- Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer
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In a dismal season where yielding big plays has been the norm for the unit, Babineaux has maintained a high level of consistency, despite the team's 4-10 record.
The defensive tackle's steady play hasn't gone unnoticed.
"Well, Jonathan Babineaux, I think, has really had a very good season,'' Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "He's been very disruptive. You know, Jonathan makes those plays in the defensive backfield – many times he's led the league since we've been here in minus-yardage plays.
"He had the two fumble recoveries [against Washington]. Jonathan has the ability to basically play in three of the four spots on our defensive front. And he's a very good leader of that group; has been since we've been here. He's probably the one constant that we've had now since Day 1. Jonathan is a tough, hard-nosed, smart football player.''
Smith's high praise makes it even harder to fathom the Falcons taking the field without Babineaux next year. He is set to become a free agent at season's end, and there has been no progress just yet toward signing him to a new deal.
Babineaux believes his play warrants another contract, but it's not his call.
"That's just part of the business,'' he said. "I'm just going to go out there and continue to work; do what I do. And we'll see at the end of the season what's going to happen.''
Babineaux is one of three Falcons defensive linemen set to become unrestricted free agents along with Peria Jerry and Corey Peters. Although the Falcons are trying to incorporate more young players into the lineup down the stretch in order to get a glimpse of the future, the bulk of inexperienced players along the defensive line are defensive ends, not tackles such as Babineaux.
At the same time, the Falcons could decide to go younger at defensive tackle, too. Babineaux understands the reality and the possibility of having to test the free-agent market for the first time.
"I definitely want to finish my career here in Atlanta,'' he said. "I started here. I've been through the good times, the bad times. And I definitely want to finish here. So, we'll have a lot of time for that in the offseason – for them and me to decide on something. Hopefully, I'll be able to continue my career here.''
Smith refused to discuss any details related to Babineaux's contract situation. Babineaux has a base salary of $4.7 million this season.
"Jonathan's been an integral part of our success here,'' Smith said, "and I can hope that he continues to be an Atlanta Falcon. We all do.''
Babineaux was a second-round draft pick of the Falcons in 2005. Entering this season, he led all defensive tackles since '05 with 49.5 tackles for loss. He currently leads the Falcons with seven tackles for a loss this season to go with one sack.
Babineaux's teammates look up to him for his play on the field and community service away from football.
"Babs is one of the most consistent lineman in the NFL,'' receiver Harry Douglas said. "He's a tough player and comes up big when we need him to.
"I'm close to him. I watch him work every day. And he's a true professional. It's always great to have a guy like that.''