Welcome to the Cover 9@9 blog — our weekly list of nine things that you need to know about the Atlanta Falcons.
1. The no-spin zone. The NFL quickly refuted reports that it had dates set for mandatory minicamps.
Some of the workers have returned to team facilities around the league including the Falcons, but coaches and players have not yet.
The NFL and the NFLPA have not negotiated the return of the players as the nation appears to be slowly reopening during the coronavirus pandemic, which shut things down in March.
In 2019, the Falcons’ mandatory minicamp was held June 11-13. During last season’s gloried session, wide receiver Julio Jones, defensive tackle Grady Jarrett and defensive end Vic Beasley were on hand after skipping the offseason program. Jones and Jarrett had contract situations, while Beasley had no interest in receiving extra coaching from then coach/defensive coordinator Dan Quinn.
Optimism was high for the Falcons defense, which was set to welcome back safeties Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen back from injuries. Both discussed the unit’s return to Top 10 status in the league like in 2018.
All of the players were praising the coaching changes and Quinn taking over the defense.
It was a time to think that the Falcons would easily rebound from the 7-9 season in 2018 with three new coordinators, Quinn, offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter and special teams coordinator Ben Kotwica.
Things didn’t go so well for Quinn and the defense, who after a 1-7 start essentially removed himself.
The offense never had a chance as it was hit with injuries along the offensive line and was playing from behind.
The special teams, who would go on to finish 30th out of 32 in overall rankings, were sputtering about, too.
The 2019 season had the worst start since Bobby Petrino’s team started the season 1-6. They would go on to finish 4-12 with Emmitt Thomas closing out the season as the interim coach over the final three games.
Coach Mike Smith’s 4-12 team of 2013, started the season 1-4 before winning their second game.
If things get settled in time, a lot of the attention would be on offseason pickups, running back Todd Gurley, defensive end Dante Fowler and tight end Hayden Hurst.
Also, defensive end Takk McKinley, who’s on the spot to produce after getting his $10 million fifth-year option declined, would have been scrutinized as he’s recovering from his third shoulder surgery.
The Falcons started their offseason program April 18 and have conduct sessions virtually.
You never want to put too much stock in the mandatory minicamp, but it would be good to get a glimpse of the new-look Falcons.
2. Looking back at the Freeman deal: The Falcons should never have granted Devonta Freeman a five-year $41.25 million contract extension after the 2016 Super Bowl season.
It was tacky how he brought up his contract issues the week of the franchise’s second appearance in the Super Bowl. It had to be a distraction.
Also, after he whiffed on the Dont’a Hightower block, why the team was in such a rush to grant him an extension was perplexing. They deal they would later regret included $22 million in guarantees and was agreed on in August 2017.
That decision has come back to haunt them.
After two down seasons, the Falcons cut their losses and released Freeman this offseason.
He had three years remaining on the contract and was set to receive base salaries of $6.5 million in 2020, $6.3 million in 2021 and $8.2 million in 2022. The Falcons will save $3.5 million in salary-cap space this season.
Those base-salary losses explain why Freeman balked at a one-year deal worth up to $4 million from Seattle.
The Falcons are taking $6 million salary in a dead cap hit in 2020 because of the poor Freeman deal. Freeman had two good seasons running under the great Bobby Turner, the top running backs coach in the game.
Under Turner, Freeman was one of the NFL’s most productive backs in 2015 and ’16. He amassed over 1,500 yards from scrimmage in both seasons and had 14 and 13 touchdowns.
Free agency hasn’t gone well for Freeman, who tweeted out that he has 10 more years left and disputed that he would retire. He finished by blasting his detractors. The tweet was later deleted.
3. Rooney rule changes. The NFL has recognized that it has a hiring problem at the higher levels of their teams. AJC columnist Steve Hummer took a look at the issue in a recent column.
Also, check out this column by Rick Gosselin on the great Bill Nunn, a former sports writer turned NFL scout who belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame for helping to build the 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers.
4. Where are they now. We caught up with former Falcons defensive line coach Bryan Cox for our new “Where are they now” series.
5. Cox on the Last Dance. Cox (2014-16) played for the Bears during part of the Chicago Bulls era.
“You look at (Michael) Jordan and that time, for two years of that, ’96 and ’97, I was in Chicago and I got to hang out with Ron Harper,” Cox said. “He was the guy that I hung out with in Chicago even more than some of my Bears teammates. I got to see something. I got to know what they were doing on some level.”
So did Jordan really “bully” his teammates into being great?
“Yeah, the only problem, when you are a player, which is part of my problem, you can control some of that in the locker room,” Cox said. “When I was playing, I could control that. When you’re a coach, you have to back away from that a little bit. That has to come from the locker room. That can’t come from a coach. That can’t come from the staff. So, in my self-judging, I understand that more now. Whereas maybe then, in the moment, I didn’t understand that as much.”
6. Coach-of-the-year odds: New England’s Bill Belichick and Tampa Bay’s Bruce Arians are 12-to-1 favorites to win the Associated Press Coach of the Year Award for the 2020 NFL season, according to www.BetONline.ag.
First-year Dallas coach Mike McCarthy is next at 14-to-1, followed by Indianapolis coach Frank Reich at 16-to-1.
Falcons coach Dan Quinn is back the 18th position along with a pack of coaches with 30-to-1 odds to win the league’s top coaching award.
In addition to Quinn, Los Angles Chargers coach Anthony Lynn, Green Bay’s Matt LaFleur, Chicago’s Matt Nagy, the Los Angles Rams’ Sean McVay and New Orleans’ Sean Payton all have 30-to-1 odds.
Jacksonville’s Doug Marrone, Houston’s Bill O’Brien and the New York Jets’ Adam Gase are the longshots with 50-to-1 odds.
Here are the odds:
AP Coach of the Year 2020
Bill Belichick 12/1
Bruce Arians 12/1
Mike McCarthy 14/1
Frank Reich 16/1
Andy Reid 18/1
Kevin Stefanski 18/1
Kliff Kingsbury 18/1
Sean McDermott 18/1
Kyle Shanahan 20/1
Mike Vrabel 22/1
Brian Flores 25/1
Doug Pederson 25/1
John Harbaugh 25/1
Vic Fangio 25/1
Mike Tomlin 28/1
Mike Zimmer 28/1
Pete Carroll 28/1
Anthony Lynn 30/1
Dan Quinn 30/1
Matt LaFleur 30/1
Matt Nagy 30/1
Sean McVay 30/1
Sean Payton 30/1
Matt Patricia 33/1
Matt Rhule 33/1
Zak Taylor 33/1
Joe Judge 40/1
Jon Gruden 40/1
Ron Rivera 40/1
Adam Gase 50/1
Bill O'Brien 50/1
Doug Marrone 50/1
7. Gurley’s workout. Falcons running back Todd Gurley gave a glimpse of his workout on the internet.
8. Bucannon makes it 17 first-rounders.
With the signing of linebacker Deone Bucannon on Thursday, the Falcons have signed or acquired six former first-round draft picks this offseason.
Now, on the 90-man roster, the Falcons have 17 players who were selected in the first-round of the NFL draft. There are 11 on offense and six on defense.
In addition to first-round pick cornerback A.J. Terrell (16th overall), here are the former first-round picks acquired this offseason:
- Deone Bucannon, LB, 27th overall, 2014
- Dante Fowler, DE, 3rd overall, 2015
- Todd Gurley, RB, 10th overall, 2015
- Laquon Treadwell, WR, 23rd overall, 2016
- Charles Harris, DE, 22nd overall, 2017
- Hayden Hurst, TE, 25th overall, 2018
Here are the other former first-round picks currently on the roster:
- Quarterback Matt Ryan (3rd overall, 2008)
- Center Alex Mack (21, 2009)
- Wide receiver Julio Jones (6, 2011)
- Guard James Carpenter (25th, 2011)
- Left tackle Jake Matthews (6, 2014)
- Safety Keanu Neal (17, 2016)
- Defensive end Takk McKinley (26, 2017)
- Wide receiver Calvin Ridley (26, 2018)
- Right guard Chris Lindstrom (14, 2019)
- Right tackle Kaleb McGary (31, 2019)
9. Depth chart. With the signing of linebacker Deone Bucannon, here’s a look at the Falcons’ updated depth chart, which includes the undrafted rookie free agents, who haven’t been assigned numbers yet:
WR 11 Julio Jones, 13 Christian Blake, 19 Devin Gray, 80 Laquon Treadwell, Chris Rowland, Juwan Green
LT 70 Jake Matthews, 75 John Wetzel, Hunter Atkinson
LG 61 Matt Hennessy, 73 Matt Gono, 77 James Carpenter, 64 Sean Harlow
C 51 Alex Mack, 61 Matt Hennessy, 64 Sean Harlow, Austin Capps
RG 63 Chris Lindstrom, 68 Jamon Brown, 65 Justin McCray, Justin Gooseberry
RT 76 Kaleb McGary, 65 Justin McCray, Scottie Dill, Evin Ksiezarczyk
TE 81 Hayden Hurst, 86 Khari Lee, 87 Jaeden Graham, 85 Carson Meier, Jared Pinkney, Caleb Repp
WR 18 Calvin Ridley, 83 Russell Gage, 17 Olamide Zaccheaus, 15 Brandon Powell, Jalen McCleskey
QB 2 Matt Ryan, 8 Matt Schaub, 6 Kurt Benkert, 16 Danny Etling
RB 21 Todd Gurley, 25 Ito Smith, 30 Qadree Ollison, 23 Brian Hill, 42 Craig Reynolds
FB 40 Keith Smith, Mikey Daniel
DE 56 Dante Fowler, 53 Austin Larkin, Bryson Young
DT 97 Grady Jarrett, 50 John Cominsky, Hinwa Allieu
DT 96 Tyeler Davison, 90 Marlon Davidson, 94 Deadrin Senat, Sailosi Latu
DE 93 Allen Bailey, 55 Steven Means, 53 Austin Larkin
DE 98 Takk McKinley, 92 Charles Harris, 91 Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, Austin Edwards
LB 54 Foyesade Oluokun, 44 Deone Bucannon, 46 Edmond Robinson, 52 Ahmad Thomas, Jordan Williams
LB 45 Deion Jones, 59 LaRoy Reynolds, 43 Mykal Walker, Ray Wilborn
RCB 26 Isaiah Oliver, 29 Josh Hawkins, 39 C.J. Reavis, Delrick Abrams, Tyler Hall
LCB 24 A.J. Terrell, 33 Blidi Wreh-Wilson, 28 Jordan Miller, Rojesterman Farris
NCB 20 Kendall Sheffield, 34 Chris Cooper
SS 37 Ricardo Allen, 22 Keanu Neal, 32 Jaylinn Hawkins, 35 Jamal Carter
FS 27 Damontae Kazee, 37 Ricardo Allen, 41 Sharrod Neasman
K 7 Younghoe Koo
KO 7 Younghoe Koo
P 9 Ryan Allen, 4 Sterling Hofrichter
LS 47 Josh Harris
H 9 Ryan Allen
KOR 15 Brandon Powell, 17 Olamide Zaccheaus
PR 15 Brandon Powell, 17 Olamide Zaccheaus
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