After only filling Brooking's vacancy in free agency, the Falcons squarely turned their attention to the draft. They hope they snatched three starters out of the draft and will turn to third-year man Stephen Nicholas to replace Boley.
First-round pick Peria Jerry will get the first shot at Jackson's old nose tackle spot. Second-round pick William Moore will try to slide into Milloy's shoes at strong safety. Third-round pick Chris Owens will get a shot at cornerback.
"We highlighted a lot of players that we wanted to come away with in the draft," Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said. "This fellow (Moore) and Peria Jerry are two guys that we had earmarked."
Jerry's quickness to shoot gaps and ability to hold up blocks at the point of attack was attractive to the Falcons. "I can help them out in numerous ways, with my quickness and speed," Jerry said. "I think I'll be a great fit for the Falcons."
Moore, who was once considered the top safety in the draft and a potential top 10 pick, dropped after having a poor senior season. "It was very tough because I know what I can do," Moore said. "I know what kind of player that I am. I know what I've put in (to the game) thus far. When I slipped, I just went by what my Mom says: 'Everything happens for a reason.' So it had to be a reason."
Jerry was the second-rated defensive tackle in the draft behind Boston College's B.J. Raji, who was taken by Green Bay with the ninth pick in the draft. The Falcons also considered taking Connecticut cornerback Darius Butler, Southern Cal linebacker Clay Matthews Jr. and Missouri defensive tackle Evander "Ziggy" Hood with the 24th pick. "We knew that a number of teams were interested in defensive tackles," Dimitroff said. "But with some of the movement in the draft with the trades and such, we thought we had a really good chance of landing Peria."
--The Falcons addressed their weaknesses in the secondary with three picks. They picked up two cornerbacks in Chris Owens and William Middleton, a
graduate of the Marist School and Furman. Owens, a cornerback from San Jose State, was selected in the third round. Middleton was selected in the fifth round.
The Falcons needed to address the secondary after Domonique Foxworth, the team's top cornerback last season, signed a lucrative free agent contract with Baltimore. The Falcons' secondary hemorrhaged passing yards last season, when they gave up an average of 220.4 passing yards per game, which ranked them 21st in the league.
Owens, 5-9, 181 pounds, had six interceptions as a junior. Teams elected not to throw to his side of the field last season. "The first four or five games, no passes came my way," Owens said. "You can watch the tape of the San Diego State game and not one pass came my way the whole entire game."
Owens started 38 of 48 games at San Jose State, including his final 37 games at right cornerback. Chris Houston is the Falcons' starting right cornerback and is entering his third year. Houston was close to getting benched last season and was demoted in practice. But he bounced back each time. The staff wants him to play more physical.
Falcons coach Mike Smith was impressed with Owens' man-to-man coverage skills. "He knew from watching the tape and even in high school, all I did was play man to man," Owens said. "I'm skilled at that technique."
Owens' height is likely what kept him from being drafted higher. At times, he struggled against bigger receivers. He tries to use his speed and quickness to make up for any size disadvantage. "It's all about positioning," said Owens, who has a 35 1/2-inch vertical jump. "If I'm in position, I can compete for the ball at the highest point. I've been playing against bigger wideouts. That's been a knock on me in the past, but I'm ready for that right now."
--Suspended Falcons quarterback Michael Vick will be released from prison May 20 and serve the remainder of his term at his Hampton, Va., home, according to one of his attorneys. Herb Hoelter, a member of Vick's defense team, said that Vick will live in his five-bedroom house in Virginia with his fiancee and two of his children. Vick's sentence on federal dog-fighting charges ends July 20.
Hoelter also said that Vick plans to work a $10-an-hour construction job during his home confinement period. The NFL indefinitely suspended Vick in August of 2007. He plans to seek reinstatement to the league this summer, though NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has said he wants to see full proof of Vick's contrition before considering whether to allow the QB back in the league.
--The Falcons signed former Georgia Bulldogs running back Verron Haynes on Wednesday and released wide receiver Troy Bergeron. Haynes, 5-9, 222 pounds, played two seasons at Georgia, and might be best known for catching a game-winning touchdown pass at Tennessee in 2001, a play made famous by radio voice Larry Munson "hobnailed boot" call. That season Haynes led Georgia in rushing with 691 yards.
Haynes also played at North Springs High School, and he was a fifth-round draft choice of the Steelers in the 2002 draft. In six seasons with the Steelers, Haynes rushed for 738 yards on 174 carries and scored three touchdowns, and he caught 58 passes for 429 yards and two touchdowns. Haynes did not play in 2008.
--Eric Sutulovich was hired as the Falcons assistant special teams coach on Wednesday. Sutulovich, a former assistant with Detroit and Houston, replaces Tom McMahon who left to join the St. Louis Rams coaching staff.
--Clemson's Aaron Kelly, the ACC's all-time reception leader and a Walton High School graduate, heads a list of 10 undrafted rookie free agents signed by the Falcons on Tuesday. The Falcons also released veteran defensive linemen Simon Fraser and Kindal Moorehead, who played last season. They waived offseason pickups defensive back Darius Vinnett and offensive lineman Nathan Bennett.
The other undrafted rookie free-agent signings were wide receiver Darren Mougey (San Diego State), quarterback John Parker Wilson (Alabama), defensive end Maurice Lucas (Colorado), long snapper Robert Shiver (Auburn), offensive lineman Ryan Stanchek (West Virginia), offensive lineman Jose Valdez (Arkansas), linebacker Derek Nicholson (Florida State), punter/kicker Robbie Dehaze (Northern Arizona) and linebacker Brock Christopher (Missouri).
Kelly had 232 catches during his career and also held the school record for career touchdown receptions with 20. Wilson, a three-year starter, had the Crimson Tide in the national championship picture last season.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We highlighted a lot of players that we wanted to come away with in the draft. This fellow (Moore) and Peria Jerry are two guys that we had earmarked." -- Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff on the team's strategic draft planning.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Falcons didn't totally ignore their offense. They selected right tackle Garrett Reynolds out of North Carolina in the fifth round. His dad Al played at Tennessee and so did his uncle, the famed Jack "Hacksaw" Reynolds. He will line up behind Tyson Clabo at right tackle, with the hopes that he'll develop into a starter.
While Reynolds was the only offensive player drafted, the Falcon picked up a couple of intriguing undrafted free agents in Clemson wide receiver Aaron Kelly and Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson, both have a shot to make the roster or at least stick with the practice squad.
MEDICAL WATCH: Cornerback David Irons will miss the entire offseason after undergoing knee surgery in October. He's expected back near the beginning of the regular season at the earliest.
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.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS
--OL Renardo Foster.
--OG Harvey Dahl: RFA; $1.545M/1 yr.
--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.
--TE Tony Gonzalez (trade Chiefs).
--MLB Mike Peterson: UFA Jaguars; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
--C Brett Romberg: UFA Rams; terms unknown.
--OT Will Svitek: FA; terms unknown.
--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.
--DE Simon Fraser (released).
--DT Grady Jackson: UFA Lions; $8M/3 yrs, guarantees unknown.
--DT Kindal Moorehead (released).
--WR Laurent Robinson (traded Rams).
--LT Todd Weiner (retired).