With only three days left before the deadline to do so, the Falcons announced that they will place the franchise tag on starting left cornerback Brent Grimes, a Pro-Bowler in 2010, keeping him off the market for at least a year and guaranteeing Grimes a salary of approximately 10 million virtually a four-fold increase over his 2.61 million salary of last season.
Speaking on the teams flagship radio station, 790 The Zone, Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff disclosed the news and provided updates on negotiations with a number of its other 17 pending free agents. NFL free agency starts on March 13.
Our feeling is Brent Grimes is an excellent athlete with the ability to move, cover, break on the ball with some of the top corners in the league and we feel comfortable in his abilities, Dimitroff said. The way hes picked up our system, hes settled in very nicely over the last years since weve been here and we just feel, as we all know, youre always looking for corners who can settle into your system and cover and stay in phase, is what we call it often, and make big plays on the ball.
And I think that Brent Grimes does that, obviously, against big small, fast or slow receivers in this league, so were encouraged about having him back.
Grimes, who will be 29 this season, was an undrafted player out of Division II Shippensburg (Pa.). He had one interception and 44 tackles in 2011 in 12 games, as teams seemed to throw less in his direction. He sat out four of the last five games and also missed the teams 24-2 playoff loss to the New York Giants with a knee problem.
He had five interceptions in 2010 and six in 2009. Next season will be his fifth with the team.
According to ProFootballTalk.com, the Falcons top 51 players under contracts will total 101.5 million. By having to pay Grimes, upwards of 10 million and with the salary cap expected to be in the range of last years of 120 million, the Falcons could have some difficult decisions ahead.
The tag could be a way to jump start negotiations for a long-term deal, which would ease the cap implications for the Falcons while also giving Grimes the benefit of more guaranteed money.
Well, ideally youd like to do that, Dimitroff said. Thats very, very important, as you can imagine. That number comes off your cap and your cash number the year its placed on you and its not pro-rated, you cant spread it over years of the contract, so theres where the difficulty comes in.
Most teams would like to move towards securing a long-term deal to spread out the funds. That said, it doesnt necessarily always happen.
The team also is reportedly close to re-signing defensive end Kroy Biermann, a starter in 2010 who lost his job to free-agent signing Ray Edwards. If new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan wants to show some 3-4 looks, then Biermann is an ideal candidate, with his speed and smallish size at 260 pounds, to play one of the outside linebackerrush end spots. Biermanns contract could be in the range of 3 million per season.
Dimitroff called negotiations with Biermann very productive.
All of that complicates negotiations with middle linebacker Curtis Lofton, the teams leading tackler every season since 2006, and defensive end John Abraham, whose agent has said he expects the player to test the free agent market.
Dimitroff did not report any progress with Lofton, who is 26. There have been reports that the team believes he could be better in pass coverage and last year they drafted middle linebacker Akeem Dent out of Georgia in the third round as a potential successor.
I dont really know where were at with it as this point, Dimitroff said of negotiations with Lofton.
The radio show played a clip of Abraham, the highly productive pass rusher who will be 34 next season and who battled groin injuries last season, saying he would like to be paid 12 million a number the Falcons almost certainly cannot afford. Dimitroff would not get into specific numbers and only would say that its human nature to be paid as much as possible.
Curiously, when asked about reports that Pittsburgh is expected to cut wide receiver Hines Ward, the Georgia native and former Bulldog standout, Dimitroff said on a hypothetical basis that it would be interesting to target a player like Ward but that the player would still have to be productive on the field.
Dimitroff said the team has not had negotiations with quarterback Matt Ryan, who remains under contract for this season.