<
>

Proposed rules could help Falcons land DE

If you’re one of those Atlanta fans who believes all the Falcons need to do to win a Super Bowl is add defensive end Ray Edwards, one potential hurdle might be out of the way.

According to this report, a new labor agreement (it’s not done yet and we're still in a lockout) would allow any players with four accrued seasons to become unrestricted free agents if they don’t have a contract for this season. That’s significant because Edwards, who has been playing for the Minnesota Vikings, has five accrued seasons.

There has been some uncertainty about whether guys with four or five accrued seasons would be unrestricted free agents or if they might end up as restricted free agents. If this holds up, Edwards instantly jumps to the top of just about any list of free-agent defensive ends you’re going to see available when the lockout ends.

It’s been obvious since the Falcons jumped up in the draft to get Julio Jones that they’re in a “win-now’’ mode. If the scouting department and coaches feel as strongly about Edwards as many fans do, owner Arthur Blank will be waiting with his check book.

Let’s take a look around the division to see how this would impact some potential free agents.

Buccaneers: If four seasons turns players free, guard Davin Joseph and defensive end Stylez G. White would be added to a list of unrestricted free agents that already was going to include linebacker Barrett Ruud and running back Cadillac Williams.

Falcons: It might be time to break up the offensive line. Under these rules, guards Harvey Dahl and Justin Blalock and right tackle Tyson Clabo would be unrestricted. The Falcons began preparing for this in 2010, when they drafted two offensive linemen.

Panthers: This news might impact the Panthers most of all when it comes to the guys they currently have. Running back DeAngelo Williams, defensive end Charles Johnson (another possible candidate for the Falcons), linebacker James Anderson and cornerback Richard Marshall all would be unrestricted free agents. I expect the Panthers to make strong plays to keep Williams, Johnson and Anderson, but any of those three could command big money on the open market.

Saints: Safety Roman Harper, tight end David Thomas and tackle Jermon Bushrod were the guys there was uncertainty about and they’d be unrestricted in this setting. The good news is guard Carl Nicks has only three seasons and would be a restricted free agent.