Falcons' draft splash looks like preemptive free-agency strike

The Atlanta Falcons have put together a strong offensive line and running game, incubating potential superstar quarterback Matt Ryan, but they are prepared to move on with some adjustments to the right side of the line.

The Falcons, in making their free-agent projections, figure that two of their veteran free agents -- guard Harvey Dahl and tackle Tyson Clabo -- will garner hefty deals, according to league sources, and are prepared for contingencies for both leaving. General manager Thomas Dimitroff, a forward thinker and one of the best in the NFL at his craft, has been preparing for this possibility in recent years, adding depth on the offensive line through the draft. At this point, the Falcons are confident they have versatile youngsters who could fill the gaps should free agency negate 40 percent of their starting offensive line, as expected.

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The Falcons, having made a bold splash to move into the top 10 of the draft to select receiver Julio Jones, are likely to be judicious about free agency when it opens. There are reservations about some of the perceived top free agents in this class. Also, with this being a new labor agreement, it might make sense to let a year of the market play out some to determine how this system functions and to absorb all the rules and quirks.

They have spent big in recent years and feel good about their roster. Besides the offensive line, the Falcons are in good shape in terms of their own free agents. Some have linked them to premier corners on the market, but, according to league sources, the Falcons are focused on getting a new long-term deal for young corner Brent Grimes, and don't see value in the corner market for the way they utilize the position. The team also believes Dunta Robinson, a key acquisition a year ago, will continue to improve.

Atlanta could use another pass rusher -- a fact not lost on team officials -- but there too free agency is seen as an imprecise and suspect remedy. There are few proven pass rushers on the market, prices are expected to be quite high, and those available like Ray Edwards and Charles Johnson have some question marks with them as well. There is no definite fix there, and the costs associated with striking out on a high-end free agent are significant.

Don't overlook the impact of the first-round trade with Cleveland. Dimitroff had long ago assessed the free-agent market, and I suspect he determined it would not carry value at positions of need. The club was looking for another explosive player, a potential difference-maker, and knew it would not come with its pick deep in the first round.

So, rather than force a move or overspend for a pass rusher, they moved up, nabbing a receiver in Jones who could also help decide games and add explosive plays. If you can't find the right fit to disrupt the passer, then think outside the box and add someone who could help put points on the scoreboard.

Also, discussion continues internally as to whether the team could get something, anything, out of 2007 first-round pick Jamaal Anderson. The defensive end, who was inherited by this regime, has been a bust to this point (just 4.5 sacks in four seasons) and in the past coaches got him to bulk up hoping he could add strength. The Falcons might look to streamline him this year, getting him as light and quick as possible in hopes he might be able to give them a speed-rushing element on third-and-long situations. If nothing else, it's worth a shot, and it's not uncommon for players like that to find their niche later in their career.

Either way, the Falcons hope to be scoring even more points this season with Jones complimenting Roddy White. And sometimes, when looking at the big picture, perhaps the best defense is a really good offense.

Follow Jason La Canfora on Twitter @jasonlacanfora.

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