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Monday, June 20, 2011
Final Eight Plan shouldn't limit Falcons

By Pat Yasinskas
ESPN.com

If you’re worried about the Final Eight Plan limiting what the Atlanta Falcons can do in free agency, stop it.

The plan was a one-time thing, instituted in 2010’s uncapped year. It impacted the New Orleans Saints, who won the Super Bowl the season before. As part of the rule, teams were allowed to sign only the number of unrestricted free agents that they lost to other teams and there were some salary guidelines that further restricted teams that at least made it to the divisional round of the playoffs after the 2009 season. The Falcons lost in the divisional round last season.

But all indications from both sides are that the plan won’t be used in any new collective bargaining agreement between the owners and players. That’s good news for the Falcons because they’re unlikely to lose any big-name free agents. They’re expected to bring back veteran linebacker Mike Peterson, but are likely to let veteran receiver Brian Finneran and cornerback Brian Williams sign elsewhere.

Offensive linemen Harvey Dahl and Tyson Clabo have five accrued seasons and are not under contract for this year. But their status will be determined by a new deal and we don’t know if that will require four or five seasons for players to reach unrestricted free agency.

Without the limitations of the final eight plan, the Falcons will be free to pursue as many free agents as they want. The team already has shown a “win-now’’ mentality by trading up to draft receiver Julio Jones. I expect that trend to continue once free agency starts and the Falcons are likely to make adding a pass-rushing defensive end their top priority.

There also have been suggestions the Falcons could pursue Oakland cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha and a tight end to pair with veteran Tony Gonzalez. I’m not sure the Falcons would invest huge money in Asomugha, one year after breaking the bank for Dunta Robinson. But owner Arthur Blank, coach Mike Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff, so far, have made it clear they think this team is on the cusp of a Super Bowl, so anything is possible.