Posted on: April 24, 2012 2:55 am
We've heard it before: Tony Gonzalez says this year might be his final season in the NFL.
But the word is that this time around, it's his WIFE that is telling him to hang 'em up when the season is done. The boss has spoken, and I believe her. This is it for the greatest tight end in NFL history.
The Falcons should count their blessings that he returned even for this season. Justin Peelle got banged up in preseason last year and was released on an injury settlement. The Falcons signed Reggie Kelly as his replacement, bringing back some bad memories for long-time fans. (Dan Reeves traded away a future first rounder for the second round pick he used to get Kelly in 1999. It proved to be a top five overall selection, which the Ravens used to grab Jamal Lewis.) Kelly is now an unsigned free agent and likely to retire.
So if Gonzalez had decided to call it a career, Atlanta would have been without either of its top TEs.
Michael Palmer is an emerging player to consider, though he didn't get many pass-catching opportunities as the #3 in Mike Mularkey's system. At 6-5, 252, he presents a good target for Matt Ryan, and he got a lot of opportunity to work with the quarterbacks as the main TE during the unofficial OTAs during the lockout.
He doesn't have blazing speed, but he has good hands to go along with his blocking skills. I don't know if he'd be the answer as the future starter, but he's certainly capable of holding down the #2 spot.
After that, we're down to a trio of practice squad prospects - Marquez Branson, Tommy Gallarda, and Ryan Winterswyk. Branson is quick but only has small school experience and limited blocking skills. Winterswyk is a converted defensive end, but he showed real promise in preseason last year before getting banged up in the final exhibition game. Gallarda is a big, strong guy who can catch a few passes as well. He'd mainly be a blocking TE but could also be valuable in the red zone.
The big question: should we go after a TE in this year's draft?
The Falcons have obviously known for years that the clock was ticking on Gonzalez. That was a big part of the decision to trade up last year for Julio Jones. The idea was that the coaching staff knew the next starter probably wouldn't be able to match TG's production. So they went for a massive upgrade at WR instead. That way, it's okay if the next tight end proves to be a mere mortal.
Tight end may be the weakest position in this year's draft class. The general consensus is that there are three top tier prospects: Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen, and Orson Charles. Ladarius Green is the most intriguing of the rest of the bunch, with his speed and receiving ability (though his size and experience make him questionable for in-line blocking, essentially giving him the same function as a WR).
After that, most scouting reports say there's a pretty big dropoff to the rest of the pack, and there are mixed opinions on how far Green is from the top three.
My take: this could easily be viewed as the top draft priority. If one of the top three is still available at the #55 spot, the team should strongly consider taking him.
If that happens, that prospect would have a year to work with Gonzalez and learn from the best before moving into the starting role in 2013. Michael Palmer would remain the #3 this year before stepping up to the #2 role, giving the team a pretty solid duo. If any of the other prospects distinguish themselves in camp and on the practice squad, they'd be strong contenders for the #3 spot.
I'd also consider this year's TE class a case of top three or bust. If none of the big three are available, I'd prefer to see the team trade down, use their picks at other positions, let Michael Palmer play as the #2, and find a new starter next year.
For that matter, if new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter really does migrate towards a vertical passing attack, the tight end position might not be all that important outside of the red zone. The plan for 2013 might end up being an in-line TE for blocking duty (Palmer or even prospect Tommy Gallarda would suffice) and an h-back type. In that case, a very late pick might do the trick. One name I like for that type of role is Massachusetts h-back Emil Igwenagu, who has also played tailback, fullback, and traditional tight end.
But I'd rather try to draft a new starter if we could, and I'd prefer to go ahead and get him now, letting him work his rookie year as the #2 behind Gonzalez.
Bottom line: if I were in the war room, I'd be fighting hard for a top-three TE at #55.
Posted on: October 30, 2011 2:35 pm
One of the rare weeks where I'm in Atlanta for the weekend, and naturally it's our bye week... Oh well. That makes it a pretty good time to take a look at this coming offseason.
The Falcons had it easy with free agency heading into the 2009 and 2010 seasons, as the team was loaded with young players locked under contract. But the pendulum swung the other way this season and will be full tilt this coming offseason.
John Abraham will be a free agent. So will Brent Grimes, since we only tendered him as a RFA this year. Ditto for Eric Weems. The team only resigned Jason Snelling for a one year deal. He's a free agent again this year too. Same story with linebacker Mike Peterson.
Tony Gonzalez is in the final year of his contract. So are Todd McClure and Chris Redman, plus Joe Zelenka (long snappers are people too). And so are the second and later rounders from the 2008 draft: Curtis Lofton, Thomas DeCoud, Kroy Biermann, and Harry Douglas.
And except for DE Ray Edwards, who inked a long term deal, all of our new Falcons are only signed for this season: Kelvin Hayden, James Sanders, Brett Romberg, Reggie Kelly, Kirk Chambers, Mike Cox.
That's 19 unrestricted free agents on the current 53-man roster. Yikes...
At quarterback, Matt Ryan is still here. But John Parker Wilson is already a free agent - all practice squad members are free agents who could be plucked at any time. It's not a good sign for his future that the team chose to expose him rather than keep him on the roster. And Redman will turn 35 before the start of training camp next year. He may still have another year or two left in the tank, but I wouldn't depend on it. So figure at least one new quarterback - and maybe two - in our future next year.
At running back, the Falcons are in reasonable shape for 2012 - mainly because serviceable running backs are so easy to come by, and because the backups are still so underused. (Michael Turner has 138 carries going into the bye. The other RB/FBs have a combined total of 24.) Antone Smith has yet to carry the ball this year at all. He's likely to be a fringe player once again next summer.
At tight end, Michael Palmer is an exclusive rights free agent. That means the team can simply renew his contract, which makes him the only tight end they have locked in at all. Gonzalez has said he feels like he can play a few more years. He has also said before that he'd like to end his career with the Chiefs, so there's no telling whether he'd resign with Atlanta. Practice squad players Marquez Branson (injured) and Tommy Gallarda are likely to be here for camp on futures contracts. But we'll probably need more - I wouldn't expect to see Kelly back for another season.
At wide receiver, I would guess that Douglas wouldn't be too difficult to resign. Roddy White and Julio Jones are both here long term, and Kerry Meier is still under contract and likely to be more involved in his second year back from ACL surgery. The interesting question is whether one of the prospects might challenge for a roster spot. The front office reversed course last season. Instead of going for big guys with good hands but who are slow as molasses, the team started looking at speedsters. D.J. Davis and Kevin Cone are both lightning quick, and they're both getting a chance to learn the offense on the practice squad.
(I'm thrilled to see the change - finally. Too bad they couldn't have gone that route back in 2009, when we really could have used a speedster. Our scouts had seen Johnny Knox at the Texas vs The Nation game - but after trading away Laurent Robinson, Dimitroff left Knox sitting on the draft board to take cornerback William Middleton instead.)
For all the fuss about how Atlanta's offensive line would supposedly be devastated by free agency this season, we turned out to be overloaded instead. McClure is getting banged up pretty hard this year, and it's the final year of his contract. Don't be surprised if Ol' Mud Duck hangs up the cleats. But except for fill-ins Romberg and Chambers, everyone else is under contract at least through 2012. (One caveat: Sam Baker may be on one of those option or voidable years.) And there's already extra depth in the pipeline, as both Andrew Jackson and Jose Valdez are still sitting on the practice squad.
Specifically at center, Romberg would be likely to resign. He came aboard this season as a street level free agent. He's mainly working as a backup guard right now, but he's a natural center and was here previously as the #2 behind McClure. He became expendable last year when the team drafted Joe Hawley. Now he'd be a pretty obvious choice to bring back as Hawley's backup.
At DE, we're in trouble. Both Abraham and Biermann will be free agents. Can we even afford to sign both? We'd need at least one of them returning to supplement the remaining trio of Edwards, Lawrence Sidbury, and Cliff Matthews - and Sidbury will be a free agent after next season. If we're going to stick with the current 4-3 scheme, the DE position will continue to need attention every year.
At DT, we're set. Vance Walker will be a restricted free agent this offseason, and if he's still here, Carlton Powell would be a restricted free agent after 2012. But the trio of Jonathan Babineaux, Corey Peters and Peria Jerry won't be free agents until 2014.
At linebacker, resigning Lofton will be a priority. But otherwise, Peterson is the only free agent this year, and Spencer Adkins is the only one set to become a free agent next year.
At cornerback, the question is whether we'd be able to hang on to Grimes at all. He was hoping for a long term deal this year but only got a tender. He's coming off a Pro Bowl appearance and continuing to make highlight reel plays. If he hits the open market, somebody is bound to offer him the big bucks, as the Ravens did with Domonique Foxworth a few years back. Hayden will also be a free agent this offseason, and Chris Owens will be entering the final year of his contract. The team has already started preparing for 2012 by keeping undrafted rookie Darrin Walls on the roster, while Dominique Franks also continues to develop.
One potential scenario: Grimes bolts for the big bucks, but the team resigns Hayden. Even before the draft, that gives Atlanta a quintet of Dunta Robinson, Hayden, Owens, Franks and Walls. Throw in few futures contract or two - perhaps bringing Kamaal McIlwain in for another run at training camp - and the group as a whole would at least be no worse off than in 2009 and 2010.
At safety, Decoud and Sanders are both free agents. That leaves William Moore (who will be in the final year of his contract) and Shann Schillinger as the only safeties locked in. The team opted to expose Rafael Bush to the practice squad instead of Walls, and he has already been plucked away. Suaesi Tuimaunei is getting a chance to learn the system as the replacement for Bush on the practice squad. He's an intriguing possibility as a long term project, but he won't be ready for real action in 2012. At least one more safety will be a must.
Tags: Andrew Jackson, Atlanta, Brent Grimes, Brett Romberg, Chris Owens, Chris Redman, Curtis Lofton, Falcons, James Sanders, Jason Snelling, John Abraham, John Parker Wilson, Jose Valdez, Kelvin Hayden, Kroy Biermann, Michael Palmer, Sam Baker, Suaesi Tuimaunei, Thomas Decoud, Thomas Decoud, Todd McClure, Tony Gonzalez, William Moore, William Moore
Posted on: October 3, 2009 10:04 pm
Just filling the void of the early bye week with this one...
After three weeks, we've seen some interesting signs - both good and bad. Here are ten observations, in no particular order:
Tony Gonzalez is everything we hoped he'd be. Wow...
The young secondary isn't as bad as we feared, but they still have a long way to go. Brian Williams and Tye Hill may prove to be our CBs of the near future. And yes, I'll go ahead and say it: I'm not expecting to see Chris Houston in a Falcons uniform beyond 2010, if he even lasts that long.
Jason Snelling can play. It's scary to think that Petrino actually cut him to make room for (gulp) Artose Pinner, who was allegedly Petrino's short yard specialist. Yeah, right... nice move, Coach Booby. Snelling is much better all around and excels in short yardage situations. He can block and catch passes out of the backfield too.
The Falcons are still overusing Michael Turner. For heaven's sake Smitty, give the man more rest. 350+ carries a season is too many.
Eric Weems is getting it done as a return man. If he keeps this up he'll stick on the roster purely for his special teams play, regardless of whether he ever blossoms as a wideout. (And as hard as he's been working the last two years, I'm not ready to count him out even at WR.)
We're still undersized in the middle of the d-line, with or without Peria Jerry. I hoped our braintrust would have solved this problem by now. The smoke and mirrors approach to disguising it can only go so far, as the Falcons saw in the wild card loss to the Cardinals.
The preview rags all said the linebacker group would be a problem. HA! Stephen Nicholas, Mike Peterson and Curtis Lofton are looking pretty good early on. (While I'm picking on the previews, the so-called professional analysts also unanimously claimed the Falcons had depth problems on the o-line. Who comes up with this nonsense, and have any of these guys ever even been to the complex??)
Any questions about whether Chauncey Davis would take away Jamaal Anderson's starting job are now officially moot. They're both duds. (Kroy Biermann is part of the answer, but even with his added bulk he's still too small for a lot of snaps in run defense. The Eagles game will be a big test for him. The Philadelphia o-line pancaked him non-stop in last year's game.)
Thomas DeCoud is turning into a beast. In camp and preseason LAST year, he looked lost - hesitating, misreading plays, and missing open field tackles. This year he's coming on strong and showing that he truly deserves the starting spot. Even if William Moore had been healthy all preseason, Decoud probably would have won the job.
We have weapons beyond belief on the offensive side of the ball, but the play calling has suddenly become more conservative than the FOX News Channel. And this three man rush prevent defense has got to go. It almost cost the team the game against the Panthers. Sooner or later it will turn a W into an L. If we're going to put an end to this back-to-back thing, we can't afford to let games slip away.
Posted on: September 2, 2009 2:31 am
Since we just acquired a CB from the team we played the week before, it seemed pretty obvious to double check and see how well the guy did against us.
Executive summary: he did well in pass coverage, but he couldn't tackle a running back to save his life.
If by chance you still have a copy of the video (you DO record and save every single Falcons game, right?) here are the plays to review:
13:00 remaining Q1, 2nd and 3 at Rams 27 - Michael Turner runs around the right side for a 9 yard gain and a first down. Hill lined up on the defensive left/offensive right side, covering Roddy White. He attempted to tackle Turner but missed. (A CB attempting to bring down MT seems almost unfair, so it's hard to blame him too much for that one.)
7:20 Q1, 1st and 10 at ATL 30 - Hill has coverage on Roddy. The ball was thrown past them out of bounds. It's possible that Matt Ryan saw the coverage and threw it over their heads intentionally. Regardless, Hill was on Roddy like a suit. That one had almost zero chance of being caught.
4:14 Q1, 2nd and 10 at Rams 25 - Hill lines up on Michael Jenkins. The Rams did a lot of zone coverage, and it appears that Hill was on the outside zone on this play. When Jenkins broke to the middle, Hill let him go. Chris Long was the defender in coverage on him when Jenkins caught the short pass. (Or at least it appeared that way - if that play was supposed to be man coverage, Hill should have stayed with him. But I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. It wasn't his play.)
3:33 Q1, 1st and 10 at Rams 14 - Hill was the DB with the one-on-one coverage on Tony Gonzalez. TG gets the touchdown. Big surprise, huh? Hill was right there with Gonzalez, but the throw was positioned so that TG could fend him off. He did just that. Six points for Atlanta.
Trent Green said he loved to throw to TG in those situations, because NOBODY could beat Tony in single man coverage. The linebackers weren't quick/agile enough to keep up with him, and the DBs weren't big enough to avoid being screened out by him as Hill was on this play.
That was the ONLY pass that Atlanta completed against Hill. Ryan and Shockley only threw it his way twice, choosing to take on Bartell or Wade (the nickel corner) instead.
14:42 Q2 - 1st and 10 at ATL 9 - Hill misses a tackle on Norwood. I can understand bouncing off of Michael Turner. But if you get your hands on Norwood, you ought to be able to get him down. Or at least hang on until help arrives.
13:57 Q2 - 2nd and 15 at ATL 19 - D.J. Shockley throws a pass to Marty Booker. Booker botches the catch, tipping the ball into the air. The refs say that James Laurinaitis made the interception. (Note - he didn't. The ball hit the ground, and Road Warrior Junior secured it on the short hop. I have no idea why Smitty didn't throw the red flag.)
Hill was NOT the one in coverage on Booker. He had the outside zone. But he was running in towards the ball and had as good a shot at it as Laurinaitis, who collided with him while making the "catch".
8:19 Q2 - 1st and 10 at ATL 16 - Hill AGAIN misses a tackle on Norwood. This time Jerious put a pretty lame move on Hill and ran right past him. Hill didn't even attempt to make the hit.
And that was the last play where Hill had any significant involvement. Quick take: he was considered good enough by the Rams to start. He was good enough that the Falcons QBs went elsewhere on all but two throws, and he didn't allow separation on either of those.
So he had a nice game in coverage. Or at least he was better against us than our CBs were against the Rams, and far better than our guys were against the Chargers. Perhaps he really is an upgrade - as long as we're not counting on him to play run defense. That part of his game was ugly with a capital Ugh.