Head coach Mike Smith brought with him to Atlanta a background in coaching defensive lines that were stout against the run.
Smith coached the Baltimore Ravens defensive line from 1999-2001, and those units ranked 2nd, 4th, and 1st against the run. Smith coordinated the Jacksonville Jaguars defense from 2003-07, who would routinely be one of the top run-stopping defenses during Smith's tenure, resulting in multiple trips to the Pro Bowl and lucrative contracts for defensive tackles Marcus Stroud and John Henderson.
So it's a bit disappointing that in Smith's first season in Atlanta, the defense ranked 25th against the run, allowing nearly 5 yards per carry and 17 rushing touchdowns.
Atlanta signed Jonathan Babineaux (6-2, 288) to a five-year contract extension in December, keeping him in the fold through 2013. Kindal Moorehead (6-2, 285), an effective, low-cost free agent from last year is signed through 2009. Behind them, though, the defensive tackle cupboard is bare.
Grady Jackson, who started 14 games alongside Babineaux, is an unrestricted free agent. Jackson has expressed an interest in returning for another season, but at 36 years old and 345 pounds, how much longer he can continue and be effective is a legitimate question. Reserve tackle Jason Jefferson (6-1, 297) is also an unrestricted free agent.
Aside from Babineaux and Moorehead, the Falcons have Trey Lewis (6-3, 317), Tywain Myles (6-2, 305) and Thomas Johnson (6-2, 302) under contract. Lewis has ideal size, but missed the entire 2008 season after re-injuring a knee he originally injured during his rookie season. Myles followed Smith from Jacksonville to Atlanta and has yet to appear in an NFL game. Johnson, signed as a street free agent this year, has appeared in 13 NFL games, though none have come in the last two years.
The Falcons are expected to address the defensive tackle position in the draft, possibly twice, and the option of re-signing Grady Jackson remains on the table.
Below is a list of some of the options the Falcons will have in free agency:
Albert Haynesworth, Tennessee – This year's top free agent prize has reportedly informed the Tennessee Titans of his intentions to test the free agent market. Haynsworth is looking for a contract that averages over $12 million dollars per year and will be seeking over $30 million dollars in guaranteed money. There's no doubt that Haynesworth has been the NFL's top defensive tackle the last two years, but some feel that his game will head south once his tax bracket goes north.
Ryan Sims, Tampa Bay – Sims (6-4, 315) may not have lived up to his draft billing (he was the 6th overall pick of the 2002 NFL Draft), but he has proven to be a valuable and versatile defender on the Buccaneers' defensive line the last two seasons. Capable of rushing the passer, Sims would add much-needed size to the Falcons' defensive line.
Colin Cole, Green Bay – Cole (6-1, 330) was a valuable member of the Packers tackle rotation the last few years, but the Packers are making the switching to a 3-4 and do not view him as a viable option at nose tackle. Cole isn't much of a pass rusher, but he has proven to be effective against the run.
DeWayne Robertson, Denver – There were numerous reasons why the Broncos released the former 4th overall pick in the 2003 NFL Draft this week. Robertson is too small (6-1, 310) to effectively play the nose in the 3-4 scheme the Broncos are changing to. He was also due to receive a $17 million roster bonus this off-season. Neither reason is untrue, however there's also the issue of his performance, which has never justified his Top 5 pick status, as well as a "bone-on-bone" knee injury that may not meet the approval of NFL medical staffs.
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.
Falcons Free Agent Targets: Defensive Tackles
Falcon Insider Top Stories
2017 Fantasy Football PrimerAre you ready for the 2017 Fantasy Football season? It can't come soon enough, right? This page is a hub where we both want to look forward towards 2017 but also look back at 2016.
Scout FantasyWednesday at 1:26 PM
NFL changes overtime, roster movesThe NFL passed a few resolutions Tuesday at the owners meetings, some of them pretty significant in the way the game and rosters are managed.
Viking UpdateTuesday at 10:25 AM
Falcons Trade up for Takkarist McKinleyThe Atlanta Falcons made a trade with the San Francisco 49ers to address one of their biggest needs.
Atlanta Falcons Draft NeedsCBS Sports NFL Writer Will Brinson joins Hana Ostapchuk to break down draft needs for the Atlanta Falcons.