5 key dates for Falcons this NFL offseason

Cover 9@9: Falcons are cash-strapped for free agency

Good morning! Welcome to the Cover 9@9 blog. It’s our weekly list of nine things at 9 a.m. Wednesday that you need to know about the Atlanta Falcons.  

1. Falcons to be free agency bargain shoppers: Despite placing the franchise tag on defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, the Falcons still believe they can add a few low-budget items when free agency starts at 4 p.m. next Wednesday.

Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff declared during Super Bowl week that the team would not spend boldly this spring in free agency. 

So those social media posts asking about Justin Houston, Eric Weddle, Earl Thomas or anybody that will cost more than $2 million a year are click bait. Don’t waste your time.

“Free agency is up first and we think there are a couple places there where we can improve our roster,” Dimitroff said.

The list of interior linemen to keep an eye on includes Kevin Pamphile, Nick Easton and J.R. Sweezy. The Falcons tried to sign Sweezy back in 2016, but the Buccaneers gave him a five-year, $32.5 million deal. He was injured in 2016 and was released after playing in 2017. He played 15 games, while splitting time between right guard and left guard for the Seahawks last season.

Pamphile, 28, played with four seasons at Tampa Bay before signing with Tennessee last season. He’s played some left guard and right tackle. If they sign him, Ty Sambrailo could move inside to right guard.

Easton made 12 starts last season for Minnesota. 

“We have other positions on that offensive line that we really need to hone in on,” Dimitroff said. “There’s going to be a lot of competition across the (offensive) line.”

2. Julio Jones update: Dimitroff knows the Falcons still have to deal with Julio Jones’ extension. In light of the tagging of Jarrett, they’ll likely have to make more cuts and restructure come contracts moving forward. 

“Julio Jones, not worried about it, still don’t have a timetable on that,” Dimitroff said. “We’re in a really good place with Julio.”

3. Simpson returns: Jess Simpson rejoins the Falcons coaching staff as the team’s new defensive line coach. Bryant Young stepped down from the position for personal reasons to spend more time with his family.

Simpson spent last season as the defensive line coach at the University of Miami. He was an assistant defensive line coach with the Falcons in 2017 after joining the team following a two-month stint at Georgia State.

“We fully support and respect coach Young in this transition as it’s the right decision for him and his family,” head coach Dan Quinn said in a statement released by the team. “At the same time, we are excited to bring Jess back to the staff. His existing knowledge of our scheme and familiarity with our players will help add to the strength of our defense in 2019.”

Simpson is well known for his 12-year tenure as head coach at Buford High School, where he won seven state titles and had a 164-12 record.

Miami has already hired a replacement, Akron’s Todd Stroud, and said in a statement that Simpson “resigned to take a coaching position with a National Football League team.’’ 

4. Young’s farewell:  Young spent the past two seasons at the Falcons’ defensive line coach.

“Over the past four years, I have learned the importance of keeping my family and those I love close,” Young said in a statement. “Unfortunately, due to health concerns and the season of life my family is in, we have not been able to be together as a family. One thing my son Colby taught me is to not take tomorrow for granted. Under the weight of those considerations, I have made the difficult decision not to coach this year with the Falcons. It was not an easy decision as I think highly of the Falcons organization and the staff I have worked with the past two years.

“I would like to thank Dan Quinn, Thomas Dimitroff, Arthur Blank and the entire Falcons organization for this incredible opportunity to be a part of something special. I have always appreciated and been grateful for the opportunity to grow under Dan Quinn as a player and coach, and I hope my time being here has added value in trying to pursue a championship.”

Young’s referenced his son, Colby, who died in 2016.

5. Scouting the AAF: The Falcons’ pro personnel department is scouting the new American Alliance of Football league. 

“The AAF, obviously, is backed by a Hall of Famer in Bill Polian,” Dimitroff said. “He’s obviously incredibly intelligent in so many ways. Never count anything out that Bill touches because, again, his knowledge of the game and how he’s going to put things together is going to be right on the spot. 

“We’re focused on our guys of course. We’re looking at other leagues. We’re looking at the AAF. We’re looking at the CFL, looking at other leagues, and that’s an important part of our pro personnel department.”

There’s some NFL level talent in the league.

“We’ll continue to look at it through the offseason here,” Dimitroff said. “We’ll see what happens with the spring league and see who comes out of that. There are some football players there who can play in this league.”

6. Strong defensive line group: Put Dimitroff in the group of personnel men who like the defensive line talent in the upcoming NFL draft. 

“I think it is, obviously, a good defensive line draft,” Dimitroff said. “I think it’s fun to watch that come about. We go in stages over the years where you see a good group of defensive linemen and then you see a dearth in the next year. This year it’s a strong year.”

7. Murray was a lousy interview: Oklahoma quarterback Kyler did come off badly during his interview with the media. The quarterback needs to be audible. He was a little aloof, too. 

We put it on Facebook live. 

8. Combine winners: Mississippi wide receiver D.K. Metcalf stole the show at the NFL scouting combine.

First it was the pictures of his chiseled physique, which caused Raiders coach Jon Gruden to say he was “built like a house.”

“A lot of people hit me up, ‘what's your workout plan’ and I’m like, I’m just training for the combine,’ ” Metcalf said after the pictures went viral on social media. 

Then Metcalf, who left school after his redshirt sophomore season, ran the 40-yard dash in 4.33 seconds. He lifted 225 pounds 27 times on the bench press.

When the combine completed with the defensive back drills on Monday, Metcalf, the grandson of former NFL star Terry Metcalf and nephew of Eric Metcalf, was clearly one of the combine winners.

Here’s a look at the winners and loser from the 2019 scouting combine: 


D.K. Metcalf, WR, Mississippi: He caught 26 passes for 569 yards (21.9 average per catch) for five touchdowns in seven games. He missed the rest of season with a neck injury. Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy went on to win the Fred Biletnikoff award which goes to college football’s top wide receiver. Metcalf was a SEC All-Freshman pick in 2017 as he started 12 games, caught 39 passes for 646 (16.6 average per catch) and seven touchdowns. He tried to play as a freshman in 2016, but suffered a broken foot in the second game of the season.

Montez Sweat, DE, Mississippi State: Sweat, who played at Stephenson High, on Sunday ran the 40-yard dash in 4.41 seconds, a new modern record (since 2003) for a defensive lineman at the combine. The previous mark was held by Manny Lawson (2006) and Isaac Hilton (2004), according to NFL research. The 4.41 time would have been the eighth fastest time among the wide receivers at the combine. 

Quinnen Williams, DT, Alabama: Williams, going against the advice of his agent, ran his second 40-yard dash in 4.83 seconds. According to NFL research, his time was the fourth-fastest by a 300-plus pound defensive lineman since 2003 at the combine. Only Tank Johnson (4.69, 2004), Luis Castillo (4.80, 2005) and Jaye Howard (4.82, 2012) ran faster. 

Williams had 19.5 tackles for a loss and eight sacks last season with the Crimson Tide. 

Mecole Hardman, WR Georgia: The speedy wide receiver-returner ran the 40-yard dash in 4.33 seconds. He made an impressive catch on his final post-corner route during the Saturday morning session. He reached out over his head to pull the ball in. He’s being compared to Seattle receiver-returner Tyler Lockett. 

Zedrick Woods, S, Mississippi: He won the unofficial title as the fastest player at the 2019 combine when he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.29 seconds. Auburn cornerback Jamel Dean ran the 40-yard dash in 4.30 seconds. Woods was a three-year starter for the Rebels. 

9. Combine losers:  Trying to get a copy of Holyfield’s 40-yard run to get it critiqued to see if he can go faster. He only worked with Christian Coleman for one weekend. He needed to spend more time with world’s indoor 60-meter record holder.

Greedy Williams, CB, LSU: NFL teams were appalled by Williams tackling ability on film. “Tackling, that’s something I have to improve on,” Williams said. He went out and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.37 seconds. He left the combine with minor cramping in both calves, according to the NFL Network. He will have to perform the other on-field drills at LSU’s pro day on March 22. 

Elijah Holyfield, RB, Georgia: Holyfield ran the 40-yard dash in an unofficial 4.78 seconds Friday. The target time for running backs is 4.55 seconds. Holyfield was measured at 5-foot-10 and weighed 217 pounds. The only running back who ran the 40-yard dash slower was Wisconsin’s Alec Ingold, who ran 4.89. But Ingold is a 242-pound fullback, and Holyfield is a 217-pound tailback. 

Jachai Polite, DE, Florida: He failed to impress the scouts in his drills and during interviews. He’s reportedly coming off a hamstring injury and that may explain his slow 40-yard dash time of 4.84 seconds and less than impressive vertical jump of 32 inches. 

Isaac Nauta, TE, Georgia: He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.91 seconds compared to 4.5 seconds by Iowa’s Noah Fant, who had the fast times of the tight ends. Nauta’s time ranked 17th of the 19 tight ends at the combine. Nauta lifted 225 pounds 19 times on the bench press on Friday, which ranked tied for seventh among the tight ends. West Virginia’s Trevon Wesco was the top lifter for the tight end group with 24 repetitions.

C.J. Conrad, TE, Kentucky: He had to leave the combine after a medical exam revealed an issue with his heart. He must undergo additional testing for a heart valve problem that was causing an irregular heartbeat. Conrad hopes to have the matter cleared up by Kentucky’s pro day, which is set for March 22. 

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About the Author

D. Orlando Ledbetter
D. Orlando Ledbetter
D. Orlando Ledbetter is the Atlanta Falcons beat writer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.