Last year's defense ranked 18th in the league in scoring defense.
Kevin and Mike have already given you their takes on the inactivity of the Atlanta Falcons in free agency. Now it's time for yet another perspective here at the Grits Blitz Blog. There comes a time when even the most positive and hopeful of fans has to look at what is before them, and tell it like it is. And folks, that time has come for this Falcons fan. The truth isn't always pretty, and right now some things in Atlanta's professional football franchise are pretty ugly.
It's not all doom and gloom, obviously. This is still a good team overall. But aren't we striving and reaching for more than good now? We have to be. We've tasted some success and it's time to move on to bigger and better things. That's what owner Arthur Blank, GM Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Mike Smith gave us as their mission statement during the press conference in January. It's going to be difficult to do that given what we are possibly looking at to work with.
There are things that don't need to be fixed, and we shouldn't waste time trying to reinvent the wheel or fixing what isn't broken. Matt Ryan is fine. He's one of the top quarterbacks in the league with all the tools to become elite given the opportunity...however we could stand to upgrade at the backup QB position. He has plenty of targets, as our wide receiver and tight end corps is deep and vastly talented. The running game can compete with the best of them, both as feature backs when needed or as a committee. Special teams were addressed last season. The kicking game is solid, and Matt Bosher really started to come into his own as a punter as the season progressed last year. Yes, the offensive line needs some work, but they will be getting better this year. That pretty much sums up what we are doing well.
But with all that good, there is a lot of bad. And some of the moves made in the past, and during this off-season have only amplified that bad even more. Since I promised to tell it like it is, here goes. Unless the Falcons pull a rabbit out of the hat and make some sort of salary cap magic happen, this defense is going to be wretched next season. Last year they gave up big points (18th in the league), they couldn't get off the field on third down (giving up 44% of 3rd down conversions), couldn't stop the pass (20th in the league), and they got burned consistently on big plays. Marginal stats for a playoff team.
Now if you take those stats and throw into the mix that we have really done nothing to change ourselves defensively and will most likely be losing a couple of key pieces, you have a formula for what could be one of the five worst defenses in the league next season. Unless our offense comes out scoring like last season's New Orleans Saints, it's going to make it difficult to win games. The big question is, why didn't we make those needed changes on defense? The answer is multi-faceted, and all boils down to money and how it was spent.
The Falcons just spent essentially $17 million in cap space to re-sign Brent Grimes, Thomas DeCoud and Kroy Biermann. Nothing against any of those guys, but that wasn't a very judicious use of funds in my opinion. Why not hang on to that money and see if you can land a playmaker or two on defense? If you didn't catch a big fish and any of those three got away, they could have been fairly easily replaced, as none of them are really huge emerging stars. (Brent Grimes is good, but is he really a $10 million player?) And while we are on the subject of cap money, why were Sam Baker and Peria Jerry even listed on the roster and taking up cap room? Again, two guys who not only could have been easily replaced, but should have been. We are also still taking nearly a $1 million cap hit from former DE Jamaal Anderson, who was released last season.
So now you are stuck with the same defense you had last season, only you are going to be (probably) without your leading tackler (LB Curtis Lofton) and your leading sack producer (DE John Abraham). The only replacement plugged in thus far is LB Lofa Tatupu who was signed as a free agent from Seattle last week. My argument against that is that at least with Lofton you knew what you were getting. He might not have been one of the top five linebackers in the league, but he was pretty darn good. Tatupu is a question mark, both physically and mentally, with a history of injuries and concussions. In regards to Abraham it would seem the plan is to fill that gap with Kroy Biermann, who was primarily used on third down situations last season, and we weren't great on third down. If you ask me, new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan is going to have his hands full. Not only is he going to have to teach a new scheme to this defense, but he's going to have to try to squeeze more talent out of them than there really is available. Bad combination.
To make matters even worse, we are handcuffed as to what we are going to be able to draft to help the defense out due to the Julio Jones deal from last year. Right now it would almost seem to me that the front office has pretty much determined that we should just stand pat this year and hope for the best, until we can get our draft picks back in 2013. If that's the case, the Falcons may very well miss the playoffs this year, as I don't see a team with this defense being able to win more than eight games. Told you it wasn't going to be a pretty picture.
UPDATE - The Falcons did re-sign John Abraham (and I take full credit for this move), but I still don't think standing pat is what is going to get the Falcons over the hump.