Tag:Sam Baker
Posted on: April 22, 2012 4:19 pm
 

Pre-draft notes: offensive line

The first question....  should we really be bummed out about our line heading into the new season?  No doubt, their play left a lot to be desired last season.  They had three pretty good years in 2008-2010 but then fell flat in 2011. 

The verdict from our braintrust was that it was a coaching issue as much as a personnel issue.  Line coach Paul Boudreau was sacked.  On the personnel side, the right guard position was identified as the weakest link in the chain.  Vince Manuwai was signed to plug that gap.



My take:  I agree with the decision.  Boudreau was a highly experienced coach who did well in 2008-2010, but he really dropped the ball badly last year.  Our linemen simply weren't well prepared and didn't play fundamentally sound football.  They were up high all season, getting no leverage and getting pushed back into the backfield.  Michael Turner typically had first contact a yard behind the line.  If he made three yards after contact, that was still only good enough for a two yard gain.

I suspect that Boudreau had a hand in going with two older journeymen (no upside) rather than two of our own prospects last year.  Throw in the awful idea to play Sam Baker at right guard when he had only had one full practice after his back surgery, and the decision to make a coaching change seems pretty obvious.

And Manuwai is an upgrade over any of Kynan Forney, Harvey Dahl, Garrett Reynolds or Joe Hawley at the right guard position.  Great move there.  Manuwai and Clabo provide a whole lot of beef on the right side.



Second question:   what's the answer at left tackle?   The team has publicly stood behind Sam Baker, noting that he played through injury all year.   (Key:  he was experiencing back problems even in preseason.  He tried to play through it, was horrible, and finally opted to have surgery when it became obvious that he wasn't capable of getting the job done otherwise.)

Fortunately, Will Svitek stepped up in Baker's absence last year and showed that he can be a competent left tackle.  He may not be Pro Bowl material, but his play (including utterly shutting down Jared Allen) was good enough to put him above average among starting LTs.  If it comes down to it, we do have a Plan B.

Many of us want to see an upgrade in free agency, particularly Marcus McNeill.  And yes, McNeill backed up by Svitek does have a pretty sweet sound to it.  But will it happen? 

My take:   don't count on it.  The odds are against it.  McNeill is visiting many other teams and will likely have other options.  Even if we move out Baker to clear cap room, we'll be hard pressed to fit McNeill under the cap.  Another team could easily outspend us and land the free agent.

As for Baker, never mind his skill level.  We're talking about a 300-pound man who makes a living throwing his body into other large people and has already had two back surgeries in the last four years.  Do we really expect him to hold up the entire season without more health concerns?

I wouldn't bet on it.  But I do have confidence in Svitek.  I'd hope that the team would forget about trying to work Mike Johnson at guard and let him practice at tackle instead.  He has the potential to be our future left tackle -  he did pave the way for a national championship at Alabama at LT, after all.  If Baker ended up on IR, Svitek backed up by Johnson could work, *if* the coaches do practice Johnson at tackle.



Third question...   do we use one of those top draft picks on a lineman? 

A lot of "big name" mock drafts now have the Falcons going with an offensive lineman at the #55 pick.  We're talking about a late second rounder here, so just about anything is possible.  But I wouldn't be so hasty as to identify the OL as the most likely area that Dimitroff will target with our top pick. 

Under Mike Smith, the Falcons have tried to go with nine offensive linemen on the roster when possible.  Counting Baker and Jackson, we currently have ten.   Even if Baker does become a cap casualty or lands on IR in preseason, someone else would have to go to make room for an incoming rookie -  who would spend 2012 and likely 2013 on the bench anyway.

So suppose we did take a second round lineman to groom as a future LT.  The most likely casualty would be that Jackson returns to the practice squad this season.  Johnson would be worked as a backup guard rather than potentially returning him to tackle (where he played at Alabama).

If we get the right guy, he might be an upgrade.  But would it be enough of an upgrade to be worth spending the second or third round pick?   Probably not.  We have more obvious needs elsewhere, and Dimitroff openly admits he's a needs-based GM in the draft.



My take:  the main roster is probably fine as it is.  Where we really need to reload is on the practice squad.  We lost Rob Bruggeman when we opted to bring back Boudreau favorite Brett Romberg.  We lost Jose Valdez to our former QB coach when we opted to sign Kirk Chambers rather than promote Valdez.  If Jackson makes the main roster, the developmental pool will be empty.

So look for plenty of undrafted free agents and perhaps a late rounder (such as the compensatory pick).  But I do hope that Dimitroff will address more important needs with the earlier picks.



The big picture...  the whole thing really hinges on Pat Hill doing a better job preparing his men than Boudreau did last year.  If Hill can get it done, we'll be fine.   One potential combination:  we might end up with Svitek, Justin Blalock, Joe Hawley, Manuwai and Tyson Clabo as the starting five, backed up by Johnson, McClure, Jackson and Reynolds.

That's actually a pretty darn good group.  But it still depends on new coach Pat Hill having them ready to go.  Even in December, last year's team looked like it was still in preseason mode.  Hill will have to have them much more prepared this year.

Posted on: October 30, 2011 2:35 pm
 

Looking ahead... free agency

One of the rare weeks where I'm in Atlanta for the weekend, and naturally it's our bye week...  Oh well.  That makes it a pretty good time to take a look at this coming offseason. 

The Falcons had it easy with free agency heading into the 2009 and 2010 seasons, as the team was loaded with young players locked under contract.  But the pendulum swung the other way this season and will be full tilt this coming offseason.

John Abraham will be a free agent.  So will Brent Grimes, since we only tendered him as a RFA this year.   Ditto for Eric Weems.  The team only resigned Jason Snelling for a one year deal.  He's a free agent again this year too.  Same story with linebacker Mike Peterson.

Tony Gonzalez is in the final year of his contract.  So are Todd McClure and Chris Redman, plus Joe Zelenka (long snappers are people too).  And so are the second and later rounders from the 2008 draft:  Curtis Lofton, Thomas DeCoud, Kroy Biermann, and Harry Douglas
And except for DE Ray Edwards, who inked a long term deal, all of our new Falcons are only signed for this season:  Kelvin Hayden, James Sanders, Brett Romberg, Reggie Kelly, Kirk Chambers, Mike Cox.

That's 19 unrestricted free agents on the current 53-man roster.  Yikes...



At quarterback, Matt Ryan is still here.  But John Parker Wilson is already a free agent -  all practice squad members are free agents who could be plucked at any time.  It's not a good sign for his future that the team chose to expose him rather than keep him on the roster.  And Redman will turn 35 before the start of training camp next year.  He may still have another year or two left in the tank, but I wouldn't depend on it.   So figure at least one new quarterback - and maybe two - in our future next year.

At running back, the Falcons are in reasonable shape for 2012 - mainly because serviceable running backs are so easy to come by, and because the backups are still so underused.  (Michael Turner has 138 carries going into the bye.  The other RB/FBs have a combined total of 24.)  Antone Smith has yet to carry the ball this year at all.  He's likely to be a fringe player once again next summer.

At tight end, Michael Palmer is an exclusive rights free agent.  That means the team can simply renew his contract, which makes him the only tight end they have locked in at all.  Gonzalez has said he feels like he can play a few more years.  He has also said before that he'd like to end his career with the Chiefs, so there's no telling whether he'd resign with Atlanta.  Practice squad players Marquez Branson (injured) and Tommy Gallarda are likely to be here for camp on futures contracts.  But we'll probably need more -  I wouldn't expect to see Kelly back for another season.

At wide receiver, I would guess that Douglas wouldn't be too difficult to resign.  Roddy White and Julio Jones are both here long term, and Kerry Meier is still under contract and likely to be more involved in his second year back from ACL surgery.  The interesting question is whether one of the prospects might challenge for a roster spot.  The front office reversed course last season.  Instead of going for big guys with good hands but who are slow as molasses, the team started looking at speedsters.  D.J. Davis and Kevin Cone are both lightning quick, and they're both getting a chance to learn the offense on the practice squad. 

(I'm thrilled to see the change - finally.  Too bad they couldn't have gone that route back in 2009, when we really could have used a speedster.  Our scouts had seen Johnny Knox at the Texas vs The Nation game - but after trading away Laurent Robinson, Dimitroff left Knox sitting on the draft board to take cornerback William Middleton instead.)

For all the fuss about how Atlanta's offensive line would supposedly be devastated by free agency this season, we turned out to be overloaded instead.  McClure is getting banged up pretty hard this year, and it's the final year of his contract.  Don't be surprised if Ol' Mud Duck hangs up the cleats.  But except for fill-ins Romberg and Chambers, everyone else is under contract at least through 2012.  (One caveat:  Sam Baker may be on one of those option or voidable years.)   And there's already extra depth in the pipeline, as both Andrew Jackson and Jose Valdez are still sitting on the practice squad.  

Specifically at center, Romberg would be likely to resign.  He came aboard this season as a street level free agent.  He's mainly working as a backup guard right now, but he's a natural center and was here previously as the #2 behind McClure.  He became expendable last year when the team drafted Joe Hawley.  Now he'd be a pretty obvious choice to bring back as Hawley's backup. 

At DE, we're in trouble.  Both Abraham and Biermann will be free agents.  Can we even afford to sign both?  We'd need at least one of them returning to supplement the remaining trio of Edwards, Lawrence Sidbury, and Cliff Matthews - and Sidbury will be a free agent after next season.   If we're going to stick with the current 4-3 scheme, the DE position will continue to need attention every year.

At DT, we're set.  Vance Walker will be a restricted free agent this offseason, and if he's still here, Carlton Powell would be a restricted free agent after 2012.  But the trio of Jonathan Babineaux, Corey Peters and Peria Jerry won't be free agents until 2014.

At linebacker, resigning Lofton will be a priority.  But otherwise, Peterson is the only free agent this year, and Spencer Adkins is the only one set to become a free agent next year. 

At cornerback, the question is whether we'd be able to hang on to Grimes at all.  He was hoping for a long term deal this year but only got a tender.  He's coming off a Pro Bowl appearance and continuing to make highlight reel plays.  If he hits the open market, somebody is bound to offer him the big bucks, as the Ravens did with Domonique Foxworth a few years back.   Hayden will also be a free agent this offseason, and Chris Owens will be entering the final year of his contract.   The team has already started preparing for 2012 by keeping undrafted rookie Darrin Walls on the roster, while Dominique Franks also continues to develop.

One potential scenario:  Grimes bolts for the big bucks, but the team resigns Hayden.  Even before the draft, that gives Atlanta a quintet of Dunta Robinson, Hayden, Owens, Franks and Walls.   Throw in few futures contract or two - perhaps bringing Kamaal McIlwain in for another run at training camp - and the group as a whole would at least be no worse off than in 2009 and 2010.

At safety, Decoud and Sanders are both free agents.  That leaves William Moore (who will be in the final year of his contract) and Shann Schillinger as the only safeties locked in.  The team opted to expose Rafael Bush to the practice squad instead of Walls, and he has already been plucked away.  Suaesi Tuimaunei is getting a chance to learn the system as the replacement for Bush on the practice squad.   He's an intriguing possibility as a long term project, but he won't be ready for real action in 2012.  At least one more safety will be a must. 




Posted on: January 23, 2010 9:05 pm
Edited on: March 22, 2010 9:13 pm
 

Tracking the draft picks, part three

Recap:  a draft pick is an asset in itself.  Each team gets seven of them per year (leaving out the compensatory picks, at least for now).

If you draft players that don't stick with the team, you have more holes to fill.  You end up using picks year after year just to replace the same spots on the roster instead of improving the team.

But if you end up trading the players or receiving compensatory draft picks when they leave via free agency, you have extended the "life" of those picks.  They might not be in the form of the same players, but you still have assets to show for them.  That can be as good (and sometimes better) than re-signing the same players you initially drafted.




A prime Falcons example is the 2004 draft.  I claim that three of the top five drafts in franchise history came in the last decade - and oddly enough, each of our three GMs of the decade had one.

Dan Reeves (counting him as a GM since he had full control over personnel as well as head coaching duties) had the 2001 draft.  Thomas Dimitroff had the 2008 class, which may be remembered as the best draft in Falcons history.

And in between, Rich McKay had the forgotten gem of 2004.

Surprised to hear that draft called a "gem"?  Well, first look at the players selected:  DeAngelo Hall, Michael Jenkins, Matt Schaub, and Demorrio Williams.  That's a two-time Pro Bowl defensive back, a starting wide receiver, a franchise quarterback, and a starting linebacker.  Four starters out of seven picks is an *outstanding* draft class.  

Go back through the annals of Falcons history and count how many of our draft classes produced even three guys who were still starting in the NFL after six seasons.  It's an extreme rarity, at least for Atlanta.  For that matter, it doesn't happen all that often for any team.  Kudos to the scouting department for that one - it really was one of the best drafts the Falcons had ever had.

But the press is quick to dismiss that draft, sometimes even calling it a failure since Jenkins was the only player from that group still with the team heading into the 2008 season.

Not so fast, kemo sabe...   The Falcons have a whole lot more to show for that draft class than just our #2 receiver.

DeAngelo had his famous argument with Petrino in the Panthers game in 2007 and demanded a trade rather than play for yet another rookie coach in 2008.  Ultimately, new GM Dimitroff granted him his wish and dealt him to the Raiders for a pair of draft picks.  (Be careful what you wish for, DeAngelo - you might just get it...) 

The picks received were a second rounder in 2008 and a fifth rounder in 2009.  Thank you ever so kindly, Mr. Davis.  It was a pleasure doing business with you. 

And many fans believe the Falcons made a big mistake trading Matt Schaub.  It's hard to blame them, especially considering how things went in the summer of 2007.  But the part of that story that gets left out is that Schaub was already a restricted free agent, and Arthur Blank's nine figure contract extension to Michael Vick made it clear that Schaub's intended role was purely as a backup.  In other words, Schaub was already as good as gone the moment the 2006 season ended. 

The Falcons offered him a high tender in order to talk trade and control the picks they received.  While they didn't get the highest possible RFA bounty (a first and a third rounder), the Falcons did get two first day draft picks from the Texans - a second rounder in 2007 and another second rounder in 2008.

That 2007 second rounder from Schaub became starting left guard Justin Blalock.

The 2008 second rounders for Hall and Schaub were the second rounders that Atlanta sent in a draft day deal to the Redskins

ESPN reported that the Falcons gave Washington three picks to move up to #21 to take Sam Baker.  Atlanta fans were horrified by the one-sided nature of the trade, leading Dimitroff to go out of his way that night to clear the air and make sure the local media understood that those initial reports were incorrect.  It was NOT a three for one deal.  It was three picks for three picks, allowing the Redskins to move up with two picks while Atlanta moved up with one.

The actual trade bumped the #34 (from the Raiders for Hall) up to #21, landing Baker.  The #48 (from the Texans for Schaub) dropped to #84, with Atlanta taking Harry Douglas.  The other part was that the fourth round pick moved down to the fifth.  I doubt many fans would object - that pick became Kroy Biermann.

And the following year, the Cowboys traded up in the fifth round. (Jerry Jones making trades on draft day?  Big shock, I know.)  Dallas gave us an extra seventh rounder to move down 13 spots.  They acquired our DeAngelo Hall pick and used it to draft DeAngelo Smith.  Atlanta used the picks from Dallas to take Garrett Reynolds in the fifth and Vance Walker in the seventh.

The bottom line... sure, DeAngelo Hall and Matt Schaub are now elsewhere. 

But their draft picks ultimately became left tackle Sam Baker, left guard Justin Blalock, slot receiver/return man Harry Douglas, offensive tackle Garrett Reynolds and defensive tackle Vance Walker.  Add in starting wide receiver Michael Jenkins, and the Falcons head into 2010 with six players on the roster that resulted from the picks of the 2004 draft.  




Posted on: November 10, 2009 3:08 pm
 

miscellaneous notes - 11/10/2009

It's Tuesday, which is the team's day off now that we're back to a "normal" weekly routine.  A few notes before we head into the second half of the season...




The inside word on Thomas Brown:  the Falcons still love the kid.

It seemed really strange that the team brought in two running backs (Antoine Smith for the practice squad in addition to Aaron Stecker for the roster) and that Brown wasn't one of them...  not to mention the fact that Brown wasn't part of the original practice squad.

The reason is that the news reports from the roster cut deadline didn't give us all the details.  Thomas Brown and Von Hutchins weren't ordinary releases/waivers.  They were injury settlements, just like with David Irons at the start of training camp.  Under league rules, teams can't re-sign players released under injury settelements until mid-November.  So they didn't sign Brown to the practice squad because they couldn't.  And while they were able to re-sign Jamaal Fudge and bring promising prospect Eric Brock back to the practice squad, Von Hutchins has been off limits.

I fully expect to see Brown in a Falcons uniform again.  Not certain about Hutchins, but it's quite possible we'll see him come back as well.




On other banged-up Falcons:   unless he gets hurt in practice, Jason Snelling will return this weekend against the PanthersThomas Johnson is expected to return to practice this week.  The team hopes he'll also be able to play, but it's not certain. 

Sam Baker aggravated the same ankle he's been having problems with for the last several weeks.  The story with him this week will probably be the same as last week - he might be cleared to play, but whether the team would (or even should) choose to play him is another question entirely.  Will Svitek certainly showed last week that he's a competent replacement.  He plays with fire like the Nasty Boys on the right side of the line.  Falcons radio announcer Wes Durham joked that he learned from the best, doing an internship this year at the firm of Clabo & Dahl, and that he plays right through the last millisecond of the whistle.  

The big concern this week is Brian Finneran.  There haven't been any official announcements or comments on him at all yet.





Much ado about a doo-doo:   no word yet on formal complaints being filed about DeAngelo Hall's claims the Falcons tried to do him wrong on the sideline, though obviously we know the league is reviewing it. 

Forget all the talk.  There won't be any significant action against Smitty or Jeff Fish or even LaRon Landry of the Redskins.

The hit was late, and it drew a flag.  Case closed.  It wasn't a vicious hit, and Landry left the area immediately (and even made peace with the Falcons while doing so).  There was plenty of yelling and some pushing, similar to what happens all the time when tempers flare up on the field.  But there was no major incident, and the only remotely significant item was the extra bump by Albert Haynesworth which drew the second flag.

The whole thing was a non-event, and the only reason anyone is talking about it at all is that ex-Falcon MeAnJello made all those insane post-game comments.

If any thing does come out of it, the most likely actions are a small fine against Albert Haynesworth and possibly some action against Hall for both instigating the situation and that obscenity-laced diatribe.   





Looking ahead to the second half of the season...  the Falcons were 5-3 at this point last year too.  They're now coming off the four game stretch that they simply needed to survive, and they came away 2-2 in those four games.  They did exactly what they had to do.

I won't say the rest of the schedule is easier in terms of the opponents, but other aspects of it do get better.  There are no more west coast trips or pre-scheduled Monday night games (still subject to flex scheduling) to mess up the travel and practice routines.  Also, we're now done with three of the four games against teams coming off of byes.

In the meantime, the young guys in the secondary have gotten some valuable experience, two new acquisitions (Tye Hill and Aaron Stecker) have stepped in very well, and some of the young d-linemen (particularly Kroy Biermann and Vance Walker) are also stepping up.

That will give the Falcons a boost in the second half.  We have better depth than many teams out there, and injuries are piling up all over the league - not just here.  If we can avoid injuries to significant players, we'll have an edge down the stretch.





Posted on: June 14, 2009 2:13 pm
 

miscellaneous notes - 6/14/09

This is without a doubt the most dull period of the football year.  That's why the media has been going on endlessly about a particular felon.  I think they KNOW we're tired of hearing about him, but there's absolutely nothing else going on right now.

But I'll try...  here's a quick roundup for everyone who's way beyond "get over it already" on the never-ending saga of our ex-QB...

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

This coming week is the end of OTAs.  After that, the NFL rookie symposium is at the end of the month, and training camps start in mid to late July.  Atlanta's camp will be one of the last to get underway -  officially starting August 1 with two weeks of fury before the first exhibition game. 

It's the number of practice sessions that is limited by league rules, not the number of days of camp.  So the team isn't necessarily cutting itself short by waiting until August to get it going.  They are still allowed to have one more minicamp before training camp begins.  Some other teams have held the extra minicamp, and others have skipped it.  Smitty scheduled it last year but elected to cancel it and give players some extra rest before the real camp.  This year the Falcons haven't even scheduled it. 



OTAs are officially non-contact, but things can - and do - get a bit "chippy".  Smitty ended Wednesday's practice early after a THIRD fight broke out in just that one practice session.  Here's the news flash:  Tyson Clabo and Harvey Dahl were NOT the ones starting any of the scuffles. 



The word so far is that the young WR prospects are all doing fairly well, but that the "real" tests will come in the contact drills in training camp.  Khalil Jones has been fighting a strained quad, but he's expected to be fine when camp opens. 

For the WRs and all the other rookies and young prospects, the main point of OTAs is to help them transition from minicamp to training camp.  In minicamp, the schemes and formations were thrown at them in a flurry, and the coaches fully expected the rookies to be overwhelmed by it all.  OTAs are kind of a mini-minicamp.  Instead of two practice sessions a day, it's three practices a week.  They're repeating the basic drills from minicamp so that the kids can get the routine down.  Instead of having their minds on things like getting lined up in the right place, they're starting to focus on what their basic responsibilities are in a football sense -  for this particular formation, here are your basic reads, and this is your assignment, etc.  The goal is for them at least to know the program so they can keep up with the veterans in training camp and get the most out of it.



The pre-season magazines are starting to hit the newsstands.  Pro Football Weekly's magazine now has the Yahoo Sports name on the cover.  Both PFW and Lindy's project the Panthers to win the division, followed by the Falcons and Saints in a tie (one of them projects a 9-7 record for both teams) with the Buccaneers in the basement. 

Both magazines have the standard inch-deep analysis that frankly makes them not worth buying.   I'll save you the fifteen bucks and give you the thought process that goes into those rankings:  Carolina won the division and is still a good team, so put them in first.  Atlanta made the wild card, and "everybody knows" the Saints were supposed to win the division but were ravaged by injuries.  Tampa has a new coach, so obviously they have to be in disarray and will automatically be in last place.

Oh, and if you're wondering what great insights the preview mags have to say about the Falcons...    Matt Ryan is a fine young quarterback.  Michael Turner is a powerhouse.  Roddy White has emerged as a true #1 receiver.  The offensive line is coming together.  Tony Gonzalez is a heck of an addition.  There are some questions on defense with so many new players taking on starting jobs.  The Falcons focused on defense in the draft.  The special teams unit and the coaching staff are pretty good.




Back to the defense...  Alvin Reynolds is working to cross train the DBs, especially the projected backups.  In particular, the cornerbacks have been getting work at the safety spot.  Keep in mind that a goal of our cover two system is to end up with "interchangeable" safeties.  Instead of a strong safety and free safety, you basically have a left side guy and a right side guy.  With that in mind, guys like Von Hutchins, David Irons, and William Middleton might fit into Atlanta's plans at safety as much or more than at corner.

The most interesting one of the bunch will be Von Hutchins.  He was signed to be our nickel corner last year and give our secondary a little extra experience.  He had just become a starter for the Texans the season before, and has a total of 16 career starts.  That's not much, but heading into camp last summer our entire CB group had a grand total of 11 career starts - all by Chris Houston.  But now Houston has 28 total starts, Chevis Jackson has 17 games as the nickel back, and even Brent Grimes has 6 starts plus 2 games as the nickel. 

But here's the kicker...  half of Hutchins' career starts were at safety rather than at corner.  If the Falcons do end up choosing to use him as a safety, he has more game experience at the position than either Jamaal Fudge or Antoine Harris.  A safety unit of Erik Coleman, William Moore, Von Hutchins, and Thomas DeCoud has an interesting sound to it...




I've repeatedly said Jamaal Anderson is too young to give up on him so soon.  There's no doubt that drafting a 21-year old kid with only one season of experience at his position at #8 was a questionable move.  But to want to declare him a total bust and get him off the roster is equally questionable.  If you weren't aware of just how young he his, here's an amusing twist -  Jamaal Anderson and this year's fourth round DE pick Lawrence Sidbury were born on the same day.



The other youngster at DE, Kroy Biermann, has bulked up since training camp last year.  I suspect that those of you who regularly go to practices during training camp will notice the difference.  A few other defensive guys who have been noticed in OTAs...  Jason Jefferson has stepped it up a bit.  He knows that with Trey Lewis returning and Vance Walker getting drafted on top of Peria Jerry, he's on the bubble.  He's working his tail off to hang on to his roster spot.  Another DT stepping up is prospect Thomas Johnson, one of the players signed to a futures contract in early January. 



On the offensive line, all of last year's starters are projected to start again this season.  The consistency will help, as four of the five are still younger, developing players.  As a rookie in 2007, Justin Blalock seemed to have a different LT to work with every week (Gandy, Renardo Foster, Weiner, Terrance Pennington in practice, and finally Quinn Ojinnaka).  He went into last year with a season behind him and worked with Sam Baker plus stints with Weiner and Ojinnaka.  If Baker can stay healthy this year, the extra experience will help Blalock as much as Baker.



The backup OL competition got a bit more interesting at the end of May.  Quinn Ojinnaka was arrested on a domestic charge similar to the situation behind Michael Boley's arrest last year.  He's the most versatile offensive lineman on the roster - he can play all five positions if needed, and he has as much game experience at LT as anyone on the team.  But legal troubles are a taboo in the organization now, and the players with off field issues have tended to vanish from the roster.  



I hit this before in a response on another thread...   like many teams, the Falcons offset the lower offseason roster limit (80 players as of 2008, as opposed to 90 players plus exemptions for NFL Europe guys in 2007) by taking advantage of the fact that draft picks don't count towards the roster limit until they sign.  The team will have to release at least two players between now and the end of July.  Those players will almost certainly be prospects rather than established players.  Or to put it another way, if you know their names, they're probably safe. 

And it's possible that the early cuts will be brought back for another look later on.  That happened last year too.  It's not that the players have necessarily washed out, but simply that the new 80-man limit won't allow the Falcons to bring everyone to camp at once. 


Posted on: February 21, 2009 2:36 pm
Edited on: February 22, 2009 8:21 pm
 

The Chart - part two (2008 draft day trades)

Okay, last time we saw the actual numbers of the standard NFL draft pick point value table, commonly known as The Chart.  A quick recap:  I want to stress that the chart does NOT try to say whether a team should make specific trades or what specific players are worth.  It is simply an index to help us all understand what kind of market value teams have put on specific draft picks in the past, based on all pick-for-pick trades over many years.  It tells us what is, not what is right or wrong.

The version of the chart that I posted was the copy that the NFL sent to every team in the league before the 2007 draft.  To get an idea of its ongoing accuracy, let's look at the trades that teams made during the draft in 2008. 

The short version is that there were 23 trades that were strictly pick for pick within the 2008 draft (no future picks, no players).  Of those, only one broke from the chart by more than 10% (for early round trades, where the numbers are big) or 11 total points (for later rounds, where the numbers are smaller).  And that one trade was a four for one deal, with the one pick carrying the higher point value.  Seven out of the nine first-day deals were within 5%.

For those who want the details (or want to see the proof), here's the list of first-day deals...

The Saints moved up from #10 to #7, also giving #78 to the Patriots and receiving #164 in return.  Looking at the chart, the Saints received 1526 points worth of picks in exchange for 1500 points.  That's a difference of only 1.7%.   (New Orleans selected Sedrick Ellis.  The Patriots selected Jerod Mayo.)

The Ravens broke from the chart in the day's second trade, moving down from the #8 pick and receiving picks 26, 71, 89, and 125 from the Jaguars.  They gave up 1400 points and received only 1127 in return, and the 273 point imbalance (or 24% of the 1127 points received) was the farthest any deal broke from the chart during the entire draft.  But note that it was a four for one deal, which might have made it a little more enticing for Baltimore.  The Jags made the deal to select Derrick Harvey

The Chiefs moved up in a deal with the Lions, giving Detroit picks 17, 66, and 136 in exchange for picks 15 and 76.  That's a 1248 for 1260 deal, with the mere 12 point difference representing less than 1% of the point total given by either side.  Both teams used the top picks to select offensive linemen, with KC taking Branden Albert and Detroit selecting Gosder Cherilus.

The Ravens moved back up to draft Joe Flacco, giving the Texans the 26 and 89 they had received from Jacksonville plus the 173rd pick in exchange for pick #18.  That's 867 points given up to receive a 900 point pick.  The 33 point difference makes a 3.8% windfall for Baltimore.  

The Falcons moved up to draft Sam Baker, giving the Redskins picks 34, 48, and 103 in exchange for picks 21, 84, and 154.  Atlanta did pay a premium of 8.8%, giving 1088 points and receiving 1000.  That was the second highest differential of the draft. 

But it wasn't as bad as initially reported - ESPN originally announced the trade as a 3 for 1 deal, saying that Atlanta had only received pick #21.  GM Thomas Dimitroff emphasized that evening that the TV reports were incorrect and that it was a 3 for 3 swap.  The team was willing to pay a slight premium (the 88 point difference is exactly the value of the fourth round pick #103 that the Falcons gave up) because Baker was the last of the top-tier offensive linemen on their board.  The Carolina Panthers had just moved up to #19 to draft Jeff Otah, giving up their 2009 first rounder as part of the deal, so the Falcons knew they couldn't wait to get a top lineman.  And considering Atlanta selected Harry Douglas and Kroy Biermann with the other two picks, Falcon fans probably shouldn't be upset with the results.

The always trade-happy Cowboys made their first deal of this draft by giving picks 28, 163, and 235 to the Seahawks for pick #25.  Based on the chart, Dallas gave up 687 points (assuming a 1 point value for #235) for a 720 point pick.  That's a 4.8% differential.  It could be argued that Jerry Jones made the deal just for the sake of making a deal, but the Cowboys theoretically made the trade in order to get DB Mike Jenkins.  Seattle used the #28 to select Lawrence Jackson.

Seattle moved down again with the #30 pick, sending it to the Jets for picks 36 and 113.  That's a mere two point difference, with 618 points received for a 620 point pick.  New York made the move to get TE Dustin Keller.

Baltimore and Seattle were the most active dealers of the day.  In the second round, Seattle moved up to #38 (to select TE John Carlson), sending the Ravens picks 55 and 86.  The 20 point differential is 3.9% of the 510 points Baltimore received.   

Philadelphia and Minnesota also made a second round deal, with the Eagles sending picks 43 and 152 to the Vikings for picks 47 and 117.  That's 511 points for 500, or a 2.2% differential.  The Vikings selected Tyrell Johnson at 43, while Philly picked up DT Trevor Laws with the 47th pick.

There were three other trades that involved picks from #1 to #64.  The most significant was that Carolina sent the Eagles picks 43, 109, and their first round pick of 2009 in exchange for Philadelphia's pick #19.  The catch is that the major pick that Philadelphia received was the future first rounder. 

The key question is how much to discount a future pick.  For the sake of demonstration, I'm going to assume that the Philly braintrust used a 50% discount factor as their guideline.  Neither side knew exactly where that pick would fall, but both likely anticipated that it would be a later pick.  From Philadelphia's perspective, the pick received would be no worse than #32.  That pick rates 590 points on draft day.  Applying a 50% discount factor for the one year wait, the Eagles were receiving 295 points or more for that future pick.  That would give Philadelphia at least 851 points for their 875 point pick.

Obviously, the team giving up the future first round pick is taking a risk, not knowing where that pick will fall.  If Carolina also used a 50% discount factor and had confidence that they would draft no earlier than #22 in 2009, then they would value that future pick at 390 points or less.  For them, the deal would be at most 946 points given away in exchange for the 875 point pick, for a premium of 8.1% or less.   

But there's one other important note here -  when a team moves up the way Carolina did (or Atlanta did two picks later), they aren't acquiring a draft pick.  They know exactly what player they will select with the pick they acquire.  So the other major factor is how the team values that specific player.  I'll cover that in more detail in the next post...

The Buccaneers and Jaguars swapped second rounders, with Tampa sending pick 52 (at 380 points) to Jacksonville for picks 58 and 158 (348 points combined) plus Jacksonville's 7th rounder in 2009.  It's hard to imagine any team putting much value on that particular future pick, but the 32 point difference is within 10% even if it carries no value at all.

And finally, the Miami Dolphins traded pick 64, acquiring picks 66 and 176 from the Lions.  That's a 4.1% windfall for the Fins based on the chart.  I mention it because even though it was the first pick of the third round, that pick would ordinarily have been the last pick of round two.  (There were only 31 picks in the first round, as the Patriots forfeited their own first rounder over the videotaping incident.) 

Posted on: December 21, 2008 7:53 am
 

The OTHER Falcon memory of Minnesota

The classic meeting was of course the NFC Championship ten seasons ago, but the last time Atlanta played Minnesota was in week 1 of last season...  the debut of Bobby Petrino as Falcon head coach.

Our alleged offensive genius had known for most of the summer that he'd be without a particular left-handed QB at least for the first four weeks of the season, yet Coach Booby never altered his protection schemes. 

With a left-hander taking the snaps, the blind side would have been in the hands of Todd Weiner and Kynan Forney, two veterans with considerable pass blocking skills.  But with a right handed QB, blind side protection fell upon a first game rookie at left guard and the oldest man on the roster at left tackle.

Minnesota had a field day, logging SIX sacks on the way to an easy win.  (But don't get big heads, Viking fans.  The Jaguars outdid you the very next week, racking up SEVEN sacks.) 

But the overhaul of Atlanta's front line was well underway even then, and a lot of good young prospects got valuable playing experience during the horror show of 2007.  It's paying off this season, as the Falcon O-line is deeper than it has been in decades and is evolving into an elite unit.

The left side now features a rookie and a second year player.  The right side consists of a pair of undrafted 27-year olds that bounced around the league, went to NFL Europe and spent time on practice squads before getting their chance at full time starting positions in Atlanta this season.  Center Todd McClure is the veteran presence that holds the unit together. 

This no-name group had some communications issues early on, but they have steadily improved all season.  They have allowed only 14 sacks all season, only 7 in the last 10 games, and only 2 in the last 6 games.  They're also powering a rushing attack that is tied for the league lead in yardage.

All the media attention will be on that classic from a decade ago, but only Keith Brooking remains from that 1998 roster.   It will be interesting to see how the others, especially those on the offensive line, fare when they return to the scene of that first-week disaster from last season.

 

Posted on: November 6, 2008 3:15 pm
Edited on: November 7, 2008 5:33 pm
 

early notes for the Saints game

THE BAD NEWS for fans of both teams:   FOX has assigned our old pals Ron Pitts and Tony Boselli to broadcast the game.   (Saints fans -  I apologize in advance and suggest that you keep a radio handy.)

For New Orleans, Reggie Bush does not expect to play.  At this point, it appears Jeremy Shockey will play.

For Atlanta, Sam Baker is almost certainly out (it's not *official* yet) but everyone else is in reasonable shape.  Grimes, Grady Jackson, and Weiner are still nursing bad knees.  Snelling has been sick.  

Domonique Foxworth is now listed as a starter in the press guide and the depth chart.   He's the most experienced cornerback on the roster, but since the team only acquired him in Week 1, the coaches needed time to get him up to speed on the defensive schemes. 

No word yet on which of Grimes or Chevis Jackson will play the nickel corner spot once Grimes is back to speed.

Still no word from the league on possible suspensions for Grady and several Saints players over that water pill investigation.  However, the players can appeal if a suspension is announced between now and Sunday, so they can all remain available for this weekend's game.

Also no word on who will return punts for Atlanta this weekend.  Coach Smith said he thought Harry Douglas did a nice job but that the team hasn't decided who will handle that job this weekend.   And for those who think Jennings may be headed out the door, here's a little extra fodder:   when asked about the WR corps, Smith named all of the receivers EXCEPT for Jennings.

FRIDAY UPDATE:   Reggie Bush and center Jonathan Goodwin are both out.  Sam Baker is now officially out for Atlanta.  Shockey will likely play.  The banged-up Falcons are all listed as "Questionable" -  which seems to be the standard practice this season.  They include Grimes, Grady Jackson, Weiner, and McClure.  Best guess is they'll all be available. 

 

 
 
 
 
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