A couple of questions surround the Falcons, who are set to start phase one of their “voluntary” offseason program Monday.
Will defensive tackle Grady Jarrett and wide receiver Julio Jones be on hand?
Jarrett, who had the $15.2 million franchise tag placed on him, is hoping to land a long-term contract. The team agreed to extend Jones’ contract after he did not attend the offseason workouts last season.
Jones’ contract was enhanced before the start of training camp last season and he went on to start all 16 games for the second consecutive season and for the third time in his career.
Owner Arthur Blank has stated that both players will be “Falcons for life” so there isn’t a matter of if the deals will get done, but a matter of when.
There is a July 15 deadline for Jarrett, who could play the season on the one-year franchise tag. Dallas recently signed defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence to a long-term deal after he received the franchise tag for two consecutive seasons.
The Cowboys saved $9.5 million in salary cap space and moved on to working on deals for other players.
The Falcons are in a similar situation with contract situations coming up for middle linebacker Deion Jones, strongside linebacker DeVondre Campbell and strong safety Keanu Neal.
“It’s a hard thing sometimes for the fan base to understand,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “ ‘Why don’t you re-sign everybody?’ I would totally love that. You do have to be strategic.”
In “phase one” of the offseason program, teams are limited over the first two weeks to strength and conditioning, and physical rehabilitation only.
Only full-time or part-time strength and conditioning coaches, who have no other coaching duties, are allowed on the field.
No coaches are allowed on the field or to participate in or observe activities.
No helmets or footballs can be used, but quarterbacks can throw to uncovered receivers.
The Falcons have several key players trying to come back from injury, including Neal (knee), running back Devonta Freeman (sports hernia surgery), free safety Ricardo Allen (Achilles), running back Ito Smith (knee) and guard Brandon Fusco (ankle).
The Falcons are looking forward to getting Freeman back in the offense as running back and pass catcher, especially after losing Tevin Coleman in free agency to the San Francisco 49ers.
“He can play slot,” Quinn said. “That’s how quick and sudden he is with good hands. We want to feature him in every way that we can. But man, we’re excited to get him back.”
With Neal and Allen recovering, the Falcons signed two safeties, Chris Cooper and Afolabi Laguda, to two-year contracts on Friday.
The Falcons elected not to re-sign Jordan Richards, who took over for Neal, while defensive back Damontae Kazee, who took over for Allen, is slated to move to nickel back. Sharrod Neasman, who split the strong safety spot with Richards, is back.
Laguda played at Colorado with Falcons cornerback Isaiah Oliver, who’s slated to take over at right cornerback for Robert Alford.
Laguda, is 6-foot-1 and 214 pounds, signed with the Rams as an undrafted free agent last season. He played at Brookwood High. He started his career at Butler (Kan.) Community College before playing at Colorado.
Cooper, 25, is 5-foot-10 and 202 pounds, and has spent time with the Colts, Bengals and Chiefs after starring at Stoneybrook.
The Falcons have focused on improving their offensive and defensive lines this offseason.
They signed free agent offensive guards James Carpenter, Ramon Brown and Adam Gettis.
The signings will not preclude the Falcons from continuing to address the trenches in the upcoming draft, which is set for April 25-27 in Nashville, Tenn.
“If we can become more stout and even stronger inside at defensive tackle, we need eight or nine defensive linemen who are able to go,” Quinn said. “We’ve got to add to that group. We’ll be strategic as we go (through the offseason), but there’s also a good draft this year that’s deep.”
NEW FALCONS SIGNED IN FREE AGENCY
Kenjon Barner, returner. Signed a one-year contract worth $895,000 on March 15. He received a $40,000 signing bonus.
Jamon Brown, guard: He signed a three-year, $18.75 million contract, which included a $5.5 million signing bonus on March 14.
James Carpenter, guard: Signed a four-year $21 million deal on March 14. He received a $3.5 million signing bonus.
Adrian Clayborn, defensive end. Signed a one-year contract that is worth $2 million on Tuesday, April 9. He received a $750,000 signing bonus.
Chris Cooper, safety. He has spent time with the Chiefs, Bengals and Colts.
Tyeler Davision, defensive tackle. He had a base salary of $1.9 million with the Saints last season.
Adam Gettis, guard: Signed a one-year contract worth $805,000 with the Falcons on Thursday, April 4. He’s been bouncing around the league since 2012 and has only started one game and played in 17.
Afolabi Laguda, safety. The former Brookwood High star spent last season on the Rams practice squad after going undrafted out of Colorado.
Luke Stocker, tight end. Signed a two-year contract worth $5.5 million on March. 15. He received a $1.5 million signing bonus.
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