Atlanta Falcons FA update

FLOWERY BRANCH - An update of the comings and goings of the Falcons and free agency.

The team on March 14 signed former Cowboys/Rams guard/center Matt Lehr, a college teammate of quarterback Michael Vick, to a three-year deal, and that might well be the biggest offensive line move the team makes.

It seems likely that Roberto Garza, who started the final 15 games and the playoffs at left guard, will sign elsewhere as a free agent, and Lehr is a good bet to compete for the spot with Michael Moore, the starter last year before suffering a season-ending injury in the first game.

Moore, a potential restricted free agent, signed a one-year contract with the team three weeks ago, as did reserve guard/center Martin Bibla, another potential RFA.

Also, reserve offensive lineman Steven Herndon has re-signed with Atlanta, and starting left tackle Kevin Shaffer was tendered a one-year, $1.43 million offer as a RFA, meaning another team would owe Atlanta a first-round draft choice if it signed him away. That's not going to happen.

With starting center Todd McClure, right guard Kynan Forney and right tackle Todd Weiner all under contract, and at salary cap figures beyond the minimum (well beyond in the case of Forney and Weiner), no significant change is likely for a team with modest cap space and other personnel issues.

Besides, team officials feel that Forney and Weiner played quite well last season.

Atlanta basically went without a No. 3 tackle last season, moving Herndon into that role in some emergency situations, including the second game of the season, which Shaffer missed with a knee injury.

President/general manager Rich McKay probably will not go that route two years in a row. But he's not going to spend big on a tackle, instead picking up competition for Shaffer in the draft and/or late in free agency, when prices have bottomed out.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Falcons owner Arthur Blank and president/general manager Rich McKay will have more than league business on their minds at the NFL's annual meetings in Maui. They're going to be part of an Atlanta group that will be active in lobbying for the 2009 Super Bowl, even though there is nothing official on the agenda about the 2009 Super Bowl. Atlanta is competing with Tampa, Houston and Miami for the '09 game, and, like Miami, will pitch stadium improvements as part of the plan.

--The Falcons' offseason strength and conditioning program will begin Monday, March 21.

--The Falcons' first stand-alone store will open in July at Perimeter Mall, on the city's north side. Discussions are under way for other locations as well.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "(Eagles defensive coordinator) Jim Johnson and coach (Andy) Reid ... everything I know, everybody that I played with. My brothers that I played with ... it's going to take some time to get adjusted (in Atlanta). I plan on giving the fans of Atlanta everything I gave the fans of Philadelphia. They're going to get everything I have." - LB Ike Reese, who signed with the Falcons as a UFA recently.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

NEEDS/DRAFT PRIORITIES

1. Linebacker. With SLB Matt Stewart having signed with Cleveland, and every reserve LB in unrestricted free agency, this is obvious. The addition of Ike Reese helped, but the Falcons are still looking. Team officials want to add speed at this position.

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. The addition this week of G/C Matt Lehr helped considerably. 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 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, and UFA Steven Herndon re-signed with the team. But Roberto Garza, who took over for Moore, is a UFA.

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