by Paul "Closer" Wanecski
An unhappy owner is a dangerous owner and that is exactly how fans should perceive Arthur Blank this offseason. While the Atlanta Falcons weren’t the most aggressive team when looking for a new head coach, they settled on Dan Quinn, fresh off two consecutive Super Bowl appearances with the Seattle Seahawks. Along with Quinn will follow Kyle Shanahan, most recently the Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator. The Falcons will have $23.5 million to work with in salary cap space for 2015 to go along with the 8th overall selection in this upcoming NFL draft. While they have made significant front office changes, the look on the field may not change.
This roster is loaded with talent. While Matt Ryan may not be what most refer to as a franchise quarterback, he is consistent enough to get you to the top of any division, especially with the talent at the wide receiver position. The problem the last several years has been the defensive scheme and the total lack of a running game. Atlanta will be aggressive getting pass rushers, as they have been devoid of talent in that respect for the last 3 seasons. They will also need to evaluate what kind of system they ultimately want to run, but with new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and defensive minded head coach Dan Quinn, the team is about to get a much needed facelift.
Atlanta is in a strange spot. A majority of the larger contracts they have would actually negatively impact the salary cap if those players were cut instead of saving them money. Absent a running game last year, RB Steven Jackson will most likely be released saving $3.75 million.
The same goes for WR Devin Hester and DT Jonathan Babineaux, who would save over $4 million combined along with Harry Douglas whose release would save $3.5 million.
They could save $10.17 million by releasing Julio Jones (not going to happen), so extending his current deal makes the most sense.
Overthecap.com wrote a great article about fallout from left tackle Sam Baker’s contract (http://overthecap.com/falcons-sam-baker-working-bad-contracts); A post June 1st cut saves them $4.5 million.
OLB Osi Umenyiora was a disappointment, he will not return.
RB Antone Smith will be brought back on a 2 year deal (was making only $762,500 last season before breaking his leg). He is a big play threat who the Falcons will need to retain. He is currently 29 years old however; he could bridge the gap for a late round RB selection in this year’s draft.
OLB Kory Biermann or OLB Sean Witherspoon, one needs to come back (both made about $4 million last year).
Former 1st round pick Gabe Carimi is gone.
The Falcons desperately need someone on the edge that can get to the quarterback. This is evidence of the fact that they only had 22 sacks in 2014 (tied for 30th). If Tennessee passes on DE Leonard Williams (USC), Atlanta could package a second round selection to jump in front of Washington to select him. They would most likely not be able to trade with Oakland, as they will be set on drafting WR Amari Cooper (Alabama).
If they cannot move up to get Williams, DE Dante Fowler Jr (Florida) or DE Shane Ray (Missouri) would not be poor compensation prizes. Fowler Jr. is clearly the more desirable of the two.
TE Maxx Williams (Minnesota) would be a stretch at the top of the 2nd round but tight ends with athletic pass catching ability come at a premium in the NFL draft.
CB Kevin Johnson (Wake Forest) or another defensive back in the 3rd round makes sense for Atlanta. Selecting Gerod Holliman (Louisville) or Derron Smith (Fresno State) at safety might also happen, but a veteran fits best here. Quinn benefited greatly from having a hammer in Seattle’s Cam Chancellor and every team seems to be on the prowl for the next player like him. None of those appear in this draft.
Bleacher Report's Matt Miller says RB Matt Jones (Florida) could be a last round fit. He is a big kid at 6’2 235 with two previous knee injuries which will cause his free-fall into the later rounds of the draft.
The offensive line isn’t in too bad. The Shanahan’s are famous for the zone blocking scheme they run. It is important in the short term to find players who are familiar with how that scheme is executed, even if they were not starters. These players will be sought after, as Gary Kubiak will be looking for the same as the new Denver Broncos head coach. Watch for players from the Houston Texans, Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens to possibly be the focus for Atlanta and Denver both.
A player like RT Derek Newton (Houston), who made an affordable $1.5 million last season, would be a target.
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