Orlando Pace Officially Hits The Free Agent Market

Should the Atlanta Falcons be interested?  Yes, he’s an aging veteran that would cost more than a 2009 draft pick in salary.  But, the 33-year-old tackle is one of the best offensive linemen of our generation and could boost any team’s line play.

The problem is Pace may cost close to what the Rams cut him for – $6-7 million a season.  With the loss of Todd Weiner this off-season, Pace may not be a bad move.  On the other side, Atlanta’s offensive line from 2008 was great and is still intact with Sam Baker returning from a lingering injury that took him out of a few games.

My gut says Atlanta will not pursue Pace, as it doesn’t fit with Dimitroff’s style, but I don’t think it would be a bad move.  Pace is still one of the best in the game at his position and can play at a high level for another couple seasons.

Falcons Sign Veteran Mike Peterson

Mike Peterson, a former player for Mike Smith in Jacksonville signed with Atlanta today.  He’s about the same age as the guy he’s replacing, Keith Brooking.  The difference?  His salary over the next two years will be less than Brooking’s 2008 salary.  In addition, Peterson has tread left on the tire if he can stay healthy.  Peterson didn’t get along with Jacksonville’s current coach, Jack Del Rio, but had a good relationship with Smith a few years ago.

Peterson can step into a role next to Curtis Lofton (already stated with the organization’s announcement of the signing) while Atlanta finds a long-term solution in the stocked 2010 NFL draft.  Peterson is physical with good instincts and can make plays in 2009.

Falcon Fans Rejoice – Terrell Owens Signs In Buffalo

Terrell Owens is officially off the market.  The Buffalo Bills agreed to a one-year deal for over $6 million with the aging receiver.  Atlanta was never a big possibility for Owens, but most NFL teams’ fans were a little nervous the longer Owens was available.  Despite some success (Super Bowl appearance in Philly, playoffs in Dallas), Owens has generally been a cancer wherever he has played.

Imagine the strain on Matt Ryan’s career with Owens barking at him on the sidelines – especially with Atlanta’s run-first and often mentality on offense. 

Buffalo pairs Owens with Lee Evans for a formidable pair of wide receivers.  The problem is Trent Edwards is a young, unproven quarterback that struggles at times.  The Bills’ offense is far from a juggernaut entering 2009.  Terrell Owens will give the team’s exposure a boost with games against New England, Miami and New York as possibilities for primetime spots.  Buffalo also will visit the Georgia Dome in 2009 and play the Colts and Panthers.

Atlanta Falcons Silent During Free Agency

The Falcons have lost a number of players in the 2009 NFL free agent season – and so far, haven’t replaced any of them.  Grady Jackson, Keith Brooking, Michael Boley, Lawyer Milloy and Dominique Foxworth have all departed with little resistence.  The front office in Atlanta has stuck by their word – build through the draft, get younger and reduce the risk by avoiding high-priced, past-their-prime veterans.  Mission accomplished.  As it stands now, Atlanta could receive a few compensatory draft picks in 2010 from their departed free agents, a draft that GM Thomas Dimitroff has labeled a loaded draft in terms of talent.  Everyone in Atlanta has nothing to do but trust the guy who spear-headed the great 2008 NFL draft where Atlanta picked Matt Ryan, Sam Baker, Curtis Lofton and Harry Douglas among others.  Atlanta will look to address the defense in the 2009 draft, where 5 starters have already left Atlanta from the 2008 lineup.  Atlanta is already cap-friendly with plenty of space and more to come after Michael Vick’s albatross contract is removed from the books.  The Falcons are looking to build a consistent winner, something new for the franchise, by avoiding knee-jerk moves in free agency that do little in the long-term (for example Ed Hartwell, Joe Horn and Lawyer Milloy).  Young talent is something build around.  The offense was set-up for long-term success in 2008, plus adding L.J. Smith this off-season, now the defense will get pieces to succeed for a number of years.

Let The Message Boards Sound – Terrell Owens Is A Free Agent

First off – NO!  The Atlanta Falcons should not pursue the disgruntled wide receiver to bolster their offense.  Chemistry is one of the most important pieces to a championship football team, on and off the field.  Regardless, the message boards will be humming the next few days with posts about how great the offense would be with T.O. – blah, blah, blah.  Owens is a cancer.  Look at the teams he messed up….49ers, Ravens, Eagles and Cowboys.  All good teams that were trying to make it to the next level.  Atlanta would be another mistake.  It was hurt Matt Ryan, Roddy White and many others.  There’s a young group of playmakers on offense that don’t need a loudmouth like Terrell Owens around.  White is emerging into a top receiver (led the NFL in 3rd down receiving yards in 2008), Michael Jenkins showed flashes of a solid #2 receiver, Harry Douglas and Brian Finneran are important pieces as well.  Adding Owens just complicates everything.  What if he stunts the growth of Matt Ryan?  Not worth the risk.  Arthur Blank likes some flash, but he’s no Jerry Jones.  He wouldn’t sacrifice everything to make a splash like that.  Plus, he doesn’t rule the world in player personnel like Jones, he lets qualified guys like Dimitroff do their job and maintain the roster.  Hey, while we are at creating chaos in Atlanta…why not have Owens and Vick here in 2009?  Is Brian Bosworth available?  What about bringing Deangelo Hall back?  Please….

Deangelo Hall Is Part Of Washington’s Latest Spending Spree

Most football fans were not even awake yet on Friday – the start of NFL free agency – and the Washington Redskins had already spent the GDP of some African countries, as reported by ESPN.com’s Paul Kuharsky . Dan Snyder and company are never shy about snagging the big names in NFL free agency and 2009 was no different. The NFL has cut staff across the board with the nation’s economic climate, but the Redskins inked Albert Haynesworth and Deangelo Hall at or above NFL market value.

First, Deangelo Hall. This is a former top-10 pick that had success with making big plays in Atlanta his first few seasons. Attitude issues and taking far too many chances led to a departure from Atlanta last off-season. The Raiders signed him to a gaudy $70 million deal, only to discover Hall struggles in man coverage. After 8 games, Hall was unemployed again. The Redskins, like they commonly do, welcomed a veteran with a big name than skills, for a large payday.

Washington runs a man-to-man defensive scheme with a below-average pass rush – a recipe for disaster for Hall. After a few interceptions in 2008, Washington signed Hall to a 6-year deal for over $50 million, a deal in the atmosphere for only the top corners in the NFL. Is Hall one of those guys? No.

Albert Haynesworth was the prize talent this offseason, looking for a max deal for a non-quarterback in the history of the NFL. The Redskins were definitely going to offer the most money to Haynesworth, and Big Al took it. The 7-year, $100 million deal looks gaudy, but it’s really a 4-year deal for close to $50 million. Yes, the Redskins desperately need to bolster an aging defense that lacks penetration. But Haynesworth has questionable work ethic and a checkered past with injuries and attitude. Haynesworth played at a high level in 2008, but was that for his big payday? During his press conference, he says no. We will see. If Haynesworth misses games and plays throughout the season, this will be just another “miss” by the Redskins in free agency.

It’s been proven that trying to “buy” a championship hasn’t worked since the days of Dallas and San Francisco in the 1990s. Dan Snyder’s email about that is still in transit. Washington trades away draft picks like they are going out of style, thinks every season is the “one,” and generally disregards the future and salary cap consequences for a veteran not worth the money almost every season. That’s why the Eagles will have the upperhand in the NFC East and teams like Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and New England will have more consistent success than Washington.

Try to think of the last good draft pick Washington has made….take a minute. I can only see a few in recent memory. Chris Horton, 7th round in 2008, LaRon Landry, 1st round in 2007, maybe Chris Cooley in 2004. Jason Campbell? Not in my opinion. Carlos Rogers? Not really. You can’t make a living in the playoffs in the NFL with that kind of failure in the NFL Draft over a 5-year span. Good teams get 2-3 playmakers in every draft that contribute for years.

Michael Boley Off To The Big Apple

Michael Boley, a player who was on the verge of a big contract in 2007, is out of Atlanta and off to the New York Giants.  After a great 2007 season, Boley was exposed in 2008 for his lack of size, strength and ability in defending the run.  Even when Boley was exclusively playing on passing downs, he made more mistakes than plays for the Atlanta defense.

The Giants obviously saw something on film they liked about Michael Boley.  From the Atlanta perspective, the 2008 season saved them a lot of money potentially by not giving Boley a long-term deal.  While a fast defender with great range, Boley never showed improvement on his deficiencies.

Boley will join a Giants team with a lot of the same guys that won the Super Bowl 2 years ago, while Atlanta focuses on overhauling the defense in the 2009 off-season after using 2008 to revamp the defense.  In addition to Boley, Keith Brooking, Lawyer Milloy, Dominique Foxworth and Chauncey Davis are all being replaced from a below-average defense from 2008.

Keith Brooking Is Leaving Georgia

It’s official, Keith Brooking is leaving the state he’s been most of his life.  Brooking’s fate wasn’t sealed until the Dallas Cowboys swooped in with a 3-year offer on Saturday.  The writing has been on the wall for a while that Atlanta would be needing to cut Brooking’s salary at a minimum.  His skills have eroded with age, culminating with the 3-and-16 conversion against Arizona in the playoffs in January.  New contract terms could not be agreed upon, so Brooking was free to seek other teams for employment.  Dallas was in need of good locker room guys and Brooking is one of the best.  After 4 years at Georgia Tech and a 1st round selection by the Atlanta Falcons in 1998, Brooking has been a prominent figure in Georgia.  After a Super Bowl appearance, 5 Pro Bowls and 2 All-Pro selections, Brooking will begin again in Dallas at the age of 33.  Atlanta fans will remember all the good times with Brooking in the linebacker corps instead of his final play against Arizona.

2008 NFL Draft Top 10 Selections, A Year After Review – Matt Ryan Highlights Group

1. Jake Long, Miami Dolphins – 5 years, $57.5 million ($30 million guaranteed). Everything the Dolphins were looking for out of Jake Long – reliable, tough, 16 game starts his rookie year. Pennington appreciates the protection. A great safe pick at the top spot for the next 10 years.

2. Chris Long, St. Louis Rams – 6 years, $56.5 million ($29 million guaranteed). Long showed great work ethic his rookie season (40 tackles, 4 sacks and a forced fumble) and will continue to develop. A great pedigree helps….

3. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons – 6 years, $72 million ($34 million guaranteed). Questioned last April, Ryan did nothing other than turn around a team, franchise and city to 11-5 and a playoff berth….oh, and a rookie of the year trophy.

4. Darren McFadden, Oakland Raiders – 6 years, $60 million ($26 million guaranteed). Showed flashes of extreme ability in Oakland, but struggled to stay on the field with injuries. 499 yards and 4 scores his rookie campaign. Having an underdeveloped quarterback and a mired franchise can’t help the former Razorback.

5. Glenn Dorsey, Kansas City Chiefs – 5 years, $51 million ($23 million guaranteed). Didn’t make the instant impact Kansas City was hoping for (46 tackles, 1 sack), but the team is young and Dorsey has plenty of time.

6. Vernon Gholston, N.Y. Jets – 5 years, $50 million ($21 million guaranteed). The first considered “bust” of the draft. There is hope that Rex Ryan will turn him into the next Suggs, but as of now that $21 million guaranteed is a big big number.

7. Sedrick Ellis, New Orleans Saints – 5 years, $49 million ($19.5 million guaranteed). Showed more than Dorsey in year one with good push, 30 tackles and 4 sacks as a freshman.

8. Derrick Harvey, Jacksonville Jaguars – 5 years, $33.4 million ($17.177 million guaranteed). Harvey was the biggest riser in the NFL draft wih his combine performance. After a holdout, Harvey sputtered with 19 tackles and 3.5 sacks on the year.

9. Keith Rivers, Cincinnati Bengals – 6 years, $23 million ($15.6 million guaranteed). 37 tackles, an interception and a forced fumble for Rivers in a lost season for Cincinnati.

10. Jerod Mayo, New England Patriots – 5 years, $18.9 million ($13.8 million guaranteed). Another great pick by the Patriots. 128 tackles for a stud at linebacker. The Patriots reload every year and desperately needed to get younger at linebacker – mission accomplished.

Albert Haynesworth NOT on Falcons’ Free Agent Wishlist

Thomas Dimitroff, Atlanta’s General Manager has made it very clear this off-season – the Falcons will not be shelling out a bunch of money for big-time free agents.  They spent money last year on Michael Turner, but the MO of Dimitroff from the New England days has been the NFL draft. 

“Albert Haynesworth is obviously a fine football player, but our aim is not to be major players in free agency,” Dimitroff said. “It is to continue to get back focusing on the draft.”

Teams that are always looking only to the next season by signing a bunch of veterans at higher price tags (like Dallas or Washington) are playing a risky game in the NFL.  Securing young talent through the draft leads to annual contenders, long-time starters for your franchise and a more managable salary cap situation.

Yes, Atlanta needs help for the interior of the defensive line.  But for the price of Albert Haynesworth, which could be $12 million+ a season, Atlanta could have two top rookies plus a another veteran signed at the defensive tackle spot for 2009 and beyond.

The 24th player selected in the 2008 NFL draft (Chris Johnson of Tennessee) signed a contract of $12 million over 5 seasons – a tremendous value.  Atlanta could sign 3-4 other players along with their top pick for the price of Haynesworth.

The interesting thing about the NFL is that a free agent with some talent and name recognition will always get paid.  There are teams out there with a desperate need for the position that will overpay to make a signing splash.  Examples are the Deangelo Hall signing with Oakland – 7 years and $70 million and many of the Washington Redskins signings over the years.  Watch Michael Vick when he is cleared to sign with another team – it will happen.  Ricky Williams was brought back.  Javon Walker, Brandon Lloyd and Shaun Alexander all signed big deals that tremendously backfired.  Heck, look at Michael Vick’s deal and how many of those 10, yes 10, seasons were productive and “worth the money” before imploding.  For every Tom Brady-Peyton Manning deal that is appropriate for the player, team and situation, there are countless contracts that are disasters.

I am not saying Haynesworth fits into one of the two extreme contracts categories, but with a lot of money comes a lot of risk.  Thomas Dimitroff is stating that dynasties, or even consistently good teams, are not built with high risk, priced free agents.  Dimitroff and the Atlanta Falcons are on the right track.