The Falcons have a new man in the middle, and they have big plans for middle linebacker Edgerton Hartwell.
After inking him this week to a six-year, $26.25 million deal, the team made no bones about the fact he'll displace MLB Chris Draft in the middle. The idea is for Hartwell, a former Raven, to drop anchor in the middle of the field, using his 6-foot-1, 250-pound frame to stop the run.
On passing downs, he'll leave the field. Otherwise, he'll allow WLB Keith Brooking, a four-time Pro Bowler, and the SLB (either newcomer Ike Reese or second-year speedster Demorrio Williams for the moment) to run.
It's vintage Rich McKay. This is what the Falcons' president/general manager, not to mention coach Jim Mora and defensive coordinator Ed Donatell, have in mind.
"He fits what we're looking for on the field and off," said vice president of football operations Ron Hill. "He sees the ball, flows to the ball and gets there with a bad attitude."
Hartwell, who averaged 157 combined tackles and assists in the past three seasons as a Baltimore starter (according to Ravens' coaches), will not be wearing No. 56 anymore. That stays with Brooking. Instead, the Las Vegas native will wear the same number as his former linebackers coach.
"Just to let everybody know, picking number 50 from 56 is a great honor to me because I'm wearing it for (Hall of Famer) Mike Singletary," Hartwell said at a news conference. "He's a great person in my life. If I had to choose anybody, I'd be like him."
Hartwell, who played inside next to Ray Lewis in Baltimore, is looking forward to leaving the Ravens' 3-4, and into the Falcons' 4-3.
"I'm excited to just go out there and play football. Not only that, but move back to the 4-3 and be a middle linebacker," said the fifth-year veteran, a fourth-round draft choice in 2001 out of Western Illinois. All my life I was a middle linebacker in a 4-3 scheme. My first year in a 3-4 was in Baltimore.
"I had a great time, but I'm very excited to move back into the 4-3, and not only that, but play with a great group of guys, great coaches and be an Atlanta Falcon. How better can it be?"
-- If Falcons owner Arthur Blank's vision for renovation the Georgia Dome is to come to fruition, they'll blowout out the southeast corner of the stadium in all but the lowest level of the stadium, and leave an opening that allows a view from the field/inner stadium into an new atrium built in that area. There would also be news suites, some new club seats, improved concourses, changes in scoreboards and signage and more.
-- Former Falcons OT Bob Whitfield, who was cut by the team shortly before last season, may sign with the Giants. He spent last season with the Jaguars, playing some near the end of the season.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "He's the first free agent I've ever worked with that came in the door (for a visit), wanted a playbook and wanted to start looking at film. In he and (former Eagle) Ike Reese, you're bringing in guys that are used to winning. I think it's very important for your chemistry." - Falcons vice president of football operations Ron Hill, on new MLB Edgerton Hartwell.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
1. 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. This is a strong bet to be the Falcons' first-round focus.
2. Safety. After cutting starting FS Cory Hall, the Falcons were left with virtually nobody to man this position. They've since signed former Ram Rich Coady and former 49er Ronnie Heard, each to one-year deals. Neither is likely to start. The Falcons will re-sign Keion Carpenter, who missed the 2004 season with a knee injury, to a one-year contract soon. He was very good in 2002, struggled early in 2003 (his last play in the 2002 season, in a playoff game at Philadelphia, left him with a neck injury that required surgery to fuse two vertebrae), and he will, at that moment, become the favorite to start barring other moves. The team also re-signed EFA Travaris Robinson, who missed the 2004 season with a knee injury as well, but he's probably not starting caliber. Should Atlanta acquire a solid SS, team officials would not be averse to moving current SS Bryan Scott, a former CB, to FS.
3. Offensive line. The addition 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.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: CB Aaron Beasley; QB Ty Detmer; LB Jamie Duncan; LB Eric Johnson; FB George Layne (not tendered as ERFA); FB Stanley Pritchett; DE Karon Riley; S Travaris Robinson (not tendered as ERFA); LB Artie Ulmer.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: OT Kevin Shaffer.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: OL Martin Bibla; TE Dwayne Blakley; S Keion Carpenter; OL Steven Herndon; CB Kevin Mathis; S Kevin McCadam; FB Fred McCrary; OG Michael Moore; CB/KR Allen Rossum.
PLAYERS ACQUIRED: S Rich Coady; P Toby Gowin; LB Ed Hartwell; S Ronnie Heard; LB Jordan Kramer; G/C Matt Lehr; PK Todd Peterson; LB Ike Reese.
PLAYERS LOST: PK Jay Feely; OL Roberto Garza; S Cory Hall; DE Travis Hall; DT Ed Jasper; P Chris Mohr; LB Matt Stewart.