Falcons Begin Final Draft Preparations

Falcons Begin Final Draft Preparations

Falcons coach Mike Smith enjoys preparing for the draft. He does his tape study, but when attending prospect Pro Days or private workouts, Smith likes to lay back and check out the scene. He wants to see how the player reacts to his surroundings.

He looks for how he's received by his teammates. How he handles a good or bad lift. A misread. A misstep. "The next two weeks are going to really be geared toward the draft," Smith said. "This is a busy week as far as (general manager) Thomas (Dimitroff) and myself. Our draft preparation is getting down to (the end).
We're working on the draft board and spending more time in conversations over what we're going to be doing."

Last season, the Falcons had to decide between quarterback Matt Ryan and defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey. They didn't have to consider running back Darren McFadden after signing Michael Turner in free agency.

"This is a big time, and exciting time for the organization," Smith said. "We're adding another draft class. If we add the type of players we added last year with that draft class, I'll really feel good about where we're headed. We set good foundation with group we drafted last season."

In addition to Ryan, the Falcons landed starters in left tackle Sam Baker and middle linebacker Curtis Lofton and contributors in nickel cornerback Chevis Jackson, wide receiver Harry Douglas and defensive end Kroy Biermann.

"Last year so tunnel vision on draft," Smith said. "We put everything aside and just focused on draft. ... this year coming off the season, you have to go through the process of unwinding from the season, evaluating the previous season. You have to be more precise in time management. It's a whole lot better second time around working with Thomas, working with the coaching staff and working with the personnel staff as well."

NOTES, QUOTES

--The Falcons traded reserve wide receiver Laurent Robinson to the St. Louis Rams. As part of the trade, the Falcons and the Rams swapped positions in the fifth and sixth rounds of the draft, Atlanta announced in a release. The Falcons sent their fifth-round pick (160th overall) and sixth-round pick (196th) to the Rams and received the Rams' fifth-round pick (138) and their sixth-round pick (176). The Falcons moved up 22 spots in the fifth round and 20 in the sixth round.

Robinson had a promising rookie season in 2007 after being selected in the third round (75th overall) of the 2007 draft. He had 37 catches, including a 74-yard touchdown catch. Last season, he played in just six games and caught five passes. He suffered a concussion and battled a hamstring injury.

--Suspended Falcons quarterback Michael Vick testified in court last week that he is a changed man ready to take charge of his finances, but that wasn't enough for the federal judge who rejected his plan to emerge from bankruptcy. Judge Frank J. Santoro commended Vick for seeking to improve himself after spending nearly two years in prison in Leavenworth, Kan., on federal dogfighting charges.

But the no-nonsense judge told Vick the numbers simply don't add up in his plan to climb out of debt, which totaled $20.4 million as of December. Vick, for example, would have needed $1 million in cash to pull off his plan but could count on only about $210,000 for sure, Santoro told him. Also, Vick would have about $200,000 in annual living expenses under his plan, the judge said. But the only firm source of income Vick has lined up for himself once he gets out of prison next month is a $10-an-hour construction job.

Vick's living expenses were based on him retaining three vehicles, including a 2007 Land Rover, a Lincoln Navigator and a 2007 Infiniti truck. He also planned to keep a home in Hampton, Va., for his mother, Brenda Boddie, and a home under construction in Suffolk, Va., for him and his fiancee and two young daughters.
Santoro suggested that Vick consider selling off more of his assets, including one of the two houses. The judge also told Vick he could face a $6 million to $9 million "hole" even after he pays his creditors.

"Your plan actually puts you below zero," Santoro told Vick at the end of the two-day hearing in Newport News, Va., last week. "This plan will not work." Santoro called Vick's other proposals to bring in income "speculative." For example, the judge appeared skeptical about the one-page offer Vick received last week to star in a documentary for $600,000. Santoro pointed out that no one in the courtroom seemed to know much about the company that made the offer, Red Bird Entertainment.

Santoro also touched on another key part of Vick's plan to pay his creditors: rejoining the NFL. Vick's agent, Joel Segal, testified in bankruptcy court Thursday that he expects the NFL to reinstate Vick, and hopefully for the 2009 season. But, as Segal noted, that is not for certain. The NFL suspended Vick indefinitely in 2007 after the details of his plea deal with prosecutors became public in his federal dogfighting case. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said he will review Vick's status after he gets out of prison but wants to see true contrition from him.

--The Falcons believe in drafting for need as opposed to selecting the best player available. "The philosophy of (general manager) Thomas Dimitroff is to always be needs based," Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "You're not going to see us taking the best available athlete. We've identified needs to be addressed. We've done some in free agency, and there will probably be some free agency moves in future. But right now, our focus is on the draft."

--The Falcons went to Los Angeles to work out six USC Trojans last Saturday. Team officials conducted a workout with linebackers Rey Maualuga, Clay Matthews Jr., Brian Cushing and Kaluka Maiava, defensive tackle Fili Moala and cornerback Cary Harris. The Falcons are the process of revamping their defense after five starters left in free agency.

Linebackers Michael Boley (New York Giants) and Keith Brooking (Dallas), defensive tackle Grady Jackson (Detroit), cornerback Domonique Foxworth (Baltimore) and safety Lawyer Milloy (unsigned) will not return next season. Cushing, Maualuga, and Matthews Jr. are projected first-round picks. The Falcons hold the 24th pick in the first round of the draft, which will be held on April 25-26.

Moala, 6-foot-4, 305 pounds, is considered a second- to third-round pick. Maiava, 5-11 1/2, 229, is considered a third- or fourth-round pick. Harris, 5-11, 187 pounds, is considered a mid- to late-round pick, got to be hungry."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "The tone now is that we want to have an extension of this collective bargaining agreement. That's the commitment of our commissioner. The commitment of our labor committee. It's a commitment that I believe exist on behalf of DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the NFLPA and our players." -- Falcons owner Arthur Blank on the labor situation.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

While the Falcons will certainly focus on rebuilding their defense, they will not totally ignore the offense. The draft is deep at the tight end position and the Falcons will be tempted to make an upgrade. They are also set to have Oklahoma guard Duke Robinson in for an interview. He has a second round grade. Five defensive starters left -- or were allowed to leave -- during free agency and must be replaced.

TEAM NEEDS

1. Cornerback: Domonique Foxworth must be replaced. He was the team's top cornerback last season and played the ball well in the air.
2. Linebacker: The Falcons had trouble covering running backs and tight ends last season. They want fast linebackers with striking ability.
3. Safety: Look for the Falcons to go for Louis Delmas or Alabama Rashad Johnson in the second round to compete with Thomas DeCoud for Lawyer Milloy's vacated spot.

MEDICAL WATCH: No updates.

FRANCHISE PLAYER: P/K Michael Koenen: Tendered at $2.483M; signed tender Feb. 17.

TRANSITION PLAYER: None.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
--OT Wayne Gandy is veteran who could provide quality depth behind some young tackles.
--SS Lawyer Milloy will not return. He would like to end his career in Seattle and be reunited with coach Jim Mora.
--TE Marcus Pollard was signed late in the season and probably won't return.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered)
--OT Pat McCoy (not tendered as RFA) spent the season on injured reserve.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
--RT Tyson Clabo (tendered at $1.545M with second-round pick as compensation) has started for last two seasons and played with mean streak.
--RG Harvey Dahl (tendered at $1.545M with second-round pick as compensation) won the starting job last year. Played well against the run and gave up only one sack in 16 starts.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS
--OL Renardo Foster.

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED
--DE Chauncey Davis: UFA; $14M/4 yrs, guarantee unknown.
--S Jamaal Fudge: Potential RFA; terms unknown.
--LB Tony Gilbert: UFA; terms unknown.
--CB Brent Grimes: ERFA; terms unknown.
--S Antoine Harris: ERFA; terms unknown.
--DT Jason Jefferson: UFA; terms unknown.
--P/K Michael Koenen: FFA; $2.483M/1 yr.
--TE Justin Peelle: Potential UFA; terms unknown.
--RB Jason Snelling: ERFA; terms unknown.
--C/G Ben Wilkerson (not tendered as RFA); $535,000/1 yr.
--LB Coy Wire: UFA; 2 yrs, terms unknown.

PLAYERS ACQUIRED
--MLB Mike Peterson: UFA Jaguars; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
--C Brett Romberg: UFA Rams; terms unknown.
--OT Will Svitek: FA; terms unknown.

PLAYERS LOST
--LB Michael Boley: UFA Giants; $25M/5 yrs, $11M guaranteed.
--LB Keith Brooking: UFA Cowboys; $6M/3 yrs, $2.5M guaranteed.
--CB Domonique Foxworth: UFA Ravens; $27.2M/4 yrs, $4M SB/$3.38 report bonus/$16.5M guaranteed.
--DT Grady Jackson: UFA Lions; $8M/3 yrs, guarantees unknown.
--WR Laurent Robinson (traded Rams).
--LT Todd Weiner (retired).

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