With the offseason officially underway, Around The NFL will examine what's next for all 32 teams. The series continues with the Atlanta Falcons.
What isn't? The Falcons have undergone a sweeping makeover since the end of the season, restructuring their front office and firing long-time coach Mike Smith. The newly hired Dan Quinn has been charged with turning around a team that went 10-22 over the past two seasons.
Quinn's first order of business is fixing a defense that finished dead last in yardage allowed and never lived up the "toughness" mantra the team preached during HBO's Hard Knocks. With a long list of free agents, Atlanta is bound to field plenty of new starters come September.
On offense, play-caller Dirk Koetter has been replaced by new coordinator Kyle Shanahan. After what Shanahan pulled off with the Browns last season, we view the hiring as a major victory for Quinn and quarterback Matt Ryan. Shanahan is a creative game manager who should thrive in an offense anchored by premier wideout Julio Jones. On the ground, both Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff have pointed to second-year runner Devonta Freeman as featured-back material now that the team has parted ways with Steven Jackson.
Biggest free agents
» DE Osi Umenyiora: After just 2.5 sacks last season, Umenyiora is likely out the door. We've heard whispers he could return to the Giants, but Osi isn't about to land a big-time deal at age 33. The Falcons need to rebuild their front seven with younger, more dynamic pass rushers.
» RB Jacquizz Rodgers: Both Rodgers and Antone Smith are set to hit the open market, leaving Freeman as an obvious target for heavy carries next season. It's possible that Rodgers returns, but he's never crossed the 400-yard ceiling in any of his four seasons in Atlanta. The Falcons are just as likely to mine for new backfield talent in a deep and talented draft class.
» OLB Sean Weatherspoon: With Weatherspoon on the mend from the torn Achilles' tendon he suffered last summer, Dimitroff recently said he hopes to re-sign the sixth-year linebacker. The general manager called Weatherspoon an "important part" of Quinn's defense, but he's played in just 20 of 48 games over the past three campaigns.
Other key free agents: OLB Kroy Biermann, DT Corey Peters, CB Robert McClain, RB Antone Smith, G Mike Johnson, QB T.J. Yates, OT Gabe Carimi, CB Javier Arenas, S Dwight Lowery, S Charles Godfrey, OT Jonathan Scott.
On the way out
» Harry Douglas: Dimitroff acknowledged the team had "big decisions to make" when asked about Douglas. The wideout's was initially iffy -- as he was one season removed from his first 1,000-yard campaign -- but the Falconselected to cut Douglas, saving them $3.5 million against the cap.
What they need
It's much easier rebuilding a roster when you already have your quarterback in place. Ryan alone gives the Falcons hope, but there are plenty of holes elsewhere. Both lines lack difference-makers, with Atlanta desperately in need of young and ferocious pass rushers. The team also needs a play-making tight end and more talent at running back. We expect Quinn to churn the back-end of the defense, importing tall, physical corners and more depth at safety. It will take more than one offseason to address the franchise's many gaps.
Offseason crystal ball
We expect Quinn to make a run at free-agent cornerback Byron Maxwell. The former Seahawks star would make for a juicy pairing with talented young cover man Desmond Trufant. The Falcons also will mine the open market and April's draft for pass rushers to fill out a weak front seven.
Atlanta looms as one of the offseason's more intriguing teams because of what Shanahan brings to the offense. Ryan and Jones remain one of the finest quarterback-wideout tandems in the NFL, meaning the Falcons might get a new contract done for Jones before the regular season.
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