This Falcons team has given themselves something to build on after earning the first playoff win of the Matt Ryan/Mike Smith era. Of course their exit from the playoffs, blowing a 17 point lead to the 49ers means that they still have some improvements to make if they hope to return to the NFC Championship. With just $5million in cap space to work with, Atlanta will need to get creative with their figures to improve the team. Two candidates who could be moved on (or brought back at a lower figure) are running back Michael Turner and cornerback Dunta Robinson who are counting for nearly $18m in the upcoming season. Cutting those two players would free up a significant amount of space allowing the Falcons to make some moves with their off contract players and there are other players such as Asante Samuel who could be moved on as well.
Sam Baker, the left tackle who has protected Matt Ryan’s blindside his whole career has finished his rookie deal and it would be wise for the Falcons to bring him back with some of the money they have saved getting rid of Turner. Fullback Mike Cox will likely be retained too but he won’t be a priority if contract negotiations stall. Centre Todd McClure will be a big re-signing since keeping that line together is key for their success. Safety Chris Hope will be back as well after featuring in every game this season pairing with Thomas DeCoud. Middle linebacker Mike Peterson will be sent packing after being demoted to the bench as part of his “what went wrong with that” career path.
With Thomas Dimitroff in charge the Falcons have generally opted to build their team through the draft and not been big players in free agency. If they chose to go that route their three priorities should be finding a running back to add depth to their backfield, a starting-caliber cornerback to replace the likely departed Robinson (and maybe Samuel) and more linebacker depth. Carey Williams from the Ravens is a name at cornerback that jumps out initially and Aqib Talib from the Patriots could be brought in if New England lets him go. Bengals running back Bernard Scott could be brought in if they choose to go to free agency for depth but the draft is a more likely option, as is the case with linebacker.
Luckily for Atlanta their team is quite well set up for the next couple of seasons and can focus on keeping their core together and making minor improvements to stay ahead of the pack. If they can rejuvenate their running game and improve their secondary then they will once again be a playoff team.