FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Happy New League Year, everybody! Today's Early Bird Report includes reactions from the Falcons' signing of guard Brandon Fusco as well as some of the surprises from the start of free agency.
FALCONS HEADLINES FROM AROUND THE COUNTRY
ESPN: Guard Brandon Fusco should start right away
The Falcons made their first outside acquisition in free agency Wednesday, signing former San Francisco 49ers guard Brandon Fusco to a 3-year deal. With experience playing in a very similar offensive scheme last season, Fusco should get up to speed very quickly with the Falcons.
In reviewing the move, ESPN's Vaughn McClure gave the Falcons a "B-minus" grade and says Fusco can step in immediately as the starter.
"A guy who has played 4,731 career snaps isn't coming in to sit the bench," McClure writes. "Although the Falcons liked Wes Schweitzer's effort last season in his first year starting at right guard, Schweitzer is viewed more as a quality backup. The 6-foot-4, 306-pound Fusco, who started at right guard for the 49ers last season, can step right in and help upgrade the run game. Now the Falcons likely will address another need, such as defensive line, wide receiver or perhaps tight end, in the early stages of the draft."
McClure notes that the concern with Fusco is in pass protection. According to Pro Football Focus, Fusco surrendered 29 pressures last season, but he did show improvement, allowing just eight pressures in the final eight games of 2017.
Andy Levitre and Wes Schweitzer, last year's starting guards, will return to the Falcons next season, and Ben Garland was given a second-round tender earlier this week. The addition of Fusco gives Atlanta another capable veteran to evaluate and add to the mix, but it is likely too early to pencil in a starter just yet.
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BIGGEST NEWS FROM AROUND THE NFL
NFL.com: Biggest surprises as the league year begins
Wednesday marked the start of the new league year in the NFL, and the first time that teams could officially announce trades and free agent signings. This year saw a flurry of reports surface on Monday and Tuesday during the league's 48-hour legal tampering period, which left Wednesday feeling a bit anticlimactic.
Nevertheless, there were several unforeseen occurrences that took place, and NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal broke them down.
Atop his list wasn't a signing at all, but rather Joe Thomas' announcement that he would be retiring from football. Thomas started in every game he played during his 11-year career and is considered one of the top offensive tackles in NFL history. The six-time All-Pro was a joy to watch, and he will be missed.
The next subject Rosenthal mentions is that defensive back Tyrann Mathieu and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh remain available, headlining the crop of free agents on the market for Day 2. Both players are expected to seek top dollar, and they should have plenty of suitors.
Former Vikings running back Jerick McKinnon cashed in on Wednesday, signing a four-year, $30 million contract that includes nearly $12 million in guaranteed money. The $7.5 million per-year average makes him the fourth-highest paid running back in the league.
To see all of Rosenthal's thoughts from the start of the league year, click here.
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