The Atlanta Falcons wasted no time in upgrading their roster from last season, using the first day of free agency to add defensive tackle Paul Soliai, guard Jon Asamoah, and defensive end Tyson Jackson, re-up defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux in a three-year deal, and part ways with free safety Thomas DeCoud.
Soliai, who just completed his seventh season with the Miami Dolphins, has been a fairly consistent player in the NFL, playing in at least thirteen games in the last four seasons. Soliai is coming off of a year in which he recorded 19 tackles with 1 sack in 15 starts and is poised to play alongside Babineaux and in rotation with Corey Peters at the nose tackle position.
The Falcons had arguably the worst offensive line in the NFL in 2013, but the team took a step forward in the signing of Asamoah. Drafted by current Falcons assistant general manager Scott Pioli back when he was the general manager of the Kansas City Chiefs in 2010, Asamoah played in thirteen games last year for a Chiefs’ squad that had quite a resurgence, posting an 11-5 record after going 2-14 in the previous campaign.
As bad as the offensive line was for Atlanta, the defensive line was very disappointing as well, failing to make much of an impact in the Falcons’ first losing season since 2007. The poor play of the D-Line explains the addition of Jackson, the former first round pick by the Chiefs out of LSU. Although he never truly lived up to the hype that follows the top selection for any franchise, Jackson had a solid 2013 season, recording a career-high four sacks despite only starting nine games for Kansas City.
Although the focus of free agency often follows players outside of last year’s roster, it could be said that Atlanta’s biggest moves involved players that were on last season’s squad. The decision to bring back Babineaux was a crucial one for Atlanta’s chances, as the thirty-two-year-old was one of the very few bright spots on Mike Nolan’s defense in 2013. Now that Nolan is looking to put the Falcons’ defense in more 3-4 looks, the need for a quality nose tackle was dire; the odds looked slim once he became a free agent, but fortunately the Falcons held on to the veteran.
Along with re-upping Babineaux, the team also made a decision on free safety Thomas DeCoud, releasing the six-year veteran after a subpar season. A Pro Bowler with Atlanta in 2012, DeCoud was lauded for being out of place and just a step behind opposing wide receivers several times last season, leaving many to question whether he was still capable to play the safety spot. The odds were already looking bad for DeCoud when he was supplanted in the secondary by rookie Zeke Motta, making DeCoud’s departure just a matter of time.
With a hectic Day One of free agency now complete, what will the Falcons target next? Motta certainly did not look like a star in the making at safety last season, leaving some to wonder if Atlanta will target a veteran to plug in at this position. While there are several notable names remaining on the market like Ryan Clark and Michael Huff, several have pointed towards future Hall of Fame cornerback Champ Bailey, who was released by the Broncos last week.
A native of Folkston, Georgia who played his college ball at Georgia, Bailey has admittedly lost the much-needed step that made him one of the toughest corners for most of his fifteen years in the NFL, which makes some wonder if he will walk away from the game. However, playing the safety position would take away Bailey’s need for speed and would give Atlanta a reliable veteran in the secondary, a need that the likes of Dunta Robinson and Asante Samuels were really never able to provide over the last few years.
Along with a new name at safety, watch for the Falcons to kick the tires on another tight end to fill the gap of Tony Gonzalez, who the Falcons officially released a few days ago. This year’s tight end class in free agency is not extraordinary, and chances are Atlanta will allow Levine Toilolo to start at least in the beginning of the 2014 campaign, but that does not mean the team will not pursue a suitable backup that can compete with and mentor the second-year player out of Stanford. Look for Atlanta to be rumored in the mix for players like Carolina’s Ben Hartsock (who played on the team in 2008), Miami’s Dustin Keller, or Houston’s Garrett Graham.