If and when the Falcons finally close the deal with free agent defensive end Osi Umenyiora – which could happen as soon as Tuesday -- he will become the third impact veteran signed in this offseason.
That’s significant for a team that fell just short of reaching the Super Bowl last year and didn’t seem to have a ton of wiggle room in the salary cup. The fact running back Steven Jackson and now likely Umenyiora looked at Atlanta as an attractive option late in their respective careers also reaffirms the perceptions that the Falcons are title contenders. I may have more on this topic later Tuesday.
To recap the Falcons’ moves:
• The tight end job vacated by Tony Gonzalez was filled by, ta-da, Tony Gonzalez.He was “97 percent” certain to retire. The U-turn can be attributed to more than just a sales job by team officials. Gonzalez must have had a sense of what was coming in free agency, or at least had been was left with the feeling that the team, led by general manager Thomas Dimitroff, would aggressively address team needs.
• The need for some semblance of a running game was more than adequately filled by Jackson. He turns 30 in July. But he is two years younger than the released Michael Turner, he certainly showed last season that he has fresher legs than Turner and he's a proven receiver out of the backfield (unlike Turner).
• Dimitroff’s seeming riskiest offseason decision was the release of John Abraham, who had 10 sacks on a team where the next closest player (Kroy Biermann) had four. On the surface, signing Umenyiora might look like an even exchange, or even a step down. Umenyiora’s sack total last season: six. But at 31, he is 3½ years younger than Abraham and he totaled 20 sacks over 2010 (11.5) and 2011 (9).
If signed, Umenyiora also may come with a lower salary cap figure than Abraham, who was going to cause a $7.25 million hit on the cap if the Falcons kept him. By cutting Abraham, the Falcons will carry a dead-money hit of $1.5 million. So as long as Umenyiora’s cap figure is $5.75 million or less, they’ll be fine.
With tight end, running back and defensive end spots filled, the Falcons can go into the draft focused on adding another pass rusher and a starting caliber cornerback. They have 11 picks, including two in the fourth.
Next move? Maybe combining some of those picks to move up in the first round for a difference-maker on defense. It makes sense. The Falcons' don't need a lot of players, they just need one of two who can make a difference on a team that has a chance to go to the Super Bowl.
Here are some of the top defensive players projected to go early in the draft:
-- CORNERBACKS: Dee Milliner (Alabama), Xavier Rhodes (Florida State), Desmond Trufant (Washington), Johnathan Banks (Mississippi State).
-- OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS: Jarvis Jones (Georgia), Dion Jordan (Oregon), Barkevious Mingo (LSU), Alec Ogletree (Georgia).
-- DEFENSIVE ENDS: Ezekiel Ansah (BYU), Bjoern Werner (Florida State), Datone Jones (UCLA).
-- DEFENSIVE TACKLES: Sharrif Floyd (Florida), Star Lotulelei (Utah); Sheldon Richardson (Missouri), Sylvester Williams (North Carolina), John Jenkins (Georgia).
I'll have more Tuesday. Until then, what are your thoughts on what the Falcons have done so far and where should they go from here?