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. After Iowa defensive end A.J. Epenesa’s under-whelming scouting combine and a quick review of LSU linebacker K’Lavon Chaisson’s uneven film from last season, the Falcons, if they stay at 16, already know they are in pass-rushing hell.
Epenesa may go on to be a sturdy defensive end for the next 10 years, but nothing says that he’s the answer to the Falcons’ long-standing pass rushing issue. The team hasn’t had a legitimate pass-rush threat since they moved on from the dynamic John Abraham after the 2012 season.
Vic Beasley had the one 15.5-sack season in 2016, but he proved to be a one-trick pony. Takk McKinley, who came with shoulder issues, has had, guess what, shoulder issues in the pros. (T.J. Watt went four picks later to Pittsburgh. He has 34.5 sacks to McKinley’s 16.5.)
Maybe McKinley will get healthy and fulfill the vision the Falcons had for him this upcoming season.
At this point, with no money, about the only thing that makes sense is to trade up with Washington to select Ohio State defensive end Chase Young.
Which brings us to president Rich McKay, who’s back on the football side of things. General manager Thomas Dimitroff and coach Dan Quinn report to McKay, who pulled off the trade to get John Abraham here back in 2006.
Using Jimmy Johnson’s value chart, courtesy or pro-football reference, the price tag would be hefty. But without a pass rush, the Falcons are looking at another 7-9 campaign, a half-full stadium and a bunch of brand new uniforms on discount at Marshalls and T.J. Maxx.
The 1,600 point differential is a small price to pay to shake up the 2020 NFL draft by moving from the 16th slot to the No. 2 position.
Dimitroff has done this before — Julio Jones deal — and McKay paid a hefty price to get Abraham. They both know what must be done.
Washington’s pick is worth 2,600 points. The Falcons’ 16th overall pick is worth 1,000 points. You make up the 1,600-point differential by giving up this year’s second-round pick (47th, 430 points) and third-round (200) picks and here’s the tough part, next year’s first-round (740) and second-round (340 points) picks.
Under this scenario, the Falcons would keep their other 2020 second-round pick (55) they picked up in the Mohamed Sanu trade.
That should be 1,710 points, a bonus 110 goodwill points for making the deal going Washington’s way or they could shoot back a third-round pick in 2021 to make it closer to even.
In 2020, the Falcons would have the 2nd pick, second-round (55), fourth (116), fifth (157) and two sevenths (228 and 230). The Falcons traded the sixth-round pick to the Eagles in the Duke Riley for Johnathan Cyprien trade.
Young, who is 6-feet-5 and 264 pounds, finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting. He had 16.5 sacks last season for the Buckeyes. He compiled 10.5 sacks in 2018 and 3.5 as a true freshman.
Young didn’t work out at the combine, but he can point to the film of him terrorizing Big Ten quarterbacks.
Quinn didn’t believe that not working out would hurt Young’s draft status.
“It’s happened through the years,” said Quinn, who was attending his 20th or so combine. “What generally happens is it gets pushed back to his pro day.”
He’s seen some players push back their workouts to their Pro Day before. All the Falcons and other teams really needed from Young was his medical report and possibly an interview.
“I would say like most things, it’s on an individual basis,” Quinn said. “I’m sure there’s a reason why but that’s his choice to go. When a guy does that there will be a big crowd out in Columbus on whatever date they decide, I’m sure.”
Quinn, a former defensive line coach, is familiar with Young’s work.
“He’s put out pretty good tape,” Quinn said. “If he chooses to not work out even at Columbus, people are still going to be pretty pumped to have him on their team.”
Quinn joked about Young slipping to the Falcons if he didn’t workout in Columbus.
“Maybe I should do that and then he could slip down to us,” Quinn said. “That would be a good strategy.”
A better strategy, would be to ship the picks, and maybe even throw in running back Devonta Freeman to Washington, fix the franchise, energize the fan base and sell some new uniforms.
Only problem is that Young wear’s No. 2, but he’ll look just fine in 92, Reggie White’s old number.
2. Free agency tracker. With the NFL scouting combine over, the Falcons’ plodding offseason will now move to free agency.
At the Senior Bowl, Dimitroff projected that things would pick up after the Super Bowl.
After the Super Bowl, things have not picked up in part because the team had anticipated that there would be a new collective bargaining agreement. But some of the NFLPA representatives were not real happy about playing 17 games and the rank-and-file may turn down the proposed agreement.
The Falcons have until 4 p.m. March 10 to designate franchise or transition players. That’s not likely since the Falcons already said that tight end Austin Hooper, linebacker De’Vondre Campbell and guard Wes Schweitzer are headed to free agency.
The legal tampering period starts on March 16. Teams are permitted to contact, and enter into contract negotiations with agents of players who will become unrestricted free agents when their 2019 contracts expire at 4 p.m. March 18, the start of the new league year, when teams must be under the 2020 salary cap.
3. Who’s free? While the offseason is plodding along, the Falcons have made some decisions.
Here’s a look at where things stand with the potential unrestricted and restricted free agents:
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
Kenjon Barner, running back
Matt Schaub, quarterback – Club to pick up his option
Justin Hardy, wide receiver
Austin Hooper, tight end – Will be allowed to hit the market
Matt Simms, quarterback
Keith Smith, fullback – Team wants to re-sign him
Wes Schweitzer, offensive guard/center – Will be allowed to hit the market
Vic Beasley, defensive end/linebacker – Will not be re-signed
De'Vondre Campbell, linebacker – Will be allowed to hit the market
Adrian Clayborn, defensive end
Jack Crawford, defensive tackle
Johnathan Cyprien, safety
Tyeler Davison, defensive tackle
Ra’Shede Hageman, defensive tackle – Waived by the team on Jan. 13
Kemal Ishmael, safety/linebacker – Will not be re-signed by Falcons
Steven Means, defensive end
Sharrod Neasman, safety
Jamar Taylor, cornerback
John Wetzel, offensive lineman – Vested veteran contract terminated
J.J. Wilcox, safety
Blidi Wreh-Wilson, cornerback
Matt Bosher, punter
Ryan Allen, punter – Signed to a one-year contract extension for $945,000 on Feb. 18
Sam Irwin-Hill, punter – Signed to a one-year contract worth $510,000
4. Restricted free agents:
Brian Hill, running back
Michael Bennett, defensive tackle
Younghoe Koo, placekicker – Signed a one-year contract extension for $660,000 on Feb. 18.
5. Veteran moves. Reserve veteran offensive lineman John Wetzel was released by the Falcons, according to the league transaction wire on Monday.
We’re hearing the move was salary cap related and that he’ll be added back to the roster soon.
6. Broncos rumors keep swirling. An announcement of the Falcons’ opponent in London is forthcoming. Much of the speculation has been around the Denver Broncos.
Broncos coach Vic Fangio wants an East Coast game and then would fly straight to London, according to a couple Denver media members.
7. Joint practices. The Broncos will likely have a joint practice. The Falcons have submitted some proposals to the league office and are also looking at a joint practice for the first time under Quinn.
“I like joint practices,” Fangio said. “I’ve done a bunch of them. I remember when I was with the Bears, my last year there I brought it up to (Bears coach) Matt Nagy to do it. He had never been around one and I talked him into doing it.
“In my talk I counted them. Roughly, I had done about 40 of them in my career. He went around and tried it with us. If you remember we came out and worked against the Broncos and he loved it.
“He wanted to do it last year, but we couldn’t get it. It’s not official-official, but we should be able to do it this year.”
8. McGary’s interview. Shortly after taking the combine podium, Quinn opened with a conversation he had with Falcons tackle Kaleb McGary to describe the team’s interview process.
“We were just talking,” Quinn said. “He was going back to his brother’s high school’s wrestling match. I said I was heading to the combine. He said, ‘Man, it’s already that time.’ I said, ‘Well, I love meeting with the guys but it’s not been one where we try to jam the guys up.’ He said, ‘I know, I appreciated that. I was really nervous.’ I said, ‘The pit stains and the sweaty palms really did give it away,’ but it also reminded me how nervous these guys really are.
“I thought that was a big deal. These interviews are really important. We’re trying to get the connection with the right guys.”
9. Depth Chart. Based on who’s headed to free agency and who’s not expected back, here’s our projected post-scouting combine Falcons’ depth chart:
WR 11 Julio Jones, 13 Christian Blake, 19 Devin Gray
LT 70 Jake Matthews, 75 John Wetzel (He’s coming back)
LG 73 Matt Gono, 77 James Carpenter, 64 Sean Harlow
C 51 Alex Mack
RG 63 Chris Lindstrom, 68 Jamon Brown
RT 76 Kaleb McGary, 74 Ty Sambrailo, 66 Lukayus McNeil
TE 80 Luke Stocker, 87 Jaeden Graham, 85 Carson Meier
WR 18 Calvin Ridley, 83 Russell Gage, 17 Olamide Zaccheaus, 15 Brandon Powell
QB 2 Matt Ryan, 8 Matt Schaub, 6 Kurt Benkert, 16 Danny Etling
RB 25 Ito Smith, 32 Qadree Ollison, 23 Brian Hill, 42 Craig Reynolds
FB 40 Keith Smith (Team wants to re-sign)
DE 56 Steven Means, 55 Austin Larkin
DT 97 Grady Jarrett,
DT 94 Deadrin Senat
DE 93 Allen Bailey, 50 John Cominsky
DE 99 Takk McKinley 91 Jacob Tuioti-Mariner
LB 54 Foyesade Oluokun
LB 45 Deion Jones, 52 Ahmad Thomas
CB 26 Isaiah Oliver, 43 Jamar Taylor, 39 C.J. Reavis
CB 20 Kendall Sheffield, 28 Jordan Miller
SS 22 Keanu Neal, 32 Johnathan Cyprien, 41 Sharrod Neasman, 29 J.J. Wilcox
FS 27 Damontae Kazee, 37 Ricardo Allen, 35 Jamal Carter
K 7 Younghoe Koo
KO 7 Younghoe Koo
P 9 Ryan Allen, 9 Sam Irwin-Hill
LS 47 Josh Harris
H 9 Ryan Allen
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