FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Today's Early Bird Report includes a look at the current status of the NFC South after free agency and where the Falcons factor in.
The Falcons missed the playoffs for the first time in three seasons in 2018, so what will it take for them to get back there?
NFL.com's Herbie Teope analyzed the NFC South in a recent piece, detailing the additions and losses in free agency and the status of each team's current roster.
"The Falcons did a good job of bolstering depth within the offensive line by signing guards James Carpenter, Jamon Brown and Adam Gettis," Teope writes of Atlanta. "Defensively, though, the Falcons need to shore up the edges given the losses of Bruce Irvin (Panthers) and Brooks Reed (Cardinals). Adding a defensive tackle to help Grady Jarrett certainly wouldn't hurt, as would an injection of more talent at the cornerback position given the departures of Robert Alford (Cardinals) and Brian Poole (Jets). They have the draft capital to address those needs, with nine total picks. Outside of the draft, the Falcons are making progress on long-term deals for Jarrett, who received the franchise tag, and wide receiver Julio Jones."
To see what else Teope had to say about the division, click here.
Here are some other articles for Falcons fans to check out today:
CBS Sports: What Julio Jones' extension could look like
Atlanta is actively trying to get a contract extension done for Julio Jones, and it's reasonable to believe that deal could make him the highest paid receiver in the NFL. CBS Sports' Joel Corry, a former sports agent, explained in a recent article what Jones' new deal could look like and how it would compare to some other notable receiver contracts.
While Odell Beckham Jr. is currently the top-paid receiver in the league, Corry is more interested in breaking down Antonio Brown's contract in relation to the deal Jones might receive. Corry goes into great detail on how things might shake out, but he does see a big pay day coming for Jones.
"It would be a surprise if Jones didn't become the NFL's highest-paid wide receiver notwithstanding him downplaying the significance," Corry writes. "Jones isn't showing any signs of slowing down, although he is now 30. He can make a compelling case that he is the league's best wide receiver based on his production and accomplishments in recent years."
To see what else Corry has to say about Jones' contract negotiations as well has his projections for how they might pan out, click here.
ESPN: Julio Jones a star 'on and off the field'
There's been plenty of discussion about whether or not Julio Jones will become the highest paid receiver in the NFL once he and the Falcons come to an agreement on a contract extension. ESPN's Max Kellerman explained in a recent video that while he believes Odell Beckham Jr. and Antonio Brown are equally as talented as Jones, the Falcons have a player who causes no problems off the field.
"Is there ever a problem from Julio Jones, ever? He just puts his head down and works," Kellerman said. "Even when it comes to his contract, 'Lots of ways to get paid. We've got to keep this team together. I'll get my money, there's lots of ways to get paid.' This is the guy you want on your team. He is a player without a weakness on and off the field."
To see the rest of what Kellerman had to say about Jones and his lack of weaknesses on and off the field, click here.
AJC: Who will be at Falcons' locals day?
The Falcons will hold their locals day on Friday, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's D. Orlando Ledbetter is compiling a list of those who will be in attendance. Among those who are expected to be in Flowery Branch on Friday is former Auburn wide receiver Darius Slayton.
Slayton, who attended Greater Atlanta Christian prior to joining the Tigers, had 79 receptions for 1,605 yards and 11 touchdowns during his career at Auburn. Notably, he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.39 seconds at the NFL Combine.
To see who else is expected to show up at the Falcons' locals day, click here.
NFL.com: Eight first-round draft trades that should happen
Falcons general manager is not afraid to make a trade during draft weekend. In fact, he's made one every single year he's been in Atlanta.
The Falcons are in the market for a pass rusher, but it's possible the guy(s) they have their eye on won't be there at No. 14. NFL.com's Chad Reuter wrote about eight trades that teams should make during the first round of this year's draft, and he has the Falcons trading with the Lions to move up to No. 8.
"The Falcons reportedly interviewed defensive tackles Dexter Lawrence, Ed Oliver and Christian Wilkinsat the NFL Scouting Combine," Reuter writes. "General manager Thomas Dimitroff is not shy about moving up in the draft to get the player he wants (see: Julio Jones). Adding a playmaker next to franchised starter Grady Jarrett gives him a great duo in 2019 and beyond -- or maybe an insurance policy if Jarrett leaves as a free agent next year. Dimitroff will likely have to give up a 2020 second- or third-round pick and one or both of their mid-round free-agent compensatory selections in this year's draft (which are now tradable). The Lions met their primary need by signing Trey Flowers via free agency and could still pick up another defensive end to replace Kerry Hyder with the 14th pick (or a corner, safety or tight end) if they so desire."
To read about the rest of Reuter's draft-night trades, click here.
ESPN: 2019 NFL Power Rankings: Post-free agency status report
Free agency, for the most part, is over with. This year's free agency period drastically altered the NFL landscape with big names such as Antonio Brown and Odell Beckham Jr. swapping teams. But how have those types of moves affected the league's hierarchy?
ESPN released a new batch of power rankings after free agency, reflecting the shifting opinions on certain teams. The Falcons, however, did not benefit from this offseason. Atlanta is ranked No. 17 in the latest ESPN power rankings with Vaughn McClure providing "On the line" as his three-words-or-less description for the team.
"Those words can be interpreted in different ways," McClure writes. "First and foremost, it's an important fifth season for head coach Dan Quinn, who put the burden on himself by taking over as the defensive playcaller. Consecutive playoffless seasons wouldn't bode well for Quinn or general manager Thomas Dimitroff. And any hope of being in contention starts with improving talent up front on both the offensive and defensive lines, something the Falcons addressed a bit in free agency but need to revisit via the draft."
To see the rest of ESPN's power rankings, click here.
CBS Sports: Re-grading the 2016 NFL Draft
It didn't take long for fans in Atlanta to realize the Falcons' 2016 draft class was special. That class played a pivotal role in helping the Falcons reach the Super Bowl, and it has produced three Pro Bowlers to date.
At the time those players were drafted, CBS Sports' Pete Prisco gave the class a "B" grade. Seeing some of the egg on his face, Prisco switched that mark in a recent re-grading of the 2016 draft. The Falcons were one of just three teams to earn an "A+" from Prisco this time around.
"The Falcons had a heck of a draft in 2016," Prisco writes. "They landed safety Keanu Neal, one of their defensive leaders in the first round. Then they followed that up by getting three more starters in second-round linebacker Deion Jones, third-round tight end Austin Hooper and fourth-round linebacker De'Vondre Campbell. That's a haul, even if Neal and Jones missed significant time with injuries last year."
The two other NFL teams that joined the Falcons in earning an "A+" from Prisco were the Cincinnati Bengals and the Dallas Cowboys. To see the rest of Prisco's grades, click here.