The Washington Post

The one thing that could hurt the Falcons in 2011

The Eagles have done it this offseason, as have the Saints. The Packers haven’t, but thanks to the work that Ted Thompson did in previous offseasons, the defending champs didn’t need to.

I’m talking about building depth, which is something the Falcons haven’t done to this point and it’s something that could potentially be their undoing in 2011.

The Falcons came into the offseason wanting to accomplish three things: Get more explosive on offense, sign a defensive end to complement John Abraham, and re-sign at least two of their three free agent starters on the offensive line.

So they traded away the farm for wideout Julio Jones in the first round of April’s draft and selected running back Jacquizz Rodgers in the fifth. They also signed free agent defensive end Ray Edwards (Vikings) and re-signed tackle Tyson Clabo and guard Justin Blalock.

Mission accomplished? Not quite.

For all intents and purposes, the Falcons’ season rests on the shoulders of quarterback Matt Ryan. After trading for Jones, the plan is to open up the offense and throw more vertically than they did in Ryan’s first three seasons. If Ryan fails, then the Falcons will too and this article will become one gigantic moot point.

But let’s say Ryan is successful and the Falcons stay relatively healthy this year: Would anyone pick them over the Packers, Eagles or Saints right now? I wouldn’t.

Considering Michael Turner faded down the stretch last year and missed five games in 2009 because of injuries, one would think the Falcons would have already re-signed versatile backup Jason Snelling. Granted, Snelling did tell the Falcons that he wanted to test the market. But it’s obvious he’s not going to cash in with someone else and thus, GM Thomas Dimitroff should get a deal done now with Snelling to ensure Turner has a security blanket that isn’t a rookie or an unknown commodity.

And while Dimitroff is at it, it would behoove him to address other positions as well. The release of Michael Jenkins didn’t exactly send the NFL world spinning on its side last week, but the veteran is exactly the type of player the Falcons’ receiving corps is now suddenly lacking. What if Jones struggles in his first year? Jenkins never lived up to his first-round billing but he was sure-handed and was the team’s best blocker. He wasn’t a playmaker, but he wasn’t a massive liability either.

The Falcons have the same issues at tight end and corner. When is all said and done, Tony Gonzalez will go down as one of the best tight ends to have ever played the game. But despite the fact that he takes tremendous care of his body, he’s aging and the Falcons have no impact players behind him. Even before he suffered an injury, Gonzo had zero impact in that devastating playoff loss to the Packers last year. And don’t forget how absolutely abused young corner Chris Owens was by Aaron Rodgers and the plethora of Green Bay receivers in the same game. These are the positions that the Falcons need to shore up and yet they seem perfectly content with the roster they have. (They could stand to have more depth at offensive guard as well after losing Harvey Dahl.)

Granted, it’s not like the regular season starts tomorrow. The Falcons could still re-sign Snelling and add a veteran or two at the other need-positions. Plus, thanks to guys like Ryan, Turner and Gonzalez, they’re legit Super Bowl contenders regardless of their current depth.

But does anyone think the Packers would have won the Super Bowl last year had Thompson not built the depth he did? With the amount of injuries they suffered, there’s no way. Yet instead of using that team as a model, the Falcons appear to be set with what they have.

I hope it’s enough.


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