Atlanta Falcons: Peria Jerry

Mike NolanScott Cunningham/Getty ImagesFalcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan won't be lacking depth up front in 2014.
The Atlanta Falcons aren't panicking -- at least not yet -- over their inability to secure a top pass-rusher this offseason.

Sure, it would have been a nice luxury to land a proven talent such as Brian Orakpo or even a promising rookie such as Jadeveon Clowney, Khalil Mack or Dee Ford. But the Falcons have a game plan, regardless of what outside perception might say.

The coaches and players fully understand the urgency. They know how pathetic the pass rush was last season, when the Falcons sacked or put quarterbacks under duress on just 22.4 percent of dropbacks, second-worst in the NFL. Not to mention the Falcons allowed opponents to convert 45.93 percent on third down, resulting in the league's worst third-down defense.

You know you're in trouble when you make Geno Smith look like an All-Pro.

So how are things supposed to improve? There is plenty of reason to be skeptical, including the absence of a speed-rusher. But I believe a collective effort will help the Falcons take significant strides with their defensive pressure and compensate for the lack of an elite pass-rusher.

[+] EnlargeRa'Shede Hageman
Troy Taormina/USA TODAY SportsAthletic rookie Ra'Shede Hageman could give a boost to the Falcons' pass rush in 2014.
Really. I do.

Altering the defensive approach is the first step. Although coach Mike Smith continues to preach defensive multiplicity without revealing much detail, the Falcons will have more of a 3-4 look in 2014. Believe that. It was obvious when players started talking about it immediately after last season. Then the Falcons added bulky nose tackle Paul Soliai and defensive end Tyson Jackson up front. Drafting defensive end Ra'Shede Hageman was further confirmation.

Think of it more as the Falcons building toward a 5-2 alignment, with three linemen and two outside linebackers getting pressure. As long as the Falcons can do so with consistency, they'll be fine.

The Falcons hope that having heavy hitters up front will create more stress on opposing offensive linemen and open lanes for the linebackers to make plays. And if he develops quickly, Hageman has the potential to be an outstanding inside rusher and a J.J. Watt-type pass-deflector. He is the wild card in this whole equation. He'll be motivated by fiery defensive line coach Bryan Cox.

In regard to the true pass-rushers, the Falcons have plenty of faith in third-year player Jonathan Massaquoi, who had four sacks last season and has played defensive end. His athleticism should be on display more often from the outside linebacker spot in 2014. Massaquoi told me this offseason that he feels the need to atone for not taking advantage of his opportunities last year.

Stansly Maponga and rookie Prince Shembo are the other two young players that intrigue me. Both have pass-rush ability, although Maponga was used sporadically last season. Folks who watched every game Shembo played at Notre Dame believe he is a much better pass-rusher than run defender or coverage guy.

And don't forget about veteran Osi Umenyiora. He led the team with 7.5 sacks but wore down as the season went along. Yes, he's 32 years old and his best days are behind him. But the Falcons could get a lot out of him as a strictly designated pass-rusher, the same role he played at the end of last season. Umenyiora has spent a significant amount of time trying to improve his technique and speed this offseason. To me, that sounds like a veteran determined not to go out with a thud.

When guys like Massaquoi, Maponga and even Umenyiora don't have to bang against offensive tackles regularly, like they did most of the time in a typical 4-3 alignment, they'll be fresher and able to sustain a consistent pass rush. The defensive linemen also should benefit from a strong rotation, considering the Falcons brought back Jonathan Babineaux, Corey Peters and Peria Jerry while adding Soliai, Jackson and Hageman.

There will be an adjustment period all around, particularly for those players getting accustomed to standing up rather than playing with their hands in the ground. The guy who shouldn't flinch is Kroy Biermann, who has experience in both roles. But Biermann -- who played just two games in 2013 because of an Achilles injury -- will be counted upon more against the run than the pass.

Of course, let's not forget the key figure in this whole equation: defensive coordinator Mike Nolan. Last year wasn't indicative of what type of defensive mind he is. He's had success in the past out of a 3-4 base. He couldn't be too "multiple" last season, based on personnel. Nolan knows how to disguise coverages and dial up blitzes, when needed. And he'll have more to work with this season, including more capable bodies to sub in and out to keep the pressure consistent.

When you talk about facing the likes of Drew Brees and Cam Newton twice a year and having to contend with a pair of 6-foot-5 receivers in Tampa Bay's Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans, it only emphasizes the importance of pressure for a Falcons team trying to return to playoff contention. It won't be about a guy such as Massaquoi suddenly exploding with double-digit sacks, though the Falcons would take it. It will be more about consistency, getting contributions from a number of different players, and keeping bodies fresh over the duration of 60 minutes.

A more balanced offensive attack with a little more emphasis on the run surely wouldn't hurt in terms of keeping the defense off the field. But when it comes down to it, the Falcons' defenders have to pin their ears back and have the desire to get after it.

The pressure is on.
The Atlanta Falcons brought back another one of their own free agents by re-signing defensive tackle Peria Jerry.

The former first-round pick was allowed to test free agency, apparently with no takers. His re-signing was announced as a part of Wednesday's NFL transactions.

As the Falcons moved toward a 3-4 base defense, Jerry provides another body up front. The starters are expected to be nose tackle Paul Soliai, defensive end Tyson Jackson, and possibly Corey Peters at the other defensive end position. Guys such as Jonathan Babineaux, Malliciah Goodman, and Jerry would provide more depth.

Although Jerry performed below expectations the last five seasons, bringing him back at a low price probably doesn't hurt the Falcons. Injuries have affected his play. Jerry suffered a knee sprain toward the end of last season.

The re-signing of Jerry wasn't the move Falcons fans had hopes for on Wednesday. There was much interest in the status of return man Devin Hester, who apparently stayed overnight in Atlanta to hear the Falcons' pitch. But as of Wednesday evening, there was no word from Hester's camp about his status.

Franchise/transition tags: Falcons

February, 17, 2014
The franchise tag might have entered into play for the Atlanta Falcons this season had Matt Ryan's contract been an issue.

It isn't.

The quarterback was locked up prior to last season with a five-year, $103.75 million contract extension that included $59 million guaranteed. It kept 2013 from being the final year of his original six-year, $72 million rookie contract ($34.74 million guaranteed).

In others words, it won't be a concern for the Falcons once the first day for designating the franchise tag on a player comes Monday. The last time the Falcons used the franchise tag was on cornerback Brett Grimes in 2012 -- at a one-year price of $10.28 million -- as the two sides were unable to reach a long-term deal. Grimes, who suffered a season-ending Achilles' injury that year, now faces the possibility of being tagged again as the member of the Miami Dolphins.

As for the Falcons, they have no reason to designate a franchise player this year among a group of impending unrestricted free agents that includes defensive tackles Jonathan Babineaux, Peria Jerry and Corey Peters. Some of the others bound for free agency include center Joe Hawley, tight end Chase Coffman and offensive tackle Mike Johnson. Free agency officially begins at 4 p.m. on March 11, although teams are allowed to negotiating with agents of players on other teams on March 9.

Maybe the franchise tag comes into play for the Falcons again if for some reason they can't get top receiver Julio Jones signed to a long-term deal before the 2015 season.

The deadline for designating franchise or transition players is 4 p.m. March 3. Eight players were slapped with the franchise tag last season.

Once a team designates a franchise player, it has until July 15 to work out a long-term extension with that player.

And once again, that shouldn't apply to the Falcons this year.
Atlanta Falcons Falcons defensive tackle Peria Jerry, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent, is recovering from a posterior cruciate ligament knee sprain suffered in the season finale, according to a league source familiar with Jerry’s status.

It is unclear what grade of sprain Jerry suffered, but PCL sprains typically take four-to-six weeks to heal. Such injuries usually don’t require surgery.

In a sense, that’s good news for Jerry. It doesn't appear to be a serious injury that would significantly alter his standing should he draw any type of interest on the open market. However, Jerry hasn’t performed up to first-round expectations, in large part, due to injury. He played in two games as a rookie in 2009 before suffering a season-ending knee injury. This past season, he endured a toe injury throughout the season but played in all 16 games, starting 14.

Jerry had a base salary of $905,000 in 2013 and counted $2.10 million against the salary cap. He had 33 tackles and 3.5 sacks and showed flashes in the final game against Carolina prior to exiting with the knee injury.

Of course, the Falcons want better production from the defensive line as a whole, so changes are expected up front. If the Falcons can keep Jerry for a reasonable price, he might get another chance at living up to his first-round potential. The Falcons are highly unlikely to overpay for him.

Jerry isn’t the only Falcons defensive lineman headed to free agency. Defensive tackles Jonathan Babineaux and Corey Peters also have expiring contracts. General manager Thomas Dimitroff recently praised Babineaux and expressed a desire to keep the 32-year-old veteran, and Babineaux was the most consistent defensive line performer this in terms of pressure.

Peters, 25, suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in the second-to-last game and is recovering after surgery. The ability of players, such as Terrell Suggs and Michael Crabtree, to quickly recover from Achilles injuries is a positive sign for Peters moving forward.

Peters was second on the team with five sacks, behind defensive end Osi Umenyiora (7.5).

The Falcons are likely to have their new defensive line coach evaluate the entire group before deciding which players will be let go or brought back, although the front office might already have those plans mapped out. Defensive line coach Ray Hamilton was fired after the end of the season, leaving a void on the staff.

A source told the Falcons were in the process of interviewing former Tampa Bay assistant coach Bryan Cox for the defensive line coach position. Cox was designated as the Bucs' pass rush specialist but was not retained by new coach Lovie Smith.

The Falcons previously requested permission to interview Cleveland Browns defensive line coach Joe Cullen, but Cullen joined Smith and the Buccaneers.

Jerry, Babineaux, and Peters officially become free agents on March 11 after 4 p.m. ET.