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Friday, January 24, 2014
Adding vet safety appears in Falcons' plans

By Vaughn McClure

The Atlanta Falcons and general manager Thomas Dimitroff are still in the process of evaluating players, but the organization obviously has a strong idea of which areas need to be addressed via free agency and the draft.

The Falcons seem to be eyeing a veteran safety -- based on buzz around the Senior Bowl -- to work alongside strong safety William Moore, with free safety Thomas DeCoud’s status uncertain despite being signed through 2016.

ESPN.com asked Dimitroff if adding a safety was in the plans.

Thomas DeCoud
The Falcons may be looking to upgrade at safety with Thomas DeCoud coming off a down season.
"Do we need a safety? I think it’s always important to have good, experienced safeties and safeties that will make plays on the ball and be adept and consistent tacklers,’’ Dimitroff responded. "So, we will always look to continue to improve depth, like we’ve always said. Improving our group of safeties, that’s always going to be an important thing for us.’’

DeCoud, a Pro Bowler in 2012, made noise early this past season with a fumble return for a touchdown in a Week 6 win over Tampa. However, his noticeable struggles tackling contributed to the defense’s inability to slow down offenses.

The Falcons allowed opponents to pick up an average of 1.63 yards after contact, which was 27th in the NFL, according to ESPN Statistics & Information.

DeCoud, a third-round pick in the 2008 draft out of Cal, made no excuses when he addressed the topic of poor tackling at the end of the season. He finished 2013 with 44 tackles, two passes defensed, and no interceptions in 15 games, missing one contest due to a concussion. During his Pro Bowl year, he had 62 tackles, six interceptions, a sack and nine passes defensed.

"On some, it could be angles and on some, it could be overpursuit,’’ DeCoud said of the poor tackling. "Big plays can wipe things away. You can miss a couple of tackles here and there but get a forced fumble or fumble recovery, or interception and it can wipe those things away. The cookie didn’t crumble in my way, in my favor, in terms of turnovers. This is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league. … You’ve got to go out and produce every week.’’

DeCoud signed a five-year deal in March of 2012 with a max value of $21 million, including a $17.5 million base. He has a cap number of $4.8 million next season, $4 million in 2015, and $4.2 million in ’16. If the Falcons decide to part ways with him, it would save them $3 million in cap room.

The top veteran free safety likely to entice the Falcons is Buffalo’s Jairus Byrd, although Bills general manager Doug Whaley recently said the team plans to extend Byrd an offer soon to keep him off the open market. Carolina’s Mike Mitchell, once labeled a draft bust, had an impressive year for the Panthers after signing a one-year deal and also could be appealing.

Rookie seventh-round draft picks Zeke Motta and Kemal Ishmael are the other safeties currently in the Falcons’ mix, although Motta is recovering from surgery after sustaining a cervical fracture.