Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Falcons spend money to beef up lines
By Vaughn McClure
It was clear from the outset how the Atlanta Falcons wanted to approach free agency: Get stronger up front.
The offensive and defensive lines struggled miserably last season. So if money was going to be spent on free agents, it was bound to be spent on offensive and defensive linemen, not safeties or tight ends.
Such was the case when the Falcons agreed to terms with defensive linemen Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson, and offensive guard Jon Asamoah.
Starting with Soliai, the Falcons rewarded the big nose tackle with a five-year contract with a max value of $33 million with $14 million guaranteed, according to a source familiar with the negotiations. The 6-foot-4, 340-pound Soliai immediately becomes the Falcons' most intimidating defensive lineman. And he'll be counted upon to take on double teams and pave the way for the linebackers to make plays with the Falcons expected to move toward more of a 3-4-based scheme.
Jackson (6-4, 296) will be a key figure up front, too. The former third-overall pick in 2009 was drafted by Falcons assistant general manager Scott Pioli when Pioli was the Chiefs' general manager. Jackson reportedly received a five-year deal worth a max of $25 million.
And Asamoah, who also agreed to a five-year deal (financial terms were not immediately available), might be the guy with the biggest burden to carry. The offensive line has been horrendous, allowing Matt Ryan to be the league's most pressured quarterback last season. The Falcons hope Asamoah steps in at right guard and develops into a stabilizing force. He is known for his pass protection and should be able to provide support as a run-blocker.
"Jon is a physical, experienced offensive lineman that will add a veteran presence to our offensive line," Falcons coach Mike Smith said about Asamoah.
The Falcons got it right. They addressed the most pressing needs from the outside and also re-signed two other key figures in center Joe Hawley and defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux. Hawley should start in the middle with Asamoah and left guard Justin Blalock next to him. Babineaux should add depth to the defensive line rotation.
It all could equal a climb back to the top for the Falcons, although other aspects still need to take shape. The release of former Pro Bowl free safety Thomas DeCoud means the Falcons have to find a capable replacement next to strong safety William Moore. There is still a void at tight end with Tony Gonzalez retiring, although Levine Toilolo will be counted upon to elevate his game.
More importantly, the Falcons need to look at adding an offensive tackle and pass-rusher, maybe through the draft. The names that immediately come to mind are Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson, Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews, Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan and Buffalo outside linebacker Khalil Mack. Right now, the Falcons hold the sixth-overall pick in the draft.
It will make for some interesting decisions to come. But for now, the Falcons made the right choice.
"We were focused on adding pieces along our offensive and defensive lines, and I feel we were able to accomplish that today," general manager Thomas Dimitroff said.
Certainly the Falcons have much more to accomplish.