Posted: Tuesday, March 11th 2014 at 11:04pm
Falcons sign 3 linemen on 1st day of free agency
By The Associated Press
ATLANTA -- The Atlanta Falcons began a major overhaul Tuesday after a dismal season, signing three linemen at the start of free agency, re-signing defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux, and cutting former Pro Bowl safety Thomas DeCoud.
Needing to bulk up on both sides of the line, the Falcons agreed to terms with guard Jon Asamoah, defensive end Tyson Jackson and defensive tackle Paul Soliai.
Asamoah and Jackson played last season with Kansas City, where Asamoah lost his starting job. They were familiar to former Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli, who was hired in January as Atlanta's assistant GM.
The 345-pound Soliai spent seven seasons with the Miami Dolphins, including two seasons under Mike Nolan, now the defensive coordinator of the Falcons.
"They are good football players and solid in many ways," Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said in a conference call. "They add to the toughness, the size and the grittiness of our team. That was a goal we had set out at the beginning of the offseason to accomplish."
Terms of the new contracts were not released, but Soliai reportedly received a five-year deal worth $33 million, with $14 million guaranteed, while Jackson got a five-year deal worth up to $25 million.
"Paul has played for coach Nolan in Miami and is familiar with our scheme, and Tyson is a good football player that will fit with what we want to do defensively as well," Falcons coach Mike Smith said in a statement. "Jon is a physical, experienced offensive lineman that will add a veteran presence to our offensive line."
The Falcons made re-signing Babineaux a top priority, not wanting to take another hit up front before delving into free agency. A nine-year veteran, Babineaux had 49 tackles, two fumble recoveries, a sack and a forced fumble last season. Overall, he has played 138 career games for Atlanta, with 108 starts.
"Remaining an Atlanta Falcon and in Atlanta as my home were the best decisions for me and my family," said Babineaux, who agreed to a three-year contract.
DeCoud, a third-round pick of the Falcons in 2008, was a leader on the Falcons' defense two years ago when the team came up one victory short of the Super Bowl. He earned his first Pro Bowl selection.
But DeCoud's production dropped significantly last season as quarterbacks lit up the secondary and the Falcons plummeted to 4-12 for their first losing season since 2007. He was the second starter released from that unit, following cornerback Asante Samuel.
"The search for a safety that will help us in our quest to be a more established and consistent defense was at the forefront of this decision," Dimitroff said.
In other moves, the Falcons re-signed center Joe Hawley, who made seven starts in 2013 after Peter Konz lost the job, and offensive lineman Mike Johnson, who was expected to contend for a starting job a year ago but went down in training camp with a season-ending injury.
In a procedural move, Atlanta formally released tight end Tony Gonzalez, who retired at the end of last season and has already taken a job as a television commentator.
"This was a decision we had to make with the start of the new league year as we begin retooling our roster for 2014," Dimitroff said. "On behalf of the entire Falcons organization, we wish Tony all the best in his television career and thank him for everything he did for this franchise."
Still, the Falcons feel he can stabilize the right guard position, which has been a major issue for several years. Atlanta cut Garrett Reynolds, who made 10 starts at that position last season before he was replaced by Konz, who had flopped at center.
The line must do a better job protecting quarterback Matt Ryan, who was sacked 44 times, and opening up holes for a running game that ranked last in the league at just 77.9 yards per game.
Jackson was the third overall pick in the 2009 draft out of LSU, but never had a breakout year with the Chiefs. He did have a career-high four sacks in 2013, so the Falcons hope he's ready to make a more prominent impact. Atlanta is desperate to get more outside pressure on opposing quarterbacks after notching just 32 sacks last season; only two teams had fewer.
Soliai played in 99 games with the Dolphins, including 62 starts. Last season, he had 34 tackles with one sack, one forced fumble and five passes defensed. He played under Nolan in 2010 and 2011, earning his first career Pro Bowl selection in the latter season.
With big holes remaining in the secondary and at tight end, plus the draft coming up, Dimitroff said there is plenty of work left to do.
"We will continue to add in every direction to fix this team," he said.
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