groom Vic Beasley? Probably not.

The rumors about Bruce Irvin, who is a pass rusher, coming to Atlanta won’t stop. Irvin is from Atlanta and played for head coach Dan Quinn in Seattle. But Irvin would cost a ton, and the Falcons may have so many needs they may not be able to afford a high-priced player like Irvin.

The Falcons do not need to trust Kemal Ishmael to replace Moore a safety. They need a veteran there, too.

This was a team that finished 8-8 last season, but it certainly seems with all the needs like it’s still a rebuilding job. They can’t afford to wait on the draft next month, which makes the start of free agency this week very critical to improving the roster.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at Follow Bill at and email him at



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