Falcons, QB Leftwich agree to two-year deal
ATLANTA -- In a move that might eventually address a deteriorating situation at quarterback, and which could stabilize the position beyond just a short-term fix, the Atlanta Falcons on Tuesday afternoon signed free agent Byron Leftwich to a two-year, $7 million contract.
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The addition of Leftwich, who was out of work for the first two weeks of the regular season after being released by the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sept. 1, came only two days after the Atlanta offense sputtered for a second straight game. The Falcons have scored just 10 points in two outings, both losses, and quarterback Joey Harrington has been sacked a league-high 13 times.
Harrington was signed in the offseason to serve as the top backup to Michael Vick but thrust into the starting job when the Falcons' high-profile star pleaded guilty to federal dogfighting charges and was suspended indefinitely by commissioner Roger Goodell.
A fifth-year veteran and former first-round draft choice, Leftwich was released by the Jaguars just before the start of the season, when coach Jack Del Rio abruptly decided to elevate David Garrard into the starting role. Leftwich met with Atlanta officials, including owner Arthur Blank, on Monday evening. He then took a physical examination on Tuesday morning, worked out for coaches and personnel officials and entered into contract negotiations.
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Leftwich will join the Falcons for practice on Wednesday when the club begins preparations for Sunday's game against the Carolina Panthers at the Georgia Dome.
"First of all, I'm a football player and the last couple of weeks have been tough on me," Leftwich said. "I appreciate the opportunity and I look forward to doing whatever I can to help our team."
For now, Leftwich will serve as the No. 3 quarterback on the depth chart, behind Harrington and backup Chris Redman, while he assimilates the offense of first-year head coach Bobby Petrino. But if Harrington continues to struggle, there is a good chance that Leftwich will eventually compete for the starting job. And the fact the Falcons signed him to a two-year contract is an interesting element, since it could augur that the club feels there is a chance Leftwich could become a viable starter.
The deal in Atlanta could well represent a solid second chance for Leftwich to fulfill his potential.
In two games, Harrington has struggled considerably.
Harrington has completed 35 of 52 passes for 399 yards with no touchdown passes and two interceptions and a passer rating of 74.1. In assessing last Sunday's loss at Jacksonville, in which Harrington was sacked seven times, Petrino suggested the quarterback was holding the ball too long on some dropbacks and was perhaps playing too cautiously.
Whether the 27-year-old Leftwich proves a good fit remains to be seen. Leftwich worked in the past with current Atlanta quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave, so there is some familiarity there. But it is believed that the two men didn't always see eye-to-eye on everything about the Jacksonville offense.
Plus, playing behind an offensive line that has had problems with protection early in the season could make things difficult for Leftwich. He is not especially nimble and has always had a long stride. Combined with an elongated delivery, that's been a problem because Leftwich needs room to operate in the pocket.
The Jacksonville staff worked hard in 2006 to reduce its leakage in the pocket in an effort to create more throwing room for Leftwich. This offseason, under first-year offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, Leftwich worked on retooling his mechanics. He improved his footwork and did succeed in reducing his stride but not necessarily in tightening up his throwing motion.
Still, for an Atlanta offense clearly in need of help, Leftwich is an intriguing addition.
Leftwich has appeared in 46 games, 44 of them as a starter. The former Marshall star chosen by Jacksonville in the first round in 2003 has completed 789 of 1,344 passes for 9,042 yards, with 51 touchdown passes and 36 interceptions.
The big question mark with Leftwich has been his durability, and he has yet to play a full 16-game schedule. But Leftwich underwent offseason surgery to address a chronic left ankle problem and said in training camp that he was 100 percent physically.
Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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