Originally posted on isportsweb.com  |  Last updated 2/2/13
The official start of the NFL offseason is now approximately forty-eight hours away, which means that the scramble for free agents will start before you know it. Although the free agency period has not begun yet, you can bet that teams across the country have already formulated a battle plan and have scouted the players that they are interested in bringing in. One such team is the Atlanta Falcons, who had a solid 2012 season but ultimately failed to reach the Super Bowl. Here are five free agents that the Falcons should consider if they wish to be playing in Super Bowl XLVIII in MetLife Stadium come February 2014: Player, Position, Team 2012 StatsWhy the Falcons Need Him Steven Jackson, RB, St. Louis Rams 257 rushing attempts for 1,042 yards (4.1 yards per carry) and 4 touchdowns.Although it is not official yet, the Rams have made it abundantly clear that they are not interested in bringing Jackson back for the 2013 season, which leaves him available for the Falcons, who many expect to release Michael Turner. While Atlanta may opt to turn towards the draft for Turner’s replacement, Jackson has the résumé—eight consecutive seasons of at least 1,000 yards—to at least be considered by a team that boasted a rushing offense that finished 29th in a league of thirty-two teams with a little under 88 yards per game. Andy Levitre, OG, Buffalo Bills Started 16 games for a Bills' team that finished 6th in the league in rushing with 138 yards per game; Levitre currently holds a 64 consecutive games started streak.The Falcons will have a hole at guard if longtime center Todd McClure decides to retire, which would result in Peter Konz shifting to fill McClure’s spot, making a player like Levitre a very intriguing prospect for the team. Add in the fact that Levitre has been a reliable lineman for the Bills, something that Atlanta has lacked given the injury woes of players like Sam Baker, and it seems that the Falcons will be setting their sights on bringing in a player of Levitre’s caliber. Dannell Ellerbe, LB, Baltimore Ravens Recorded 66 tackles with 4.5 sacks and 1 forced fumble for the AFC Champs.“Disappointing” is the nicest way of describing Atlanta’s linebackers this season, which means that the team will definitely be shopping for some new blood to help support Sean Weatherspoon. A likely candidate to do just that is Ellerbe, who played at Georgia and had 92 tackles with 4.5 sacks in the 2012 regular season. Baltimore will likely do all they can to retain Ellerbe considering that fellow linebacker Ray Lewis will not be back in 2013, but that does not mean that the Falcons would be remiss to gauge Ellerbe’s interest in joining the team. Daryl Smith, LB, Jacksonville Jaguars Had 6 tackles and 0 sacks in just nine games this season (groin injury)Another likely candidate for the Falcons linebacker core is Smith, who was coached by Falcons head coach Mike Smith from 2004 to 2007 when Smith served as the Jaguars defensive coordinator. A native of Albany, Georgia and a graduate of Georgia Tech, Smith is coming off of a groin injury that cost him the better part of the 2012 season. Although this may be a major red flag for the Falcons, there is another side of the story: Smith’s injury concerns would mean less money to bring him in. If the team works out the thirty year old and finds that he has overcome his groin issues, they would be foolish not to make him an offer. Dustin Keller, TE, New York Jets Managed 28 receptions for 317 yards and 2 touchdowns in just 8 games due to ankle and hamstring injuries.Keller’s situation is very much like Smith’s mentioned above, as Keller had an injury-plagued season in a contract year, leaving him in the NFL’s version of no man’s land. Once considered a tight end with a very bright future in the NFL, Keller’s price range may make him in play for the Falcons, who could turn to Keller as a full-time replacement for Tony Gonzalez or to just play until a draft prospect is up to speed on the playbook. Although Keller has undoubtedly grown accustomed to playing on a team with uncertainty at quarterback, it is safe to assume that lining up with a reliable quarterback like Matt Ryan would be highly appreciated by the twenty-eight year old.   While adding some of these players to the roster should help the Falcons’ chances in 2013, there is still more the team can do to get even better, namely making the right choices in the 2013 NFL Draft. Check in next week to take a look at five players the Falcons should strongly pursue come April.
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