After the Seattle Seahawks won Super Bowl XLVIII, all 32 teams officially entered the offseason and started plotting how they could position themselves for a shot at Super Bowl XLIX. Shutdown Corner will look at the offseason blueprint for each of the 32 NFL teams, presenting one team a day (using the 2014 draft order, starting with the Houston Texans and finishing with the Seahawks), leading you right up to the start of free agency on March 11.
2013 record: 4-12
Projected current salary-cap space (according to Spotrac): $19.3 million
Draft situation: All of their original picks
Revisiting 2013: The Falcons, who had preseason Super Bowl aspirations coming in, didn't earn their third victory of the season until Week 13. Things fell apart on both sides of the ball as Julio Jones and Roddy White battled injuries, Matt Ryan regressed, the offensive line fell apart and the defense — which allowed 21 or more points in all but one game — couldn't improve or stop any of the bleeding. This was a veteran team built with a deep run in the postseason in mind, but a 2-9 start nixed any chance of that. Tony Gonzalez's postseason remarks that Ryan was "not elite" only has fanned the flames of a scorched season.
Reasons for optimism: Much of the roster that got within 10 yards of a Super Bowl two seasons ago should returning, including Jones and White at full strength — and there might not be better receiver running mates out there. The team has a high draft pick (No. 6 overall) and is one of the few teams in the top 10 not concerned about quarterback — the Falcons still believe firmly in Ryan — picking in that range, so a strong offensive or defensive lineman should be available there. If a few deficiencies are addressed, a solid core is in place.
Glaring hole to fill: The Falcons must find toughness and playmaking ability on the defensive line, first and foremost. That could come in the form of a free agent, such as Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson or Carolina Panthers end Greg Hardy, or via the draft, should South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney slip to the sixth overall pick. Both actually could fit together. The tackle spot also could see a refresh, as Babineaux, Peters and Jerry all are free agents, and not all of them might return.
Toughest decision: The No. 6 overall pick could create quite a conundrum. What if both Clowney and one of the top two offensive tackles, Texas A&M's Jake Matthews or Auburn's Greg Robinson, remain on the board? This scenario, of course, will depend on what happens in free agency and whether the team has addressed left tackle — a major need spot. But would the Falcons perhaps pass on Clowney to fix another huge hole? If Ryan is going to return to prominence, he needs time and security to throw. He didn't have that last season.
Best-case offseason scenario: The team will be able to add to the defensive line, perhaps add a linebacker with some snarl (Brandon Spikes?), fix the offensive line (especially left tackle but also center and right tackle) and come up with a few complementary young playmakers to replace Gonzalez and Steven Jackson, who is in the twilight of his career. This is not a total makeover situation, and the Falcons have a fair amount of cap space after Samuel and Nicholas were axed, so you can expect GM Thomas Dimitroff and his staff to be aggressive in solving issues this offseason.
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