Although there was a slight increase at this year's NFL combine in the number of top prospects who ran and worked out, Falcons president/general manager Rich McKay still places significant value on the league's annual meat market.
He's in it for the player interviews.
"The Combine doesn't drive (player) evaluations," McKay said. "It might be 10 percent, but I think the interview is one of the better things that you get out of it. I don't mind if the kid's been coached, or he knows the questions. I just want to hear a kid talk, and learn some things. You can't get that on campus most times."
Up until a few years ago, interviews at the combine were catch as catch can.
"It's scheduled now. We changed that, and it's worked out very well," McKay said. "It used to be a disaster. It was a free-for-all."
In a way, it was a free-for-all at the combine anyway.
"We probably interviewed 50 kids at the Senior Bowl, another 45 at the East-West (all-star game)," McKay said. (Thursday) night (at the combine) we only had 30 minutes worth. (Friday), we got maybe three hours worth. (Saturday) night ... from 6-11 p.m., and (Sunday) 6 to 9."
The Falcons don't ask many, if any, dog and cat questions.
"I'm trying to learn a little bit about the kid," McKay said. "Talk to me about your mom, your dad, how you grew up, how tough it was, were you moving around a lot? You want to learn about how it affected a kid."
Depending on the player, the Falcons may push the envelope a little, trying to find out different kinds of information than with another player.
"You want to test a kid's honesty," said McKay. "We know some things; we do a lot of background work so you ask some stuff and see what the answers are. You look at body language, see how a kid handles himself. It's nice once in a while to challenge a kid on some issues."
-- The Falcons' offseason workout program is slated to begin March 21.
-- DL Travis Hall, whom the Falcons cut Feb. 28, stands a pretty good chance of returning to the team. By cutting him, the Falcons avoided paying him a $1 million roster bonus in March, and his $3 million salary came off the books. The team's second-highest cap charge, $6.42 million is gone, but he leaves $2.42 million in dead money. And he may be back. Hall had his best season in several in 2004 while playing DE and a little DT. He also fits into the lockerroom smoothly. Although some observers think he'll play in Atlanta or nowhere (his family is firmly entrenched, and after spending his entire 10-year career with the Falcons, he has business interests in the area), he said he'll entertain offers. "I told them I'd love to be back. I know I've been in the league 10 years, and have a big cap number," he said. "I don't want to (play elsewhere), obviously, but if the right situation presents itself, it might be hard to say no. But I don't know the situation right now, the city, the team, the contract. Ultimately, it's hard to say yes or no to any of it. I definitely want to be here, and I think from our talks they (the Falcons) want me."
-- SLB Matt Stewart, who started for the Falcons for the past three seasons, visited Cleveland on the first day of free agency, according to his agent, Brian Parker. The Columbus, Ohio, native also was to visit the Dolphins, Parker said. The Falcons like Stewart as a player, although he's not the speed merchant team officials would prefer at the LB spots. Some teams believe Stewart can be as effective, maybe moreso, as a MLB.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "The reason the Falcons don't have that sense of urgency is the last three years they've had a good nickel (back). It's (about) insurance. You've got to pay for insurance." -- Drew Pittman, agent for Falcons UFA CB Kevin Mathis, after talks aimed at keeping him in Atlanta made little progress.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
1. Linebacker. With SLB Matt Stewart and every reserve LB heading for unrestricted free agency, this is obvious. Team officials want to add speed at this position, and will keep an eye not only on other teams' free agents, but who gets cut in the next few weeks.
2. Defensive line. Atlanta cut NT Ed Jasper, 32, and reserve DL Travis Hall, 32, and RDE Brady Smith will be 32 in June. The only young DL who's shown enough promise to bank on is DT Chad Lavalais.
3. Offensive line. Starting left tackle Kevin Shaffer, who was tendered a one-year contract at a value of $1.43 million as a restricted free agent, probably will be back, but team officials might seek to create competition for him, and at a minimum need a bona fide No. 3 OT, something they didn't have this season. Guards Michael Moore, who began the season as the left-side starter before a season-ending shoulder injury, and Martin Bibla signed contracts with the team to avoid becoming restricted free agents. But Roberto Garza, who took over for Moore, and reserve Steve Herndon are UFAs.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: CB Aaron Beasley; S Keion Carpenter; QB Ty Detmer; LB Jamie Duncan; PK Jay Feely; OL Roberto Garza; OL Steven Herndon; LB Eric Johnson; FB George Layne (not tendered as ERFA); CB Kevin Mathis; FB Fred McCrary; FB Stanley Pritchett; DE Karon Riley; S Travaris Robinson (not tendered as ERFA); CB/KR Allen Rossum; LB Matt Stewart; LB Artie Ulmer.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: OT Kevin Shaffer.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: Currently unavailable.
PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: OL Martin Bibla; S Kevin McCadam; OG Michael Moore; Allen Rossum.
PLAYERS ACQUIRED: PK Todd Peterson.
PLAYERS LOST: S Cory Hall; DE Travis Hall; DT Ed Jasper.