Part of Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Dan Quinn’s first offseason together was spent searching for bargain-basement free agents who fit the team’s new schemes.
With Quinn now having a clearer vision of how he wants his team to play in the NFC South, the Falcons are in a better position to add a major free agent and perhaps a quality mid-level piece this offseason.
“I now have the luxury, after a whole year, of knowing exactly where we stand on our team, where you can imagine last year going in, I didn’t,” Quinn said. “You have a sense of what you think might be and then, now after going through it, man, I can’t wait to get rolling because I have such a clear vision to help Thomas.”
Seattle linebacker Bruce Irvin, New York Giants wide receiver Rueben Randle and Cincinnati wide receiver Mohamed Sanu are possible free agent targets.
“You can hit on some of the mid-line money guys and they are going to have really important role on our team,” Dimitroff said. “We feel like we are going to continue to do that.”
After the Falcons count their top 51 contracts and the impending release of defensive tackle Paul Soliai, the team is projected to have $29.3 million available under the projected $153 million salary cap.
While the Falcons will attend the scouting combine this week, they’ll also be preparing for the start of free agency. Teams and player representatives can start discussing deals on March 7, but can’t sign deals until 4 p.m. on March 9, the start of the NFL’s new business year.
Before then, teams must submit qualifying offers to their restricted free agents in order to retain the right of first refusal. The Falcons ‘restricted free agents are starting right tackle Ryan Schraeder, leading tackler linebacker Paul Worrilow and reserve linebacker Nate Stupar.
Before moving on to free agency, the Falcons will have some decisions to make with their 12 free agents. Here’s how the Falcons’ free agents are ranked by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
1. O’Brien Schofield, OLB/DE
After playing for Quinn in Seattle, he signed a one-year $1.75 million deal last March. He made 11 starts and played in all 16 games. He played 500 of the team’s defensive snaps (47.6 percent) and finished with 28 tackles, two sacks and one forced fumble. He wants to return, but may receive a better offer elsewhere.
2. Philip Wheeler, LB
Wheeler, the veteran from Georgia Tech, came on strong after being picked up at midseason. He played in nine games, making two starts. He finished with 30 tackles, a tackle for a loss and a sack. He played with the speed and urgency that Quinn covets. He’s also valuable as a reserve. He played 144 snaps (13.7 percent) and 75 snaps on special teams.
3. Adrian Clayborn, DT/DE
Clayborn didn’t perform well as a pass-rushing tackle in the nickel defense. The Falcons moved him back out to his natural end position later in the season. He made five starts over 16 games after signing an incentive-laden, one-year deal. He played 523 defensive snaps (49.8 percent) and made 15 tackles, three sacks and a fumble recovery. He wants to return, but the team will try to upgrade his position.
4. Chris Chester, RG
Chester turned 33 last month. With a base salary of $1.55 million, he played 1,140 of the offensive snaps (100 percent) and was a strong run blocker. The Falcons plan to upgrade the interior of the offensive line. Ideally, the team is trying to find players who can handle the outside zone-blocking system and remain strong in pass protection. They may also bring Chester back.
5. Kroy Biermann, DE
Biermann is expected to be re-signed as a reserve. He understands the nuances of Quinn’s schemes and has been a steady pro. He played in all 16 games (no starts) last season and had 31 tackles with 2.5 sacks. He played 516 of the defensive snaps (49.1 percent) and was one of special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong’s core players.
6. Phillip Adams, CB
Played in 13 games and made three starts as the nickel back. He was insurance in case rookie Jalen Collins didn’t come along and if Robert Alford didn’t adapt to playing inside in the nickel. He finished with 37 tackles, four passes defensed and one interception. He played 429 defensive snaps (40.9 percent) and 106 special teams snaps (25.7 percent).
7. Charles Godfrey, SS
Godfrey played in eight games and made 11 tackles. Godfrey, 30, was steady down the stretch and did a nice job of covering tight ends.
8. Gino Gradkowski, C/G
Gradkowski started the final game at center. The team is looking to upgrade the position through free agency.
9. Shayne Graham, K
He was steady while filling in for injured Matt Bryant.
10. Bryce Harris, OT
Harris played in two games and just 14 snaps. He has played in 34 NFL games with four starts.
11. Jake Long, OT
He was signed as insurance last season in case something happened to left tackle Jake Matthews or if Schraeder faltered at right tackle. The former No. 1 overall draft pick and four-time Pro Bowler wants to show that he can play still. With the tackle position solidified, he’s expected to look elsewhere in free agency.
12. Tony Moeaki, TE
Moeaki played in 10 games and caught three passes for 58 yards and one touchdown. He played just 89 offensive snaps (7.8 percent).
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