Early Bird Report: How active do the Falcons need to be in free agency?

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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Today’s Early Bird Report includes Michael Cunningham’s thoughts on why he believes the Falcons still have some holes to fill.

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The official start of the new league year won’t occur until 4 p.m. Wednesday afternoon, at which point a flurry of news is likely to occur as teams can officially agree to deals with free agents.

Some of that news may involve the Falcons, which would likely come as a delight to Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Michael Cunningham. In a column he wrote Monday, Cunningham explained why he felt it would be a mistake for the Falcons to sit out free agency, although he understands the financial restrictions.

“Maybe the Falcons are right to sit out what could be an overheated free agent market,” Cunningham writes. “The reality is their salary-cap crunch didn’t give them much choice. That puts pressure on the team-building duo of Dimitroff and Dan Quinn to find some players in the draft who can help the Falcons now. 

“Quinn and his new-look staff will have to get results with those prospects and the underachieving players already on the roster. The Falcons will have to be healthier in 2019, a factor that mostly is outside of their control. These are the realistic ways for the Falcons to get better because their salary cap is in shoddy shape.” 

It's important to note that Cunningham’s column was written on Monday, because on Tuesday ESPN’s Field Yates reported that the Falcons got creative with Matt Ryan’s contract and may have created more room in the salary cap.

Of course, free agency won’t officially begin for several more hours, so we’ll have to wait and see just how active Atlanta will be.

Here are some other articles for Falcons fans to check out today:

Takk McKinley has some added motivation in 2019

Defensive end Takk McKinley is one of the most entertaining Twitter follows among the Falcons players. On Monday, McKinley tweeted out a bit of personal motivation for his upcoming season:

McKinley has dyed his dreads in past seasons, but now he’s threatening to cut them off if he doesn’t reach his personal goal of at least 10 sacks. That’s not out of the realm of possibility for McKinley, but he would need to turn in a career-best year in the sack category.

As a rookie in 2017, McKinley recorded six sacks. Last season, McKinley upped that number to seven. Is an even bigger jump on the horizon?

AJC: How Brown trade impact Falcons, Julio Jones

As reports surfaced Sunday that Antonio Brown would be traded to the Oakland Raiders at the start of the new league year and renegotiate his contract for a reported three-year deal worth up to $54.125 million with $30.125 million guaranteed, folks in Atlanta naturally began to wonder how the move could impact the Falcons’ talks with Julio Jones.

The team is currently working to renegotiate Jones’ current deal after agreeing prior to the start of the 2018 season to get something worked out this offseason.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s D. Orlando Ledbetter wrote about what the Brown trade could mean for those discussions, including quotes from an interview that CBS Sports NFL business analyst Joel Corry have with 92.9 The Game.

“You can get money from Julio because he’s kind of self-contained.” Corry told 92.9 The Game. “Let’s say you make Julio Jones in terms of new money, tack on $60 million of new money over three years. You take his base salary down to the league minimum and give him a $20 million signing bonus. You can probably pick up for $4 million to $5 million in cap room depending on how you precisely structure it. There are ways to get cap room.”

Corry also explained that given some of the rumored negotiations taking place with other receivers, the Falcons might want to get something done with Jones sooner rather than later. But from Jones’ side, there are reasons to wait on the negotiations, Corry said.

To read all of Ledbetter’s piece on Brown’s impact on the Falcons’ discussions with Jones, click here.

ESPN: Best scheme fits for 25 top 2019 NFL free agents

There’s no telling how active the Falcons will be in free agency this offseason, but there is at least one player who ESPN’s Matt Bowen believes would be a great fit for Atlanta’s defense. Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Kwon Alexander is set to hit the market, and Bowen likes what he would bring to the table in Atlanta.

“Alexander is coming off an ACL injury, and he could re-sign in Tampa. But he's only 24 years old, and he has an intriguing skill set to fit in Atlanta as an off-the-ball linebacker,” Bowen writes. “When healthy, Alexander can get sideline to sideline in a hurry. Run and hit. Plus, he will get home as a second-level blitzer. Alexander would be an upgrade for the Falcons, and his speed would add to Atlanta's sub-package sets.”

To see the rest of Bowen’s ideal scheme fits, click here.

CBS Sports: 10 under-the-radar players who could make a difference

The Falcons aren’t expected to have a ton of money to throw around in free agency, but there could be some smaller moves that make that will still have an impact. CBS Sports’ Pete Prisco put together a list of 10 possible impact players who may be flying under the radar. There are four defensive linemen on Prisco’s list, an area the Falcons could be looking to address.

To see Prisco’s list, click here.

CBS Sports: Ranking 11 landing spots for Earl Thomas

Seahawks safety Earl Thomas is expected to become a free agent this week, and the conversations about where he should end up have already begun. The Falcons were ranked fourth on a list of 11 possible landing spots by CBS Sports’ Sean Wagner-McGough, and it’s easy to see why a reunion with Dan Quinn in Atlanta would be fun to imagine.

“Pairing Thomas with Keanu Neal, who could be deployed closer to the line of scrimmage, would give the Falcons the best safety tandem in the league,” Wagner-McGough writes. “It would also reunite Thomas with Dan Quinn, who got the Falcons job after his work as the Seahawks' defensive coordinator. The only problem? The Falcons have roughly $7.5 million in available cap space this year.”

Wagner-McGough cites the Falcons’ lack of cap space as a prohibitor for signing Thomas, but the team also has starting safety Ricardo Allen returning from a season-ending injury. To read the rest of Wagner-McGough’s ranking, click here.

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