A source with knowledge of the situation confirmed Saturday that cornerback Robert McClain received an original-round tender of $1.431 million. The amount would represent McClain’s salary with the Falcons for the 2014 season.
However, McClain is likely to draw some interest around the league. If he signs an offer sheet elsewhere and the Falcons decline to match, the Falcons would receive just a seventh-round pick -- the round McClain was drafted in -- as compensation.
McClain was the Falcons’ nickelback last season and also assumed the punt-return duties. He had 64 tackles, a sack, and five passes defensed while playing 52 percent of the defensive snaps.
Indianapolis and New England are a couple teams that might show interest in McClain. The Colts have a pipeline to McClain’s alma mater, Connecticut, with four players from the school on the roster. The Patriots are familiar with McClain from his days with the Huskies.
From the Falcons’ perspective, they wouldn’t mind having McClain in the fold but are looking to upgrade at the nickelback spot, too. There is a strong possibility they will look into adding recently released veteran Champ Bailey if Bailey is willing to play nickelback. Bailey is a Georgia native.
From the Atlanta Falcons' perspective, upgrading the lines needs to be the emphasis. In terms of the offensive line, one player makes the most sense to pursue immediately.
But will Asamoah even reach free agency? NFL Nation Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher wrote about the tough decision Kansas City has in keeping either Asamoah or fellow offensive guard Geoff Schwartz. Asamoah actually lost his starting job to Schwartz late last season after suffering a shoulder injury.
Asamoah, who turns 26 in July, is ranked the third-best guard bound for free agency behind Carolina's Travelle Wharton and Schwartz by Pro Football Focus. He has earned a reputation for his pass blocking, which is key for a Falcons team emphasizing the need to protect Matt Ryan next season. Ryan was the league's most pressured quarterback in 2013.
Instability at the right guard spot sure didn't help Ryan's cause. Garrett Reynolds, who was released Feb. 18, got pushed back way too often after beginning the season as the starter. Reynolds got replaced by Peter Konz, who moved over after losing his starting center spot to Joe Hawley. Konz didn't fare much better at guard. Harland Gunn also got an audition at right guard late in the season.
What the Falcons need is someone who will be a stable force at right guard for years to come. Sure, plugging in an aging veteran could help for next season, but the Falcons have to look well beyond. That's another reason Asamoah makes sense.
It will all come down to the price tag, as with most moves in free agency. The Falcons already committed $7.6 million per season to left guard Justin Blalock. Both Blalock and tackle Sam Baker count $13.71 million against the $133 million cap in 2014.
Asamoah made $1.323 million with the Chiefs last season. Paying him somewhere between $4-5 million per year might be manageable.
Key free agents: DT Jonathan Babineaux, C Joe Hawley, DT Peria Jerry, TE Chase Coffman, OL Mike Johnson.
Where they stand: Nothing is more important for the Falcons this offseason than improving up front. They need more toughness on both the offensive and defensive lines. Getting a pass-rusher would be key, but they might have to wait until the draft to fill that need after watching top target Brian Orakpo get franchised by the Washington Redskins. A safety could help, too, but top target Jairus Byrd is likely to be too costly to pair alongside William Moore. The Falcons won't invest in a tight end to replace the retired Tony Gonzalez, although they could add another body to the mix.
What to expect: The Falcons will fill a hole at right guard after watching the now-departed Garrett Reynolds and Peter Konz struggle at the position last season. Look for the Falcons to target Kansas City’s Jon Asamoah, provided he reaches free agency. Falcons assistant general manager Scott Pioli drafted Asamoah when Pioli was the Chiefs' general manager. Getting a couple of defensive linemen will be key, too, so keep an eye on Miami’s Paul Soliai as a run-stuffer. And if recently released Champ Bailey is willing to play nickelback, don’t be surprised if the Falcons try to bring the veteran back to his home state.
Could this be the team to offer the Rams the most to move up to the second slot? Their history shows they are unafraid to make such a deal, but they also can't continue to neglect the bottom of their roster, as they are now one of the most top-heavy teams in the league.
Whom does McShay have the Falcons drafting at No. 6? Let's take a look:
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Drew Brees is 35 years old. To date, he hasn't shown any signs of slowing down. But are his NFC South counterparts about to catch up to the New Orleans Saints' elite quarterback?
Atlanta's Matt Ryan will be 29 and Carolina's Cam Newton 25 before the start of next season. Ryan has been trying to close the gap in recent years but played behind a lackluster offensive line and with a depleted receiving corps in 2013. Newton has shown signs of brilliance, helping the Panthers clinch the division title, but he hasn't been able to put it all together consistently for a Panthers team that's powered by an elite defense.
Maybe this is the year Ryan makes his move. Or maybe this is the year Newton takes a huge leap forward. If either of those quarterbacks gains ground on Brees, the NFC South could have a whole new look.
The uncertainty is in Tampa Bay, where the Bucs are looking at Mike Glennon, who did some nice things as a rookie but still lags behind Brees, Ryan and Newton. The Bucs have the nucleus of a good defense, but they need some stability at quarterback to make their offense click. If they can get that -- they have made noise about drafting a quarterback or signing a veteran free agent -- they might be able to make the NFC South a four-team race.
The four writers who cover the division -- Vaughn McClure in Atlanta, David Newton in Carolina, Mike Triplett in New Orleans and Pat Yasinskas in Tampa Bay -- offered their insights on the quarterback situations and some other some key offseason topics. They also polled their Twitter followers to find out if they saw the issues differently.
Who would you want as your quarterback for the next three years: Cam Newton, Drew Brees or Matt Ryan?
Vaughn McClure: This is tough because Drew Brees is the only one who's among the elite, but he's the oldest at 35. At some point, he's going to slow down. So, I'm not sure I want to ride with him for the next three years. Matt Ryan has some great qualities and could be right up there with the right protection in front of him and a healthy group of receivers in his arsenal. But I'm all for the younger, multidimensional quarterbacks of today, and that's why I would ride with Cam Newton. Sure, he has to become a better decision-maker and leader. But Newton, who turns 25 in May, has all the tools to be a great quarterback. And with a strong defense and solid running game in Carolina, the pressure's not totally on Newton.
Mike Triplett: Brees -- and I really don't even think it's close. He has been head and shoulders above those guys up to this point. So the only argument against him would be predicting a drop-off in the next year or two. I don't see that coming yet. He just turned 35 in January. And he had another excellent season in 2013 (5,162 yards, 39 TDs, 12 INTs). He had some quiet games down the stretch -- but that was more because the Saints played at Seattle twice and at Carolina once than it was a sign of career regression. That's not to say that Newton and Ryan are slouches. They're both very good quarterbacks -- probably among the top 10 in the NFL. I just think they're both clearly a tier below Brees.
Pat Yasinskas: After a lot of deliberation, I'm going with Brees. Yeah, I know he's 35, but I'm betting we don't see a drop-off from him in the next three years. Brees has always taken good care of himself, and his only serious injury, to his shoulder, came a long time ago. Brees and head coach Sean Payton are a dynamic combination, and I don't see that changing.
@DNewtonespn Cam. Because, you know, he can actually play outside.- Mr. Baker (@JBwhync) February 26, 2014
Are the Panthers and Bucs following the best model for success -- stingy defense and sturdy run game, just like Seattle -- or can the Saints and Falcons contend by heavily investing in the passing attack?
McClure: Seattle's Super Bowl win definitely turned heads around the league and has coaches dreaming about having tough, rugged defensive players such as hard-hitting Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor roaming the field. The Falcons understand the reality and are doing all they can to follow the model by targeting "tougher" players in free agency and the draft. A more balanced offense and stouter defense are what the Falcons believe will equate to a resurgence following a 4-12 season. So balance across the board is key, no matter how high-powered your passing offense might be.
Triplett: It's hard to argue against the Seahawks' blueprint after the way they completely shut down great passing teams like Denver and New Orleans down the stretch. But it's easier said than done to try to mimic them. Their defense played at an all-time-great level last season. I'm still a believer that great passing teams -- like the Saints and Packers in recent Super Bowls; like Denver for most of last season -- can win big. The best-case scenario would be having a great quarterback and a great defense. I think that's possible this season for both New Orleans (if its defense continues to rise) and Carolina (if Cam Newton continues to rise).
Yasinskas: Everyone talks about how it's now a passing league. But the Seahawks showed defense still wins championships. I think Carolina and Tampa Bay are taking the right approach. They're going to need contributions from their offense. But I think each team has the nucleus of a defense that can carry it a long way.
How will the return of Julio Jones, the NFC South's most talented receiver, change the complexion of the division? Only New Orleans faced him in 2013.
McClure: I spoke to both Bucs coach Lovie Smith and Panthers coach Ron Rivera about this subject during the NFL combine. Both agreed how dynamic a player Jones is and how much more dangerous the Falcons will be with him back in the lineup. Now, Jones can't do it all alone. But his ability to stretch the defense will open up so many other options for the Falcons, provided they upgrade the offensive line. If Ryan has time to get him the ball, Jones should be the most dangerous deep threat in the division, if not the league.
Triplett: I think the Falcons can get back to pushing for a playoff spot if they find their 2012 offensive groove. Obviously, Jones' injury wasn't the only reason they fell from 13-3 to 4-12 last year; they dropped off in a lot of areas, from the run game to the offensive line to the defense. But I think it would be fair to say Jones was the biggest reason. And it had a ripple effect. For example, the Saints used their top cornerback, Keenan Lewis, to silence Roddy White during their second matchup last season since they didn't have to worry about Jones.
Yasinskas: There's no question that getting Jones back will be a big lift for the Falcons. He and Roddy White form one of the best receiving combinations in the league. But Jones isn't going to change the Falcons' fortunes all by himself. This is a team that needs to be a lot better along the offensive and defensive lines if it wants to make a return to the playoffs.
@PatYazESPN it doesnt change much if ATL still cant run the football and address the defense.- Jim Rathernot (@BlackSaiyan440) February 26, 2014
Addition or attrition: What will your team experience more of in free agency?
McClure: The Falcons will lose some familiar faces -- and already have, with the releases of Asante Samuel, Stephen Nicholas and Garrett Reynolds. Safety Thomas DeCoud's imminent release will mean the team has rid itself of three defensive starters from the 2012 NFC Championship Game appearance. Again, the Falcons have the theme of getting tougher this offseason, so losing a handful of players who fail to meet those requirements, while adding a couple of rugged difference-makers -- thanks to some added cap space -- will only make the team better.
Triplett: It will probably be attrition for the Saints -- but only slightly. They've already released several veterans, most of whom had become part-time players. And they will almost certainly let one or two starters -- from the group of right tackle Zach Strief, center Brian De La Puente and safety Malcolm Jenkins -- get away in free agency. But I expect the Saints to keep tight end Jimmy Graham and to stay aggressive by adding one or two mid-level free agents from other teams who can be upgrades elsewhere. That's what they've done the past two years under similar salary-cap restraints.
Yasinskas: The Bucs will come out ahead of where they were. They don't have any high-profile free agents they'll be losing, and they'll be active in bringing in players. The Bucs might not go after the big-ticket free agents like they have in landing Vincent Jackson, Carl Nicks and Dashon Goldson the last couple of years, but they're not going to sit still. They need to add some free agents that fit the new offensive and defensive schemes.
@PatYazESPN Saints will have more attrition but not a bad thing since they're cutting lots of fat.- Craig Jackson (@craigjackson422) February 26, 2014
Bailey, who turns 36 in June, told USA Today he plans to keep on playing and is open to a switch to safety. That might sound a little enticing to the Falcons, but they seem unlikely to make a quick move on Bailey.
Sure, the Falcons need help in the secondary. Plus they need to add toughness on defense, which Bailey has displayed over the years. Bu the Falcons are set at starting cornerback with second-year players Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford.
As for safety, the Falcons will be looking to add another body next to strong safety William Moore with free safety Thomas DeCoud's release imminent. But for a team that is trying to rebound immediately, would they really want to experiment with an aging veteran making a position switch?
If the Falcons do investigate Bailey, it probably would be as a nickelback. They are looking to upgrade at the position. And Bailey played that role for Broncos this past season.
There will be plenty of speculation as players get released around the league. We'll see how the Falcons decide to attack the free-agent market.
The Atlanta Falcons defensive tackle signed a one-year deal Tuesday with a max value of $1.6 million, according to a league source. But in order to fully capitalize on the value, he'll have to remain healthy -- and remain on the roster.
Peters' new contract doesn't include any guaranteed money, according to a league source. His base salary for 2014 is set to be $1 million. He'll earn up to $500,000 in the form of roster bonuses payable on a per game basis ($31,250 per game). The contract also includes $100,000 based on play-time percentage.
Peters played in 15 games last season and started all 15. He missed the final game after tearing his Achilles in a Monday night loss at San Francisco.
For the season, Peters played 654 defensive snaps as part of a defensive line rotation. His total accounted for about 63 percent of the team's defensive snaps.
Peters fully expected to recover from the injury although he remains on crutches and in a walking boot. He expects to be off crutches by the end of the month.
From the Falcons' standpoint, they saw a player who could be highly productive but not extremely costly coming off an injury. For Peters, he can view '14 as a season to prove his worth and possibly get rewarded going into next year's free agency period.
"I think, at the end of the day, if I asked you ... give me a brief definition of what toughness is, I think you might say something else, but you might say to me it's how you control the line of scrimmage," Blank said. "Can you run the ball? Can you stop the run? ... And I don't think we did either one of those things very well this year. So I would say, if you looked at toughness from that perspective, I don't think we were as tough as we needed to be."
Defensive tackle Corey Peters, who signed a one-year contract Tuesday, understands Blank's point. He takes it as a personal challenge going into the 2014 season.
"I can't speak for anyone else but for me, and I'd say that's a fair criticism," Peters said. "When teams are having success running the ball like they had last year against us, I do take it personal. There's a few things that we need to do better, and being tougher is one of them.
"I think at times, we just didn't tackle well. That's a part of toughness. A missed tackle and a missed assignment here and there leads to big plays. I think that's what hurt us. In several games, I think we played decent run defense and gave up two long runs. And that translates to a terrible game. Like I said, we need to do a better job of tackling and that plays into toughness. That's why I would agree with [Blank's] statement."
The Falcons finished last season second to last against the run while yielding 135.8 yards per game. They made unheralded running backs such as Arizona's Andre Ellington and Tampa Bay's Bobby Rainey look like All-Pros.
In terms of Peters' role in toughening up the defense, it all depends on how he recovers from an Achilles tear. He remains on crutches and in a walking boot but hopes to shed the crutches by the end of the month. His surgery was performed by Dr. Robert Anderson in Charlotte, the same surgeon who repaired Julio Jones' foot.
"There's no reason to believe that I won't be ready to go for the start of the season," Peters said. "I'm fully expecting myself to be able to return to form."
When healthy, the talented Peters can be a disrupting force up front. Plus, he has the desire to improve all areas of his game. He's been studying film of J.J. Watt and teammate Jonathan Babineaux this offseason.
"I'm trying to keep an eye out for different moves," Peters said. "It's a tough situation because I can actually go out and get physical reps. But a lot of it is trying to get a pure understanding of how things work and proper technique."
Snelling, a former seventh-round pick from Virginia, was a rather productive player over the last seven seasons. He showed his value running the ball, catching passes out of the backfield, and performing on special teams. You almost knew he was going to score off the shovel pass when the Falcons put him in during goal-line situations. His three touchdown receptions in 2013 were the most for any Falcons running back.
Only Snelling knows why he decided to call it quit at the age of 30 -- he cited family reasons -- but he had a pretty good shelf life for a player at that position.
No matter if Snelling was in the mix or not, the Falcons knew they had to find a way to ignite their running game for the 2014 season. They finished dead last in the league with an average of 77.9 rushing yards per game in '13.
So how do they improve? For starters, veteran bruiser Steven Jackson will be counted upon more heavily to pick up the tough yards after battling a hamstring injury for a good part of last season. Jackson, who turns 31 in July, showed signs of his old self in the second half of last year. The Falcons expect Jackson to keep that momentum going as they look to establish more offensive balance.
The next step will be improving the offensive line to help pave holes for Jackson and the other running backs. New offensive line coach Mike Tice won't tolerate seeing his guys get pushed back, as they were most of last season. The Falcons need to add a veteran right guard and probably draft an offensive tackle in order to get tougher up front.
Then there are the guys Steven Jackson: Jacquizz Rodgers and Antone Smith. Rodgers had 1,248 all-purpose yards and gave the offense a change of pace, although he was probably called upon too much in short-yardage situations.
Smith averaged a whopping 29 yards per carry on his five attempts, including a 50-yard touchdown sprint. Coach Mike Smith promised Smith would get more touches, but an increased role never truly evolved. Smith works hard on special teams and probably deserves more touches on offense.
Of course, the Falcons are likely to draft a running back to throw into the mix. West Virginia's Charles Sims, projected third-round pick, already has gotten some attention from the Falcons.
However it all unfolds, the Falcons will miss some of the aspects Snelling brings in terms of being a reliable back. But if the others perform up to expectations, he won't be missed as much.
"I have decided to retire after seven years in the NFL to spend time with my family," Snelling said in a statement. "I want to thank [owner Arthur] Blank, Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Mike Smith for providing me the opportunity to play for the Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons are a first class organization run by a first class owner and I am grateful that I got to spend my entire career in Atlanta."
Snelling, 30, was a seventh-round pick of the Falcons in the 2007 NFL draft. The Virginia product had 363 carries for 1,420 yards with eight touchdowns and a career average of 3.9 yards per carry while also compiling 168 receptions for 1,249 yards and nine touchdowns as a receiver out of the backfield.
Snelling was entering the last year of his contract with a cap value of $1,733,334 in 2014. Once he is officially placed on the reserve/retired list, the Falcons save $1.375 million, which was his cash value for 2014.
In 2013, Snelling ran for 164 yards on 44 carries with one touchdown in 14 games. He also added 29 catches for 216 yards and three touchdowns in the passing game.
"Jason was a good teammate and a joy to coach," Smith said in a statement. "He played a number of roles for our team during his time here and was always ready when his number was called. We want to thank Jason for his contributions to our team and we wish him the best in his future endeavors."
Snelling missed one game during the 2013 season following an arrest on misdemeanor drug charges, and the case is still pending. Snelling's case was granted another continuance until March 7. He also dealt with a concussion and sprained ankle last season.