Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

29 Dec 2006

Reshaping of Falcons Might Be a Game Away

How would you fix the Atlanta Falcons? Ignore Number Seven for the time being, because it isn't like he's the only problem on this team. Do you cut Warrick Dunn to save $3.25 million on the cap, and make Jerious Norwood your starting running back? Do you pick up an actual real-life cornerback, or hope Jimmy Williams can move into the starting lineup in his second year? What do you do about all the injury-prone stars like Ed Hartwell and John Abraham? Notice, by the way, that this position-by-position look at the Falcons is missing one position: wide receiver. Getting rid of all of them isn't such a bad suggestion. (Nobody has mentioned this, but losing Brian Finneran to injury turned out to be a huge blow, because he's the only dependable guy besides Alge Crumpler.)

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 29 Dec 2006

41 comments, Last at 11 Jan 2007, 11:50pm by Mr Shush


by Crushinator (not verified) :: Fri, 12/29/2006 - 3:01pm

That team has a lot of holes and under-performing stars, not just Vick. The D couldn't catch a cold, the O-line can't pass block, the WRs can't catch, Vick isn't terribly accurate or throws a very catchable ball.

I really think they're a team that shows some bad coaching first and foremost. A lot of these players I think could become good or at least play better than they currently are, but they always seem to play lazy and sloppy, and that isn't a ringing endorsement for Jim Mora Jr.

by zlionsfan (not verified) :: Fri, 12/29/2006 - 3:39pm

Hell yes I cut Dunn. RBs are fungible, right? And this team needs a lot of help, like at receiver. Use some of that money on better receivers.

Injury-prone players aren't worth it. The more you have, the less likely it is that you'll be healthy as a team. It's not unlike having a lot of players with "potential" on your team.

It's almost like the Falcons are a more talented version of the Lions.

by michael (not verified) :: Fri, 12/29/2006 - 3:59pm

Backup Matt Schaub is a restricted free agent who could draw some interest, but the Falcons could ask for first- and third-round picks as compensation.

First and third round picks? For Schaub? What kind of Bizzaro world did I just walk into?

Oh right. He Just Wins.

by Jesse (not verified) :: Fri, 12/29/2006 - 4:01pm

Blockbuster trade: Vick to Raiders for Randy Moss. Cut a reciever or two draft one in the second round. In the first round get a top defensive back. Fill in some gaps in the later rounds. Starting lineup: Jerius Norwood, Matt Schaub, Alge Crumpler, Brian Finneran, Randy Moss.

I wouldn't want to play that team.

by Crushinator (not verified) :: Fri, 12/29/2006 - 4:06pm


and then watch as your entire team crumbles, since you just essentially created a 40-50 million dollar cap hit.

Vick alone is a 22 million cap hit if he's traded or cut now.

by Jesse (not verified) :: Fri, 12/29/2006 - 4:43pm

It's worth it in the long run.

by SJM (not verified) :: Fri, 12/29/2006 - 4:45pm

Re: The receivers and Finneran

I was kind of shocked that this very website downplayed the Finneran injury, implying that Lelie could fill in decently for him (maybe that was just fantasy, but nobody said "The Falcons are now screwed"). I mean, the guy has had the best FO stats of any Falcons wide receiver 5 years in a row according to PFP2006, and the rest of them have been terrible. If he was healthy he'd have been starting by midseason. How did you/we miss that?

by Sisyphus (not verified) :: Fri, 12/29/2006 - 4:56pm

This team needs to figure out what it is before it tries to figure out what it needs. They need an identity on offense that will allow them to make Vick work. There is a real question though if such an identity really exists and can Vick be coached to fit that identity.
The point is this, if you are going to be an option type of team you need something different than you are if you are going to be a rolling pocket passing team or a power running team. You need different players for different schemes.

by Basilicus (not verified) :: Fri, 12/29/2006 - 5:04pm

Cut Arthur Blank?

by OMO (not verified) :: Fri, 12/29/2006 - 5:11pm

Re: #9

Ding, ding, ding.

by Crushinator (not verified) :: Fri, 12/29/2006 - 5:14pm


Which long run? Because they won't be competitive for at least two years with all the cuts they'll have to make and the lack of depth they'll have.

Plus, we have no idea what kind of QB Schaub will be, though I'd guess a bad one with the kind of bargain bin linemen you'd have to throw in front of him. Even if he develops, it would probably take him at least a season to really get going. Or more than likely, looking good until teams get tape of him, then looking bad for a while until it's determined what sort of QB he actually is.

Not to mention Crumpler, Moss, and Finneran will all be 30 or older.

and let's pray that none of them get hurt, considering their D is going to be total garbage, even with another corner.

by Vince (not verified) :: Fri, 12/29/2006 - 6:44pm

First of all, Vick isn't going anywhere, and any talk of it is just silly.

I don't know if No. 3 was being facetious, but Schaub has actually lost all of the games he has started (only two or three, but either way, he does not Just Win.)

I'd be stunned if Schaub wasn't shipped somewhere, particularly because I've read that the team is high on DJ Shockley.

Sadly, there doesn't seem like a quick fix to the receiver problem. They won't have a ton of money in free agency, and if they spend a #1 draft pick on a WR for the thir year in a row, heads will roll. (More on that later).

God bless Warrick Dunn, but the Era of Norwood starts in 2007. Dunn will either renegotiate to be a backup or cut.

The C, RG and RT are signed to long-term deals. LG and LT could both use upgrading.

The team is DYING for an impact linebacker, inside or outside.

Jimmy Williams looked great against Carolina this past Sunday, in (very limited) pass coverage and run support. Whether at corner or safety, he'll be starting in 07.

After that... I'd be shocked (and pretty upset) if Jim Mora returned as coach, so that matter will have to be addressed before most of these questions can be answered.

by Mr Shush (not verified) :: Fri, 12/29/2006 - 8:00pm

Am I the only one who thinks Rich McKay may be a bigger problem than Mora? I'd probably fire both, but McKay and Knapp are the two men I'd say absolutely have to go.

by James, London (not verified) :: Fri, 12/29/2006 - 8:06pm

If you can get a 1st or 2nd rounder for Shaub, you take it. The Falcons already own the Redskins 3rd round pick, and 5 picks on day 1 is a solid way to start filling the gaps.

by James, London (not verified) :: Fri, 12/29/2006 - 8:07pm

Oh, and find a Corner worth the name. Fast.

by Mnatr (not verified) :: Fri, 12/29/2006 - 9:22pm

I posted this in another thread, but here it goes again.

Offense = Vick + Talent * 0.8
Defense = Talent * 1.0
Special Teams = Talent * 1.0

The idea is that adding offensive talent around Vick has a low rate of return in the form of offensive output and that there's no reason to think the same about their defense or special teams.

Vick is a once-in-a-lifetime player who's doing no better with a bunch of 1st round wideouts than he did as a rookie. The defense has had trouble stopping the run and has little depth. Their special teams is poor.

I don't think that Vick is a bad player. I don't think he has to fail. At the very least, the Falcons should try to assemble the best defense they can afford. They should have decent or better special teamers. Whatever leftover cap space there is can be dedicated to fielding an offense around Vick.

Like I said, it's a simple idea with more than a couple assumptions, but it sounds like a good plan, doesn't it? A killer defense and Vick, I can see the feature stories!

by Vince (not verified) :: Fri, 12/29/2006 - 9:39pm

A killer defense and Vick, I can see the feature stories!

Hey, it's the 2004 Falcons!

(OK, "killer" defense might be too strong.)

by Just Another Falcon Fan (not verified) :: Fri, 12/29/2006 - 10:32pm

Well, let me get my Tom Landry hat on...

Kerney, you're cut. Leslie, Webster, Crocker, you're all cut. Mora, gone. Forney, cut, Hartwell, cut. Brooking, sorry, cut. Krupp, Donatell, you're cut. Beverly, you're cut. So is Judge. Vick, you stay. All of those people are cut. Gibbs, Hoffman and Alosi are all cut. Stewart, Thomas gone. Cut, Reese, I don't know what you're doing here because you're all cut. McClure, Lehr. There's so many cuts here, look, I'll just post them up and you see where your name is. Look how many cuts there are there. Woah boy! You're cut. All of you! You're cut. I cut you! [ Gracie Films logo, "shhhhh"] You're cut too, shusshy!

by Just Another Falcon Fan (not verified) :: Fri, 12/29/2006 - 10:52pm

Seriously, though...

Dunn's a really nice guy but it's time for him to go or adjust his salary and role to that of a reserve RB.

Kerney is an overrated high-motor, low-impact guy. Time to go.

Hartwell has to go. Brooking should go, but unfortunately Demorrio Williams will probably walk because he won't want to wait behind the hometown hero.

Safety help is desperately needed. Milloy probably has a year left, but Crocker was bad, even though he was an upgrade on Scott. Probably the 1st round pick should be the best CB or S on the board, moving Williams to safety if a CB is taken.

The OL is small and weak, easily overpowered in passing situations. McClure was part of the problem, but he's been resigned. Sigh. Clabo has looked better than Forney since the injury. Lehr has been a problem with or without the steroids. Gandy and Weiner were OK at T this year, but are getting older.

Schaub is a restricted free agent; tender him at the top level and deal him for a first or early 2nd if no one opts to pay the compensation.

Re: 16 -- the idea of strengthening the defense was this year's plan, with the signing of Abraham, Jackson, and Milloy and the deal for Crocker. But as holes in the DL and S were patched, more holes developed at LB. Also, the upgrade at FS went only from "horrible" to "bad", which isn't good enough. Couple that with Abraham's penchant for getting injured at the bat of an eyelash, and the overall defensive performance was not much better than last year, albeit in different ways.

by navin (not verified) :: Fri, 12/29/2006 - 10:53pm

Falcon Fan, you're on special teams.

I'm special...

by jonnyblazin (not verified) :: Fri, 12/29/2006 - 11:05pm

Edgarton, I like your hussle. Thats why it was so hard to cut you.

by langsty (not verified) :: Sat, 12/30/2006 - 12:03am

i echo everything crushinator and JAFF said, though i'd probably keep Forney. Michael Boley is the only guy on the defense who's shown up in every game this year, maybe Grady Jackson too. now that McClure's been signed until he's 40 or whatever, we REALLY need some blue chip talent at guard. i know every fan of an underachieving team likes to believe that it's all the fault of coaching, but the lack of technique/fundamentals on display year after year has been astonishing.

i'd love it if we could get Rich Rodriguez @ OC. our problem this year is that Knapp stole some plays from WVU but not the packages, and lacked the underlying understanding of why they do what they do, as well as the creativity to call them correctly. out of maybe one game, we used a play in which the FB started blocking one way, and then bounced out the other way, which gave the zone read or stretch/boot look, but instead of Vick being by himself he had the FB in the intermediate zone to put the spying DE/LB/S in a double bind. we ran it once and it worked for us. never saw it again. but i saw countless times where Vick got blown up on the backside of the stretch/boot or was corralled out of bounds on the keep on the zone read because they did NOT give him an option to throw. let's not forget the naked bootlegs that opponents have had sniffed out since the 3rd game of 2005, where Vick comes out of the fake with two defenders cutting him off and only one or two receivers in the route - neither of whom who has separation. or, when faced with 3rd and long, ALL CURLS, where our non-separation-getting receivers run to a spot and turn around with a defender or two draped over their backs.

by langsty (not verified) :: Sat, 12/30/2006 - 12:52am

also, arthur blank needs to shut his trap and just sign the checks. i'm glad we have an owner who cares, but how many coaches are gonna want this dude hovering over them?

by NF (not verified) :: Sat, 12/30/2006 - 12:53am

Schaub should be traded for Randy Moss if a workable trade can be arranged and the Falcons feel they can get Randy Moss to play well again. If they don't try that they just aren't that serious about improving the WR corp.

Either Schaub is Vick's replacement, trade bait, or just a backup. If D.J. Shockley can fill the backup role, and now that Vick has shown his ability to stay mostly healthy for two straight seasons, it will be a misuse of resources if Schaub can be easily traded to fill holes on the team but is kept in a backup role.

by MRH (not verified) :: Sat, 12/30/2006 - 11:40am

Re Gandy. Is a cap number of $7M over 2 years that bad for a competent LT? Or is he not that good? If I had a decent LT at that cap number I wouldn't cut him.

by kolya23 (not verified) :: Sat, 12/30/2006 - 2:19pm

The main problems are a mediocre offensive line (tough to run), poor WR (tough to pass), and bad LB/CB. The Falcons need a solid draft to make up for this many issues. As a Bucs fan who watched their talent level deteriorate since McKay left and Gruden came, I think McKay is still a good GM, and is the best guy to turn it around.

Dunn is still useful, although it should be more of a quick/power combo with Norwood. And I think the Falcons should hold onto Schaub... just because they've gone two seasons without Vick getting injured, it's still worth having a solid backup for any team, even more so for a team with a QB coming off a 1000-yd rushing season. Having said that, if they could get a 1st and 3rd for Schaub, of course they should do it.

by Vince (not verified) :: Sat, 12/30/2006 - 6:14pm

#25: Gandy was not dreadful, I guess, but the problem is, he's really, really old. So he's likely to decline, and worse, it's pretty much a lock he won't be there in 08. So cutting him now might be a mild pain in 07, but will help out in 08, 09, 10, etc.

by emcee fleshy (atl/sd) (not verified) :: Sat, 12/30/2006 - 9:26pm

Last couple of seasons, the Falcons have been the second best team in the league - - in March. Right behind Washington.

Some internal development is probably worth more than any Free Agency pickups.

But if there's one thing to fix, it's the OL. Right now, anybody at Falcons QB will have the same mental progression at the start of every play: "Down, Set, Hut . . . OH MY GOD I'M GOING TO DIE!!!"

by Justin Zeth (not verified) :: Sat, 12/30/2006 - 10:56pm

If anybody's stupid enough to give up a second-round pick for Matt Schaub, let alone a first, the Falcons are idiots not to grab it right now. That everyone thinks Schaub is Tom Brady waiting to happen says a lot more about Vick than it does about Schaub.

Vick's contract makes him un-cuttable until at least after next year, and he's just too marketable to remove from the QB position. Fact is, Vick makes the Falcons a lot of money, and he's staying where he is. So what the Falcons REALLY need is an o-coordinator that's willing to do something really different, something like a single-wing offense or constant QB options or the chuck-and-duck.

I strongly agree with the previously stated opinion that the Falcons need to stay in the bargain bin for offensive players and spend the bulk of their money on defense.

by Sean (not verified) :: Sat, 12/30/2006 - 11:05pm

Find out what Switzer is doing, get him in to run the Wishbone. Any offense that limits the need to have any more than 1 Falcon's WR on the field needs to be seriously considered.

by joeymeyer (not verified) :: Sun, 12/31/2006 - 12:12am

As a recent resident of the Atlanta area, I'm struck, by watching the Falcons much more this year, at how boring they are. Vick is good for a few fun runs, and Norwood and Dunn occasionally, but their passing game makes me, as a fan, downright angry it's so bad. I don't have a rooting interest, but the combination of drops, sailers, three-hoppers and endless short targets to Alge makes me downright queasy.

by emcee fleshy (atl/sd) (not verified) :: Sun, 12/31/2006 - 4:58am

Thank you NYG. Now they have to fire Mora, right?

by imsmith (not verified) :: Sun, 12/31/2006 - 4:17pm

Did anyone else watching the Navy-BC bowl game find themselves wondering what the Falcons personnel would do with the Navy playbook?

by Vince (not verified) :: Sun, 12/31/2006 - 10:34pm

I changed my mind. Gandy sucks.

by Brian Lewis (not verified) :: Mon, 01/01/2007 - 2:58am

The wide receivers are the biggest glaring weakness on this team. Everything else...well, they're bad, but not awful. They couldn't catch the clap in a Brooklyn whorehouse.

by morganja (not verified) :: Mon, 01/01/2007 - 3:25am

I'm just curious. What decent coach with the least regard for his future, would coach Vick right now? He is throwing Mora under the bus, obviously doesn't give a shit about the team or the game, he is a coach killer. A career just dies with Vick right now. I can see someone who would never in a million years otherwise get selected for a head coaching job taking the position, but really, who are the Falcons going to hire if they fire Mora?

by The Mul Dawg (not verified) :: Mon, 01/01/2007 - 3:44am

The Eagus took it to the Falcs today. That was a great effort from Baskett today. The Falcs can't handle the Eagles.

Wowie, wowie. I like. I like NFC East championship a very much. Philadelphia will beat Giants in playoffs game. High five!

by Mr Shush (not verified) :: Mon, 01/01/2007 - 12:19pm

So, Norm Chow, Paul Johnson, any other suggested replacements? Switzer must be too old at 70, surely?

by David (not verified) :: Mon, 01/01/2007 - 3:35pm

Well, the Falcons organization lost no time showing Mora the door. I guess losing to a practice squad didn't sit well.

by Eric (not verified) :: Thu, 01/11/2007 - 6:44pm

First get rid of middle linebacker Ed Hartwell and safety Chris Crooker. Then you move corner Jimmy Williams to Crooker's old position, and go get another free agent cornerback. Trade back-up quaterback Matt Shaub to Oakland or Detroit for number 1 or 2 pick, with that pick select wide receiver Calvin Johnson. Let one or two of the current receivers go, Brian Finnerian comes back. Do this and Falcons win big!!

by Mr Shush (not verified) :: Thu, 01/11/2007 - 11:50pm

#40 - It would have to be to Oakland, because if the Raiders keep that pick they're using it on Johnson, and it wouldn't just be Schaub for the pick. Schaub and Atlanta's first, and maybe even another pick, is more likely. And then Falcons fans can watch Vick throw balls behind and over the head of Calvin Johnson as the latter racks up 700 yards and 3 touchdowns a season, just like any other Falcons #1 receiver. Jerry Rice in his prime could not put up big numbers in Atlanta, so using a high draft pick on a wide receiver would be a horrible misuse of resources. I think the Falcons have (belatedly) realised this. What they should do is go out and sign Dan Graham and any other big, reliable targets who can block a bit and happen to be available, and run a two or three tight end base set.