Falcons’ best-case-scenario wish list for NFL free agency
THE GRAND INTRODUCTION
FOX Sports South offers a best-case scenario wish list for the Atlanta Falcons and free agency, a subjective countdown that's based on three factors: 1) The Falcons' available cap funds ($29.88 million as of March 5). 2) The positional need fit for certain free agents, particularly on defense. 3) The new regime now in place with the Falcons. With a new head coach, coordinators and what will likely be an outright philosophical shift of play on the field -- and the way the team is built -- the type of players needed to thrive in Dan Quinn's system will need to be added as quickly as possible for the winning ways he enjoyed with Seattle to come to fruition in Atlanta. Photo: Ron Schwane / John Gellebter / Dale Zanine -- USA TODAY Sports
6 - Antone Smith, RB
2014 STATS: 10 games, 23 carries, 144 yards, 2 TDs, 13 catches, 222 yards, 3 TDs. THE SKINNY: Smith materialized as an explosive change-of-pace option in Atlanta's offense last season before a broken leg ended his season. The Falcons are giddy over what second-year pro Devonta Freeman could do in Kyle Shanahan's system, and should be equally excited for what Smith could offer. But Smith should only be added as an ancillary piece to the running back puzzle. He's never touched the ball more than six times in a professional game, and if used properly could amaze with similar usage going forward.
Jason Getz-USA TODAY SportsJason Getz
5 - Antonio Cromartie, CB
2014 STATS: 16 games, 52 tackles, 3 INTs. THE SKINNY: First- and second-round picks from 2013 Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford are set at cornerback for the next few years. But in this day and age of pass-happy offenses in the NFL, a third corner is needed much of the time. Dan Quinn comes from a successful Seahawks defense where size and speed are emphasized. Neither of Atlanta's current corners stand taller than 6-feet tall, but Cromartie is a 6-foot-2 option that can offer some much-needed size to an already decent secondary.
Brad Penner-USA TODAY SportsBrad Penner
4 - Bruce Carter, LB
2014 STATS: 13 games, 81 tackles, 1 sack, 5 INTs. THE SKINNY: One of the many headaches that came with injuries and lack of depth along Atlanta's linebacker corps was a very soft center to the defense. Running backs churned extra yardage in the Falcons' second level, and pass catchers lived off balls thrown at a middle depth. Carter would be a huge upgrade to the unit and could provide some much-needed cover skills. His athleticism absolutely translates to the kind of player that would do well under Dan Quinn.
Jeff Curry-USA TODAY SportsJeff Curry
3 - Sean Weatherspoon, LB
2014 STATS: Did not play (Achilles injury). THE SKINNY: The former first-round pick for the Falcons has only played seven games over the last two years, and has only laced up his cleats for all 16 games in a season once in five years with the Falcons. When healthy, however, Weatherspoon is a catalyst on defense. He doesn't do one thing fantastically, but many things very well. He has an always-on motor and is a leader both on the field, on the sideline and in the locker room. He's not going to get first-round money if he signs with Atlanta, but new head coach Dan Quinn is on record coveting Weatherspoon's return to the Falcons. The linebackers' speed and tenacity fit well into Quinn's system.
USA TODAY SportsDaniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports
2 - Jordan Cameron, TE
2014 STATS: 10 games, 24 catches, 2 TDs. THE SKINNY: Atlanta's offense has not been the same since tight end Tony Gonzalez retired. While it's impossible to replace the output of a living legend, it should be a cinch to grab an upgrade to Levine Toilolo. Cameron probably won't ever return to the 80-catch target he was in 2013, but he's only 26 years old and could regain much of that glory. Cameron missed six games in the middle of the season because of a concussion, and caught just 24 passes. But his 17.7 yards per reception led the NFL among tight ends, he could thrive in Atlanta's offense, and Cameron has ties with new Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.
Ron Schwane-USA TODAY SportsRon Schwane
1 - Brandon Graham, LB
2014 STATS: 16 games (1 start), 46 tackles, 5.5 sacks. THE SKINNY: Graham has made exactly 13 starts in his five seasons with the Eagles. But don't equate starts with effective play on the field. In just 225 pass-rush snaps last season, Graham notched 5.5 sacks. According to Pro Football Focus, he was the most effective 3-4 outside linebacker in terms of rushing the passer, and since 2012 Graham has been the highest rated edge defender per 100 snaps in the NFL (higher than Justin Houston). Graham has the tools to thrive in Dan Quinn's system. With full-time snaps on defense, he looks like a double digit sack artist.