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Falcons ready for start of free agency

While the rest of the nation was adjusting to daylight saving time, Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff and team officials around the NFL were making their way through the league’s first legal tampering period.

From Saturday to 3:59 p.m. Tuesday, teams may negotiate with the agents of prospective unrestricted free agents, but are not allowed to reach agreements on contracts until 4 p.m. Tuesday.

In addition to contacting a select group of potential unrestricted free agents, the Falcons signed two of their own players and while continuing to negotiate with left tackle Sam Baker and cornerback Brent Grimes.

Starting safety William Moore and right guard Garrett Reynolds reached contract agreements on Saturday. Moore agreed to a five-year deal that could be worth as much as $32 million, with attainable escalators. Reynolds signed a two-year contract.

The Falcons also signed reserve running back Antone Smith to a two-year $1.425 million extension. He was set to become a restricted free agent.

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If the Falcons don’t reach deals with Baker and Grimes, they will become free agents at 4 p.m. along with tight end Tony Gonzalez, who is still deciding if he will return to the team for a 17th season.

Grimes is listed as a “Tier A” free agent by former NFL executive Bill Polian, who evaluated the free agent class for ESPN.com.

Grimes’ situation is complicated by the Achilles injury he suffered in the season opener against Kansas City. The recovery from his injury and subsequent surgery takes nine months, according to Falcons coach Mike Smith, meaning he might not be ready to show teams he’s fully recovered until June.

Baker, who has battled elbow and back injuries throughout his career, is coming off a strong fifth season. He is listed as a ‘Tier B’ free agent by Polian, which denotes players the former executive would sign, but only if the contract value made sense.

The market for left tackles is glutted with prospects and may drive down the price in free agency.

Denver took the top left tackle off the market when it placed the franchise tag on All-Pro Ryan Clady, who’s set to make $9.8 million, the average of the top five salaries at the position.

Will Beatty re-signed with the New York Giants and received a five-year deal that averaged $7.5 million per year.

New Orleans left tackle Jermon Bushrod and Miami’s Jake Long are also slated to become free agents. Long, 27, a four-time Pro Bowler, was selected No. 1 overall in the 2008 draft. The Falcons selected quarterback Matt Ryan two picks later.

Falcons fullback Mike Cox, who came on strong last season, appears set to hit the market. The Falcons drafted fullback Bradie Ewing last year, but he suffered a season-ending knee injury in his first exhibition game.

Also, veteran safety Chris Hope, cornerback Christopher Owens, center Todd McClure, quarterback Luke McCown, linebacker Mike Peterson, defensive end Lawrence Sidbury, offensive tackle Will Svitek and defensive tackle Vance Walker are all set to become unrestricted free agents.

The Falcons, along with the Broncos and Titans, are reportedly chasing the group of defensive end free agents. Atlanta released defensive end John Abraham in a salary cap move.

Tampa Bay’s Michael Bennett and Detroit’s Cliff Avril are the top-rated defensive ends in a listing of the top 50 free agents compiled by profootballfocus.com, an advanced-stat website. Abraham, Chicago’s Israel Idonije, Indianapolis’ Dwight Freeney and the Giants’ Osi Umenyiora are the next rated defensive ends.

After releasing Michael Turner, the Falcons also appear to have an opening at running back. Running back Steven Jackson, who voided his contract with the Rams, is a schematic fit for the Falcons. Jackson, 30, can catch passes and averaged 2.7 yards per carry after contact, according to profootballfocus.com.

Jackson’s athletic blend of speed, power and pass-catching ability would work well with running back Jacquizz Rodgers’ skills. Jackson is also reportedly coveted by Detroit, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Green Bay.

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