Falcons Free Agency Primer

Brian McIntyre of FalconInsider.com examines the approach the Atlanta Falcons may take in free agency this off-season.

When Thomas Dimitroff was introduced as the new general manager of the Atlanta Falcons, he outlined the Falcons' approach as one that will "build through the draft and supplement through free agency".

The first-year GM's use of the draft and free agency, as well as the hiring of head coach Mike Smith, resulted in Dimitroff being named Sporting News magazine's Executive of the Year.

Dimitroff purged veterans Rod Coleman, Warrick Dunn and Alge Crumpler from the roster, hit the jackpot with one his big splash in free agency (Michael Turner, the NFC's second-leading rusher) and got key contributors (Erik Coleman, Jason Elam, Kindal Moorehead) signed to low-cost, cap-friendly deals. Dimitroff also traded cornerback/problem child DeAngelo Hall for a pair of draft choices in March, and in September, acquired cornerback Domonique Foxworth from the Denver Broncos for a conditional 2009 seventh-round draft choice.

Among the eleven players in Dimitroff's inaugural draft class, six had an impact in the Falcons' 11-5 season, including AP Offensive Rookie of the Year, quarterback Matt Ryan

2009 will be a different off-season for Dimitroff.

There are a few aging veterans he'll need to make decisions on, as tackle Todd Weiner and linebacker Keith Brooking both turn 34 this year. (Though only Brooking would provide any actual salary cap relief) Safety Lawyer Milloy is an unrestricted free agent, but is 35 years old and Dimitroff may look for younger options in the draft or free agency.

The Falcons have reportedly begun negotiations on a long-term contract with Foxworth, which are believed to be in the preliminary stages. Dimitroff will also need to make a decision on linebacker Michael Boley, a once promising prospect who was tendered at the 1st round level as a restricted free agent last off-season, but found himself on the bench late in 2008. Defensive end Chauncey Davis and punter/kickoff specialist Michael Koenen are also slated to be unrestricted free agents.

It's unlikely that Dimitroff would use the franchise tag on any of their unrestricted free agents, but according to a league source, the 2009 Franchise and Transition tag figures are:

Pos

Franchise

Transition

QB

$14.651M

$12.44M

RB

$6.621M

$5.925M

WR

$9.844M

$8.393M

TE

$4.462M

$4.065M

OL

$8.451M

$7.744M

DE

$8.991M

$7.777M

DT

$6.058M

$5.45M

LB

$8.304M

$7.48M

CB

$9.957M

$8.374M

S

$6.342M

$5.13M

P/K

$2.483M

$2.264M

The right-side of the Falcons' offensive line, guard Harvey Dahl and tackle Tyson Clabo, are restricted free agents, as is reserve offensive lineman Ben Wilkerson and free safety Jamaal Fudge, who was claimed on waivers in September.

To maintain the "Right of First Refusal" for these restricted free agents, the Falcons will need to tender one-year qualifying offer to each player worth $1,010,000. Because none of Atlanta's restricted free agents were drafted by the team, in order to receive compensation from another team who signs these restricted free agents to an offer sheet, Atlanta will need to tender them at either a first-, second-, or first and third-round levels.

Those figures for 2009 are:

Draft Choice
Compensation

Tender Amt.

2nd

$1,545,000

1st 

$2,198,000

1st and 3rd

$2,792,000

Retaining their own players will be the Falcons' top priority, but here are some free agents from outside the organization that could be on their radar screen:

Albert Haynesworth, DT (6-6, 320) – Often regarded as the NFL's best defensive tackle, Haynesworth is Scout.com's top-ranked free agent for 2009 and is coming off back-to-back Pro Bowl and All-Pro seasons. The Tennessee Titans are expected to take full advantage of the exclusive negotiating rights they have with Haynesworth, but if a long-term deal cannot be reached by the start of free agency, the Falcons could look to him to help improve their 25th-ranked run defense.

Lower cost alternatives: Ryan Sims, re-signing Grady Jackson

Jermaine Phillips (6-2, 220)/Sean Jones, SS (6-1, 225) – With Milloy turning 36, and a lack of solid safeties available in the draft, the Falcons could turn to either of these Georgia natives and former UGA stars to fill the void. Phillips has spent his entire 7-year career with NFC South rival Tampa Bay, but is about to turn 30 and is coming off an injury-plagued 2008 season that saw him break both of his forearms. Jones is three years younger and has averaged nearly 5 interceptions in each of his three seasons as the Cleveland Browns starting strong safety.

Lower cost alternatives: Gerald Sensabaugh, Marlon McCree

Bo Scaife, TE (6-3, 258) – In the seven years Alge Crumpler spent with Atlanta, he averaged 45 receptions, 638 yards and 5 touchdowns. Last season, the four tight ends the Falcons used to replace him combined for 19 receptions, 211 yards and two scores. So while the Falcons are expected to upgrade the tight end position in the draft, they could alleviate the urgency to do by signing Scaife, the top unrestricted free agent tight end on the market. Scaife, 28, led the Tennessee Titans in receptions in 2008 (58) and had a career-high 561 yards.

Lower cost alternatives: re-signing Justin Peelle, Darnell Dinkins

Bart Scott, OLB (6-2, 240) – Scott is one of three Baltimore Ravens linebackers heading into unrestricted free agency and among the three, is the one who's most likely to have a new address in 2009. Scott has averaged 92 tackles in his three-full seasons as a starter, and his 9.5 sack season in 2006 speaks to his abilities as a pass-rusher. Scott plays with passion and would bring some leadership to the defense.

Lower cost alternatives: re-signing Michael Boley, Angelo Crowell, Keyaron Fox, Heath Farwell

Dunta Robinson, CB (5-10, 184) – There isn't an NFL team on the planet that wouldn't want Oakland Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, which is precisely why the Raiders are expected to once again use the franchise tag on him, despite the $11.718 million dollars (fully guaranteed) it will cost them to do so. This means that Houston Texans cornerback Dunta Robinson will be the top cornerback on the open market. Robinson is an Athens, Georgia native who was emerging as a Pro Bowl-caliber cornerback before suffering a career-threatening hamstring and knee injury midway through the 2007 season. Robinson returned from his injuries much earlier than expected, and his return to action significantly improved the Texans' pass defense in the second half of 2008.

Lower cost alternatives: Jason Craft, Fernando Bryant

 

Brian McIntyre lives in the Boston area. In addition to writing for FalconInsider.com, Brian maintains his own blog (www.macsfootballblog.com) and charts games for Football Outsiders. If you'd like to e-mail Brian, you may do so here.



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