Early Bird Report 2/19: PFF's dream free agent signing for Falcons; NFL's top 10 priorities

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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Today's Early Bird Report includes Pro Football Focus' look at free agency for the Falcons as well as 10 offseason priorities for the NFL.

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Pro Football Focus: Atlanta Falcons 2018 free agency preview

While some hold Pro Football Focus in higher regard than others as a tool for evaluating what occurs on the field in the NFL, the website has proven it has a good pulse on each team around the league. Recently, PFF published its free agency previews, which include a player each team must re-sign as well as a dream free agent signing.

For the Falcons, PFF named safety Ricardo Allen as the player who must be brought back. Allen enters this offseason as a restricted free agent, giving the Falcons plenty of leverage to bring him back, and he is a veteran leader who has a big role at the back end of Atlanta's rising defense. A fifth-rounder in the 2014 NFL Draft, Allen has improved greatly since Dan Quinn's arrival in 2015, and PFF notes that he led all safeties with 71 coverage snaps played per reception allowed.

As far as the dream free agent signing, PFF says the Falcons should target offensive guard Andrew Norwell. A First-Team All-Pro last season, Norwell has become one of the top guards in the league since signing with the Carolina Panthers in 2014. Here is what PFF has to say about Norwell:

"PFF's All-Pro left guard this past season, Norwell has quietly become one of the few premier guards in this league, notching 82.0-plus overall grades in all four years of his career and capping his strong start off with a career-high 88.8 overall grade in his contract year. The former undrafted free agent has far exceeded expectations since signing with Carolina in 2014, all while playing at least 800 offensive snaps in all four seasons. Most recently, Norwell ranked No. 2 among qualifying guards in PFF's pass-blocking efficiency (98.3), allowing only 13 quarterback hurries on 564 pass-block snaps during the regular season. He was also the only guard with at least 200 pass-block snaps to not allow a hit or sack in 2017. Norwell matches his efforts in pass protection in the run game, earning the fourth-lowest percentage of negatively graded blocks among qualifying guards last season."

Guard is regarded as one of the Falcons' biggest needs entering the offseason as starting left guard Andy Levitre missed the end of the season due to injury and both Wes Schweitzer and Ben Garland had lapses throughout their first season playing a major role on the offensive line. Atlanta might get into a bidding war for Norwell, however, as several teams have already made their interest in him public. Of course, it's also possible the Panthers choose to use their franchise tag on him for next season.   

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BIGGEST NEWS FROM AROUND THE NFL

ESPN: The NFL's top 10 offseason priorities include the catch rule

The NFL has become a target for many complaints over the past several years, and the grievances span a wide spectrum of issues. With the offseason upon us, ESPN's Kevin Seifert broke down the 10 subjects that should be the top offseason priorities for the NFL.

At the top of Seifert's list is the league's concussion protocol, which has become an important issue as more information has come to light about the impact football has on a player's mental health. Next, Seifert says the NFL must come to a unified decision about the league's anthem policy, a topic that became a major topic of discussion last season.

As for the on-field rules the NFL should look into, Seifert doesn't want to see the catch rule be made any worse. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has already said the catch rule will be an offseason priority, but Seifert warns there could be unintended consequences if there isn't a clear understanding of how to differentiate between a catch, an incompletion and a fumble. Next, he'd like to see a re-standardization of replay. Throughout the course of the season, there appeared to be some inconsistencies with how official interpreted replays. In order to improve the game and possibly shorten the replay time, there must be a uniform understanding on various replay situations.

To read the rest of Seifert's list, click here.  

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