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CLEMSON, S.C. -- When Vic Beasley addressed the media during this year's NFL combine in Indianapolis, the Clemson pass-rusher couldn't hide his affection for his hometown Atlanta Falcons.

After spending time talking to new Falcons coach Dan Quinn at the event, Beasley walked away even more impressed with his favorite team.

"Coach Quinn, just his whole demeanor, he's a very influential coach," Beasley said during Clemson's pro day on Thursday. "He pushes his players. I can tell that just by the way he speaks and the way he carries himself."

Beasley met various members of the organization, including owner Arthur Blank, but Quinn is the only one Beasley huddled with extensively. The two talked about how Beasley would fit in the Falcons' scheme, specifically in regard to the "Leo" hybrid defensive end/rush linebacker position. Quinn runs a 4-3 under defense with some 3-4 personnel tendencies.

"He just said that he had guys like [current Seattle Seahawk] Bruce Irvin and other similar guys to me that could play that Leo position," Beasley said. "That's kind of where we connected right there. I fit the Leo position because a guy like Bruce Irvin, we're similar body types. And we have similar games. We're both great edge-rushers."

The question is, after his outstanding combine performance will Beasley be available if the Falcons stand pat with the eighth overall pick? ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has Atlanta selecting Beasley in his latest mock draft.Insider

Beasley, who is tentatively scheduled to visit the Falcons on March 30, naturally wants to be the first pass-rusher off the board. At the same time, he can't help but envision the possibility of playing for the Falcons.

"It's a high possibility, and that would be like a dream come true," Beasley said. "But whatever team I go to, I'm going to be exceptionally happy and treat that team like it's the Falcons, like I grew up rooting for them.

"But as far as the Falcons, Dan Quinn is a great guy. I saw him build that defense in Seattle, and I think he plans to do the same in Atlanta."

The Falcons already understand the type of quality player they would get in Beasley. Those most familiar with him would tell you he's equally a high-quality person.

An example of such occurred prior to Thursday's pro day at Clemson. Beasley lost his uncle to cancer and was back home in Adairsville, Georgia, for the funeral this week. He spent time with his family and left at 4 a.m. Thursday morning to get back to Clemson in time for a 7 a.m weigh-in session, carrying a heavy heart. Beasley kept his emotions in check as he cordially greeted scouts and coaches, then answered every question from the media.

"I'm just more proud of who he is as a man," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. "He's just a great person. He's a very serious, focused guy. He's very committed to being great, and when I say committed I'm talking about what he puts in his body and what he allows in his mind; how he trains in the weight room, how he studies the game. He's just fully committed.

"And off the field, you don't notice him. He's quiet, but he plays loud. He plays really loud. He's not a rah-rah guy. He's not a crowd guy. He's just a guy who's going to show up every day. ... Whoever gets him is going to get a guy that's going to handle himself like a pro from the day he gets there because that's how he is right now and has been that way."
CLEMSON, S.C. -- Former Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd is obviously a little biased when talking about his former teammates, but he sounded convincing when he made a bold claim about draft-bound pass-rusher Vic Beasley.

"There's nobody that matches him in the country," Boyd said Thursday during Clemson's pro day. "I think that he's an instant-impact player in the NFL. People talk about [Florida's] Dante Fowler and how he could be the No. 1 defensive player taken. But I think it would be a mistake not to take Vic first.

"Somebody asked me who you could compare him to. You can't do it with J.J. Watt because J.J. Watt is not as explosive as Vic, and J.J. Watt is the best defensive player in the league."

[+] EnlargeVic Beasley
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesVic Beasley is Clemson's career leader in sacks (33).
When told about Boyd's high praise and favorable comparison to Watt, Beasley snickered for a moment.

"I don't know," he eventually said. "I guess we'll see at the next level."

The 6-foot-3-inch Beasley, who weighed in at 246 pounds on Thursday, earned the league's attention with his jaw-dropping performance at the NFL combine in Indianapolis, where he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.53 seconds, completed 35 reps of 225 pounds in the bench press and posted a 41-inch vertical leap.

Buffalo Bills coach Rex Ryan likened Beasley's combine effort to Mike Mamula's breathtaking showing at the 1995 combine. Mamula, a pass-rusher from Boston College, was selected seventh overall by the Philadelphia Eagles and played for five seasons, but never became a star.

"The Mamula one jumps out at you but the difference is, Vic Beasley's a baller," said Ryan, whose son Seth is a Clemson wide receiver. "I knew Beasley would blow it away, but he also led the nation in sacks and everything else. The guy is a great football player. It's not like it's a fluke, any of Beasley's numbers. The kid is a phenomenal athlete."

Beasley showed off a bit more of his athleticism while going through individual position drills Thursday in front of the likes of Ryan, New England coach Bill Belichick, Philadelphia coach Chip Kelly and Arizona general manager Steve Keim. Beasley floated through the exercises with ease, although he had to laugh at himself when he tripped at the finish line during one agility drill.

So what else did Beasley have to prove?

"That linebacker [drill] and what I did today just showcased that I'm a versatile player and able to rush, like I did at Clemson, and I'm able to drop in space," he said.

Beasley said he is getting more attention from teams that run 3-4 defenses than he is from 4-3 teams, but that he's ready to adjust to any scheme. Leonard Williams of USC is considered the best defensive prospect in the draft, but Beasley's name continues to be associated with the top edge rushers: Nebraska's Randy Gregory, Missouri's Shane Ray and Fowler.

Being the first of those four to be drafted would mean something to Beasley, even if he tried to downplay the significance.

"You want to go out there on the field and think you're the best," Beasley said. "You want to play like the best. You want to play with an edge. You can't think that you're the second guy. Everybody's aiming for No. 1, and that's what I need to be out there on the field."

The Cardinals, with the 24th overall pick, are looking for pass-rushers. Beasley more than likely won't be available then. That didn't stop Keim from gushing over Beasley's ability while dissecting the top-tier pass-rushers in this year's draft.

"It's a great group of pass-rushers, but you go back to what really matters, and that's the tape," Keim said. "I say it all the time: We go out in the fall and we fall in love with players and in the springtime, we confuse ourselves. But then you have a player like Vic Beasley who not only looks great in workouts, but also backs it up on tape with his get-off, his ability to bend the corner, his ability to rush the passer. When you have the complete package like that, it's a little different.

"In general, you have to be careful about how much stock you put into these workouts because the tape really tells the truth of what the player really is."

The tape says Beasley could be on the verge of stardom.
The Atlanta Falcons signed safety Charles Godfrey to a contract extension on Thursday.

Godfrey
Albert Breer of the NFL Network reported it is a one-year deal worth $1.5 million. Godfrey signed for the veteran minimum ($730,000) upon joining the Falcons last season after being released by the Panthers.

The Falcons need depth at safety, and maybe the price of Godfrey's deal indicates he might get a chance to compete for a regular role. He was a regular starter at free safety during his first five seasons in the league with Carolina.

The Falcons' three experienced safeties set to return are William Moore, Kemal Ishmael and Dezmen Southward, a second-year player capable of playing cornerback as well. Zeke Motta also is under contract but missed the 2014 season with a neck injury. Sean Baker and Brandan Bishop are the other safeties on the roster.

The Falcons could re-sign Dwight Lowery, who was a regular starter last season. But there hasn't been much movement in talks between the Falcons and Lowery.

New Falcons coach Dan Quinn likes tall safeties with range, which is why he appeared to get excited when talking about the speedy, 6-foot-1 Southward. However, Southward has many strides to make in terms of tackling and making plays on the ball.

It seems likely that the Falcons will target a taller safety in free agency if one is available at a reasonable price. The draft, of course, is another route they could take, but the talent is slim at safety this year.
Something has gotten into Devonta Freeman.

The Atlanta Falcons running back had a pep in his step from the moment he arrived as a fourth-round draft pick out of Florida State last season. Yet Freeman’s intensity appears to have elevated to another level as he prepares for the 2015 campaign.

You can feel it in his tone. The passion in his voice is infectious.

"I’ve got high expectations of myself," Freeman said. "I look at myself in the mirror every single day and I know what I can do. I know what I am. I know what I’m capable of doing. All I need is an opportunity.

[+] EnlargeFreeman
Chuck Cook/USA TODAY Sports"I don't know what's gotten into me this offseason," RB Devonta Freeman said. "I just feel like a whole new monster."
"Personally, I want to be the man. I want to be the guy. I want to make my own name with the Atlanta Falcons. I want to go really, really far. I want to set the bar high. I just want to win a Super Bowl and maybe be the MVP one day. You just never know. I feel like I’m hungrier right now. I don’t know what’s gotten into me this offseason. I just feel like a whole new monster. And I ain’t just talking."

Maybe this transformation has something to do with the confidence the folks in charge expressed in him this offseason. New coach Dan Quinn, general manager Thomas Dimitroff and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan all took to the podium and proclaimed how Freeman has all the ability to thrive in his second season.

"It means a lot coming from the general manager, the head coach and the offensive coordinator because, of course, that means everything," Freeman said. "If you’re getting it from those guys, those guys are the big, top dogs. That just motivates me."

There is another source of inspiration for Freeman. It still burns at him how he was the ninth running back selected in last year’s draft. Only one of those backs – Cincinnati's Jeremy Hill -- had a true breakout season with 1,124 yards and nine touchdowns.

Freeman had a modest showing playing behind veteran Steven Jackson in what was at one point a four-back rotation, but he showed flashes of his great potential as both a runner and pass-catcher. He finished with 248 rushing yards, 225 receiving yards and two touchdowns.

" I’m still pissed off that I went in the fourth round and all those other running backs went before me," Freeman said. "There’s a different type of mindset I’ve been having. And I don’t think that chip is going to go anywhere because that’s always going to be in the back of my mind when I look back at reality --- every running back that got drafted before me. Even though it’s a blessing to be in the NFL, that chip is always going to be there."

Freeman should have ample opportunity to prove his worth. The Falcons will put more emphasis on the run game this coming season with Shanahan’s outside zone-blocking scheme. It’s the same type of system Freeman grew accustomed to both in high school and at Florida State, where he won a BCS title in 2013.

"You’ve got to one cut and get downhill," Freeman said. "The second thing is you’ve got options. The coach can’t tell you where the hole is going to hit, you know what I mean? You’ve got to read it. It’s going to be natural. I know how to run it pretty well."

Freeman also understands the possibility he'll have to share the load, possibly with a veteran running back. The Falcons cut ties with the aging Jackson, meaning the position could be a priority in free agency. Baltimore’s Justin Forsett is a player the Falcons might pursue, if the price is right. Plus the Falcons want to re-sign Antone Smith, who had five touchdowns on just 36 touches last season before breaking his leg.

"If they bring in a veteran back, I’m going to learn whatever I can learn from him," Freeman said. "I’m going to be open to him. I hope he will be open to me. My mindset is it’s a business and you’re going to compete regardless.

"I’m not the type a guy who is not going to talk to someone like that because we’re teammates. I’m going to do whatever it takes to push him. If I’m pushing him and he’s pushing me, that’s not going to do anything but bring our team to a higher level of success. And that’s what I want. I’m about trying to win championships. I’m not selfish at all. I played with three running backs at Florida State and I still got 1,000 yards, you know what I mean?"

Freeman has yet to talk to Shanahan but has had several conversations with Quinn and running backs coach Bobby Turner about his role.

"DQ, he’s all for it," Freeman said of Quinn. "He said, 'Man, I’m excited to work with you guys.' He was talking about the outside zone offense and he told me to just come ready to compete and be ready and prepared when my number is called. He was like 'Just come here in the best shape ever and do whatever it takes to get ready.'"

Freeman is doing just that, training daily in a park near the rugged "Pork 'N' Beans" projects where he grew up in Miami. The field is right near a middle school, and Freeman said he often invites kids to either work out with him or watch him go through his cone drills.

"I’m in the hood with it. I keep it real at all times," Freeman said. "When I come back, that motivates them. When I was coming up to the park as a kid, nobody was coming back. Nobody was giving autographs for the kids. I’m from one of the worst projects ever and I still drive by there to this day.

"I want to show them, I want to show everybody, that I’ve got that dog in me. I’ve been out here working hard. But I’m not going to keep talking about it. I’m just going to let the work speak for itself."
The big news this week, of course, was ESPN Insider Adam Schefter's scoop on the Philadelphia Eagles trading running back LeSean McCoy to the Buffalo Bills for linebacker Kiko Alonso.

The move could have a ripple effect for the Atlanta Falcons, with the free-agent negotiating period set to begin Saturday. Linebacker is a priority position for the Falcons going into free agency, along with edge rusher and safety.

The Falcons were expected to at least look into New York Jets linebacker David Harris. However, the void left by Alonso means the Bills and Rex Ryan, the Jets' previous coach, will no doubt make a serious run at Harris. Not to mention the Jets and new coach Todd Bowles want to re-sign Harris, meaning there could be a bidding war.

Don't expect the Falcons to get involved, if such occurs. Yes, Harris is an impact player who would fit nicely in coach Dan Quinn's scheme. Plus Quinn, a former assistant with the Jets, is familiar with Harris' talent. However, the Falcons surely won't overpay for any player -- not a standout linebacker or even an impact pass-rusher.

There will be other linebacker options for the Falcons to pursue. First and foremost, they have to worry about re-signing their own in Sean Weatherspoon. Talks with Weatherspoon are ongoing, and both Quinn and general Thomas Dimitroff expressed a desire to bring him back coming off an Achilles tear.

Tampa Bay's Mason Foster will generate interest on the open market. He has a direct tie to the Falcons' staff, having been drafted by assistant head coach Raheem Morris when Morris was the Buccaneers' head coach. Foster, 26, started as a rookie but has had to adjust to three different defensive coordinators in four NFL seasons. Continuity moving forward would no doubt help his cause.

Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith from Seattle played under Quinn the past two seasons when Quinn was the Seahawks defensive coordinator. Smith is an outside linebacker with the versatility to play middle linebacker, and his familiarity with Quinn's scheme makes him a viable option despite Smith not being a regular starter throughout his career.

Word is veteran linebacker Lance Briggs, 34, from the Chicago Bears would be open to moving to Atlanta as he winds down his NFL career. That's not to say the Falcons would be interested in Briggs, but the seven-time Pro Bowler might have a good year left in him, if healthy.

And if free agency doesn't fill the Falcons' linebacker need, there's always the draft.

Falcons clear space, can bolster defense

March, 4, 2015
Mar 4
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ESPN Falcons reporter Vaughn McClure says Atlanta’s recent salary-cap moves -- such as the release of Harry Douglas -- have freed up money that can be used to court pass-rushers, linebackers or safeties.
Pass-rusher Brian Orakpo isn't the only Washington Redskins player the Atlanta Falcons will look into once the free-agent negotiating period begins Saturday.

It's a safe bet the Falcons will express interest in tight end Niles Paul, if Paul is not re-signed before then. The 6-foot-1, 245-pound Paul is one of several tight ends headed for free agency who has played in Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan's scheme. The others include Jordan Cameron of the Cleveland Browns and Owen Daniels of the Baltimore Ravens. Cameron has had concussion issues, while Daniels will turn 33 during the 2015 season.

Paul
Paul, who turns 26 in August, wouldn't be a flashy pickup, but the Falcons aren't expected to invest heavily in a top tight end, such as Denver's Julius Thomas. However, Paul, a former fifth-round draft pick who just completed his fourth NFL season, would be more than capable of playing his role.

Just ask former Redskins quarterback Rex Grossman, who was teammates with Paul for three seasons.

"He's as tough as s---," Grossman said of Paul. "He's like the one guy in the locker room you do not want to pick a fight with. He's just a tough wide receiver/tight end who shows up on special teams all the time.

"That's kind of how he got his reputation as a rookie, on special teams. Then after a couple of years, they moved him to tight end because he was so strong and could show that, especially in the zone running scheme where basically all you have to do is get your hat in front of the defensive linemen and cut them off. He was strong enough to hold them off in situations where he actually had to do the things normal tight ends do."

Paul, who started his NFL career at wide receiver and then became the starting fullback before transitioning to tight end, obviously can catch the ball. He caught a career-high 39 passes for 507 yards and a touchdown in 2014 while starting seven games.

Paul was a track athlete coming out of high school before attending Nebraska. He posted a 40-yard dash time of 4.51 at the NFL combine.

"Obviously, he's a mismatch for linebackers trying to cover him, with his speed," Grossman said. "I think tight end is a great position for him. A lot of teams have big tight ends that are like extra offensive linemen. I think he's the opposite of that. But he's athletic and really strong. He's perfect for Kyle's system. They don't ask him to block Jason Pierre-Paul one on one."

ESPN analyst Ryan Clark, who played in Washington last season, offered his thoughts on what Paul brings to a team.

"Tough player," Clark said. "He's a grinder. He played really well and produced big as the No. 1 pass-catching tight end when Jordan Reed (hamstring) was out. He's also a really good special-teams guy and a good locker room dude as well."

The Falcons have a tight end with playing experience in Levine Toilolo, yet it remains unclear what role the 6-8 Toilolo will have coming off a season with his share of drops.

Shanahan previously discussed his expectations of a tight end. We will see if Paul reunites with his old coach and ends up in a Falcons uniform.
The Atlanta Falcons signed linebacker Nate Stupar to a one-year contract extension worth the minimum of $585,000.


Stupar was a key special teams contributor last season after being claimed off waivers from the Jacksonville Jaguars. He finished the season with sev3n special teams tackles, second on the team behind Eric Weems (11).

Stupar became the fourth players to be signed to an extension before the start of free agency, joining kicker Matt Bryant, defensive lineman Cliff Matthews and fullback Patrick DiMarco.

The Falcons are trying to keep another key special teams player in Weems, but no contract has been agreed to just yet.
Join us today at 1 p.m. ET, 10 a.m. PT for NFL Nation TV's Spreecast as we return for episode No. 46 with our sights fully set on free agency.

Host Paul Gutierrez (San Francisco 49ers reporter) and co-hosts Coley Harvey (Cincinnati Bengals reporter) and Mike Wells (Indianapolis Colts reporter) Will be joined by four other NFL Nation reporters throughout the show.

Michael Rothstein (Detroit Lions reporter) will take us behind the Lions' decision to avoid franchise-tagging defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, and also give us an idea of where the prized lineman might end up.

Mike Reiss (New England Patriots reporter) will join to make sense of New England's decision to place the franchise tag on kicker Stephen Gostkowski, instead of potentially doing so with free-agent defensive backs Darrelle Revis or Devin McCourty.

Todd Archer (Dallas Cowboys reporter) will give us an update on the Cowboys' apparent decision to let DeMarco Murray, 2014's rushing leader, test the open market.

Sticking with offense, Rob Demovsky (Green Bay Packers reporter) checks in to outline why the Packers may be content doing the same with receiver Randall Cobb, who reportedly was looking to stay in Green Bay for $12 million a year.

As always, viewers are encouraged to log in and ask the panelists questions as well as contribute in the chat feature.

Last week's release of Harry Douglas left the Atlanta Falcons with a void to fill at receiver, if they weren't planning to fill it already.

Douglas' departure, coupled with the aging of Roddy White (33), means the Falcons have to invest in the position for the immediate future to go alongside the explosive Julio Jones. That could mean targeting a receiver in the second or third rounds of this year's NFL draft -- provided the Falcons don't lose one of those picks as a result of the NFL's investigation into them piping in crowd noise.

Securing a pass-rusher will be the Falcons' first-round priority. If they do target a receiver after that, ESPN draft expert Todd McShay talked about possible options.

"In the second round, Phillip Dorsett is a guy with speed from Miami, an explosive guy who could play in the slot who can stretch the field vertically," McShay said.

"Jaelen Strong (Arizona State), to me, is an intriguing prospect because he's a big, physical receiver who doesn't have elite, down-the-field ability, but he creates separation when the ball is in the air. He's up there in the top two or three in ball skills of all the receivers. I think he might be in that early second-round range, so he could be a good fit. And I think Dorsett is late second, early third round."

McShay also mentioned a former teammate of Falcons running back Devonta Freeman.

"Florida State's Rashad Greene, I think, is a little underrated, too," McShay said. "He's probably going to be going early third round. He's not the biggest receiver. He's not the fastest receiver. He just gets open and makes plays. And I think he's going to exceed his draft slot."

USC's Nelson Agholor would be a great catch, too.

"I like him a lot," McShay said. "I've got a mid-second-round grade on him. He's tough. He goes over the middle and makes the tough catches. He runs after the catch. He does all the little things. He grew on me on tape. It's not a perfect comparison, but he's got a little bit of Robert Woods in him."

Here's a quick look at some notable combine numbers for the four receivers McShay mentioned.
  • Phillip Dorsett (5-9, 185), Miami (Fla.) -- 4.33 (40-yard), 37-inch (vertical), 6.70 (3-cone drills), 13 reps (bench press)
  • Rashad Greene (5-11, 182), Florida State -- 4.53 (40-yard), 36.5 (vertical), 6.88 (3-cone drill)
  • Jaelen Strong (6-2, 217), Arizona State --4.44 (40-yard), 42-inch (vertical)
  • Nelson Agholor (6-1, 198), USC -- 4.42 (40-yard); 12 (bench press reps)

Free-agency guide: Falcons

March, 2, 2015
Mar 2
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Ahead of the start of free agency, Insider is providing buyer's guides for all 32 teams: biggest need positions from Football Outsiders, top targets from KC Joyner and Matt Williamson and predictions on how everything will play out from our NFL Nation team reporters.

Included below are links to every team's article. This is the entry for the Atlanta Falcons.

Biggest needs

Defensive end: Except for a couple of quarterback situations, there's no more obvious hole on any depth chart in the NFL. Atlanta finished 30th in Adjusted Sack Rate last season, and its only two players with more than 2.0 sacks, Kroy Biermann and Osi Umenyiora, are unrestricted free agents.

Corey Peters has a plan.

When his football career is over, the Atlanta Falcons defensive lineman hopes to establish a charter school and possibly become the principal or head counselor there. He is working toward his goal now, finishing up his final semester of online courses offered by Michigan State University to achieve his master's in education.

[+] EnlargeCorey Peters
Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesCorey Peters should attract plenty of interest on the open market if he reaches free agency.
"That would be my way of giving back," Peters said of the charter school. "I'm sure I'm going to do something in the school system."

But Peters is in no rush to begin his new profession. At age 26, he still has plenty of good NFL years left in him. That's why Peters should be a valued commodity on the free-agent market, if he doesn't re-sign with the Falcons.

It is unclear exactly where the Falcons and Peters stand at this point, but there have been ongoing discussions between both parties. Peters signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract to remain with the Falcons last season coming off an Achilles tear. He will attract strong interest from more than a handful of teams if he reaches free agency, based on the buzz at this year's NFL combine. He's also fully healthy this offseason, which should only enhance his case.

Peters has had a conversation with Falcons coach Dan Quinn.

"It was just an introductory call," Peters said. "It was quick. I just know that everybody seems to have a lot of respect for him. They all seem to love him. I've talked to several players that have played under him. I've never heard anybody say a bad thing about him."

Peters definitely would fit in the new defensive scheme. Quinn preaches how his players need to have versatility, and Peters has shown the ability to play inside and on the edge. Quinn wants his defensive tackles to be pass-rushers, too, and Peters has seven sacks over the last two seasons and 11 for his career.

Despite the defensive woes the Falcons had last season, Peters made the most of his opportunities. He finished with 26 tackles, two sacks, six tackles for losses and five quarterback hits in 511 snaps played. He had his best effort in a 56-14 win over Tampa Bay, finishing with a sack, four tackles for losses and two quarterback hits. He also was a difference-maker in a starting role in place of Paul Soliai during a 29-18 win over Arizona.

Not to mention Peters is an asset in the locker room. He is slated to represent the Falcons on March 16 as this year's recipient of the Ed Block Courage award, as voted by his teammates.

So how much is Peters worth? His agent, Greg Linton, could argue that Peters was more valuable than Tyson Jackson, who was brought in at $5 million per year to stuff the run but fell far below expectations. But the Falcons, in turn, probably would want Peters at half the price.

However it all unfolds, Peters refuses to stress himself out about negotiations.

"I'm excited and anxious just to see how everything plays out," Peters said. "I feel good about the process and look forward to whatever may come of it.

"I think it's important to look at the entire body of work. I think through the course of my career, I've had setbacks but I've continued to make improvements. And I look to continue to do that moving forward. I have enough tape to evaluate. I'm just looking forward to the opportunity to continue to my career."
The Atlanta Falcons won't use the franchise tag on any of their players this season, but they could feel the affect of the tag being used around the league.

With the obvious need to sign a pass-rusher or two, the Falcons could see some of the top available players at the position locked down due to the franchise tag, which has to be executed before 4 p.m. ET Monday. Some of the candidates to be tagged include Kansas City's Justin Houston, Buffalo's Jerry Hughes and Jason Pierre-Paul of the New York Giants.

The Falcons are projected to be armed with more than $30 million in cap space, which gives them room to spend. But that doesn't necessarily mean they would invest top dollar if a guy such as Pierre-Paul or Hughes reaches free agency. Houston will be tagged for sure, so he can't even be in the conversation.

Last year, the Washington Redskins tagged a player the Falcons would have targeted, pass-rusher Brian Orakpo, at a price of $11,455,000. The Falcons proceeded to invest $25 guaranteed to secure big run-stuffers Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson, a move that essentially backfired.

New Falcons coach Dan Quinn has a plan, so don't expect the Falcons to be discouraged if the franchise tag keeps them from pursuing one of the top-tier pass-rushers in free agency.

And by the way, the secret is out now on Baltimore Ravens' reserve Pernell McPhee, who might have been a great option for the Falcons as an under-the-radar pass-rusher, but now is being mentioned as a top-dollar player.

Maybe the Falcons will have another shot at Orakpo, if he doesn't get re-signed. But Orakpo could be a concern based on his injury history, including a season-ending pectoral injury last year. Maybe they'll have to turn their attention to guys such as Derrick Morgan from Tennessee or Brandon Graham from Philadelphia.

We should get more clarity on what options are out there for the Falcons by the end of the day today.
Jonathan Massaquoi was supposed to be a promising young talent with the ability to emerge as a respected pass rusher for the Atlanta Falcons.

As it turns out, Massaquoi will have to develop his talent elsewhere.

Massaquoi
Massaquoi was one of four players the Falcons parted ways with when he was waived late Friday. The former 2012 fifth-round pick out of Troy joined running back Steven Jackson, wide receiver Harry Douglas and guard Justin Blalock as players who were released.

Waiving Massaquoi only saved the Falcons $660,000 against the cap, so it wasn't about money. If anything, it was a testament how far Massaquoi fell out of favor with the organization.

Massaquoi has talent. He showed flashes of it last season, particularly in games against the Chicago Bears and Baltimore Ravens. But he rubbed some folks the wrong way with his carefree approach.

One member of the previous staff said Massaquoi was in the doghouse because he skipped treatments on the right foot he injured during a game against the Detroit Lions in London. Massaquoi was tabbed a "good kid who made some poor decisions and needs some structure."

Massaquoi saw his playing time diminish throughout the 2014 season and was even benched. He spoke out about his lack of snaps to ESPN.com, which didn't rattle the coaches as much as some thought it did. In fact, defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said at the time that he admired a player willing to express such confidence in his abilities.

Still, there was a disconnect between the Falcons and Massaquoi, who ended up playing 311 defensive snaps, finishing the season with two sacks and seven quarterback hits.

New coach Dan Quinn retained defensive line coach Bryan Cox, so Cox no doubt relayed his thoughts about Massaquoi. At least one player told ESPN.com he believed Massaquoi had all the talent in the world but needed to tone down his attitude.

We will see if Massaquoi develops his talent with another team.

As for Quinn and the Falcons, they obviously have a plan to fix a non-existent pass rush. It will be interesting to see how that plan unfolds.

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