Questions about the Falcons' needs, free agency, the draft, contracts and 2018 outlook

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Welcome to Straight from the 'Beek! The players have cleared out their lockers and the Falcons are in full offseason mode – but you've still got plenty of questions. So, let's get to them. Just remember, all opinions you see in this space are mine, unless otherwise noted.

And we're off.

Jim from Townsend, TN

Great, great column! Your objective outlook at the state of the Falcons is refreshing, just what we need to get through this off-season. I agree that offensive line is our top priority, right after signing Matt Ryan to a new deal. What do you think about the kid from Army, Brett Toth? Incredible size, speed and technique. If we could grab him in a later round, we could add some future insurance for a few years down the road. Any free agent OL that catches your eye?

Matt: Thanks, Jim! Appreciate that. You guys – the readers and fans – just want honest opinions, and that's something I will always give you every day. A quick note about Matt Ryan's contract – in case you missed it, Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff said the team's No. 1 priority during the offseason is getting Ryan a new deal that will also help create flexibility. Regarding Brett Toth, the offensive lineman from Army, I've only watched Army play once this past season but I've read on him some. I know he's big – he measures in at 6-foot-5, 304 pounds – and he's athletic. He's listed as a tackle, but it looks like he could play guard as well. My first question with Toth, though, is about his military commitment and how he'll work that out. As far as NFL linemen who could hit the open market, two come to mind – guard Andrew Norwell and tackle Nate Solder. I'm starting to do a lot of my research on both draft prospects and potential free agents, so be sure to hit me back in a week or two.


Gary from Salem, VA

Matt, one thing I really enjoy about this column is not only the different perspectives that fans are voicing, but also where they are originating! Seriously, you have created a following that has not only gone across the nation, but globally. As we use to say in the Army, "job well done." Now on to my question, who are the free agents this year and what do the different types of free agent classifications mean? Restricted FA, transition tag. etc?

Matt: Thank you, sir. I appreciate that – and, to be honest with you, I get a kick out of seeing where the questions come in from as well. Coming from CBS Sports I'm certainly used to more of a national audience, but it's good to see that there are so many Falcons fans out there. Hopefully we can reach even more in Year 2. We will, with the help of you – the readers. As far as which players are free agents heading into the offseason and 2018 season, the list is a lengthy one for all 32 teams. My advice is check out this sortable list of 2018 NFL free agents provided by Pro Football Focus. You can sort them by team and find all of the Falcons players there, too. Without getting too technical, there are three types of free agents – unrestricted, restricted and exclusive rights. Here's a real basic description of each. An unrestricted free agent can sign with whatever team he chooses. A restricted free agent can be offered three pre-determined one-year contracts. Now, another team can come in and beat the offer, but the original team can match it (and can get a draft pick if the player is signed away). An exclusive rights free agent can be offered a low-cost, one-year contract by his current team. The player has to accept it and cannot be signed away from other teams if offered the deal – so he's not really what you'd call "free." Hope that all makes sense.


Katy from Jacksonville, FL

Hi Beek! I enjoy reading your column every single day. What three free agents from our team would you have our team re-sign this year? Also, Coach Quinn has said his top priority will be to extend Matt Ryan's contract, how long and how much will our team sign him for?

Matt: Wow, lots to chew on there. But, first, thanks for reading every single day, Katy. That's awesome! As far as the Falcons re-signing players, well, since you didn't give me a number (or any sort of parameters), I'll pick five platers I'd definitely like to see back – Matt Bryant, Dontari Poe, Courtney Upshaw, Adrian Clayborn and Ricardo Allen (who is a restricted free agent, by the way). If you'd like one more, I'll go with Taylor Gabriel.


Gibran from Chesapeake, VA

Hey, Matt. Is there a chance we actually draft a fast – and I mean a guy who runs a 4.3 or a 4.2 in the 40-yard dash – to return punts and kickoffs? Because we haven't had the fastest guys returning the last couple years. For instance, Andre Roberts, Eric Weems, Jacquizz Rodgers. Those guys aren't the fastest.

Matt: Andre Roberts is another one of those free agents, so we'll have to see what the Falcons do there. But, certainly, that's an area on special teams they could look to improve – and it's one where a rookie or young player with great speed can make an immediate impact and contribution. Stay tuned, Gibran.


Josh from Marietta, GA

Do you think the defense will be a little more aggressive next year? I can count on both hands how much they blitzed this year. I think if we rush more than four a little bit more, we can be a top-five defense.

Matt: Well, you know as well as I do, Josh, that downs and situations often dictate those kind of calls, so there's no way for me for to sit here and say definitively that you can expect the Falcons to blitz more. However, with so many young players on defense who continue to grow, evolve and become more comfortable – making that jump from Year 1 to Year 2 as well as the jump from Year 3 to Year 4 – you'd expect them to play more instinctively and think less. And that, Josh, usually results in an even quicker defense that can be more aggressive at times.


Tim from Greensboro, NC

Hey Beek, first time writer. I wanted to say, didn't they cut RB Brian Hill? And also, is it not awesome to see QB coach Greg Knapp back on our sidelines?! I'm so pumped for next season. RISE UP, MY FELLOW BROTHERHOOD!

Matt: Hey, Tim. You're probably referring to the question on Monday about drafting a running back and mentioned that the Falcons drafted Hill in the fifth round last April. The Bengals signed Hill off the Falcons practice squad last season. Regarding the addition of Knapp, I've received a few emails already from fans excited about the new QB coach. He's worked with Matt Schaub in the past as well as Peyton Manning – so it's easy to see why fans are juiced up over him joining the coaching staff.


Jeff from Marietta, GA

You do the best job I've ever seen in keeping a forum like this one going. You demonstrate your interest in the game and the Falcons without becoming a total shill for the marketing department. So says a Falcon die-hard fan of 52 years. Thank you.

Matt: Well, I really appreciate the kind words, Jeff! I try to keep it real and honest – and all about football here. I'm glad longtime fans like yourself can see that. The Falcons are lucky to have you cheering for them.


Gary from LaGrange, GA

Do you think we could sign Jimmy Graham at tight end? He sure would help.

Matt: Hey, Gary. Well, I won't say no because, I guess, anything is possible. But, it would be extremely surprising if they did. I know Falcons fans are extremely familiar with Graham and his talents – and I get all the questions. But he likely won't come cheap and I think the team has some more pressing needs, but that's just my opinion.


Barry from Lake Kiowa, TX

Hello, Matt. Just curious re: the coaching staff. If Keith Armstrong moves on, is there any replacement prospects coming in you can share? Also, heard rumor that Bryan Cox could be coming back to the Falcons?

Matt: Hey, Barry. All I know regarding Armstrong is that he had a second interview with the Arizona Cardinals but they ended up hiring Steve Wilks from the Carolina Panthers. Regarding any rumors of Bryan Cox returning, well, those are just rumors. I've not heard a single word about that – and not sure where you read or saw that.


Dan from Oxford, AL

Hi, Matt. Do you think the Falcons might consider Da'Ron Payne from Alabama as a draft pick? Also, is Matt Bryant a free agent this year? Thanks for your forum and go Falcons!

Matt: Hey, Dan. I'm not privy to the Falcons draft board, but it wouldn't surprise if Payne wasn't on it somewhere fairly high – as well as on a lot of other teams' boards. He's certainly one of the higher-rated defensive tackles, so he'll get plenty of consideration. Yes, Bryant is a free agent. And thanks again for reading, Dan!


Arlen from Kennesaw, GA

More of a statement than a question. Probably as hard on Sark as anybody, but the way the Eagles handled the Vikings in the NFC championship was enough for me to support Sark through another season. We scored more points against Philly than the Vikings and our defense played much better against Philly. Good column. Keep it up.

Matt: Thanks for reading, Arlen. Yes, the Falcons played a much more competitive game against the Eagles – and it's easy to start playing the "what if" game. But it's always best to look forward, not into the rearview mirror.


Barry from High Point, NC

Hey, Beek. Well, the water has fallen on the floor and I have made the same proclamation that I have every year since 1966, "Wait till next year!" So I guess, for me, the season is officially over. Now on to other important issues. I like your first-round pick of defensive line in the draft but maybe an offensive guard with the second pick. However, all bets would be off if we could snatch up a good kick/punt returner. It has been a long time since we watched one of our boys run one back. It gets a little frustrating.

Matt: Hey, Barry. I've made my feelings known – I'd love to see the Falcons bolster their offensive and defensive lines (in that order). I wouldn't burn a high draft pick on a returner though. I mean, I don't see a Tim Brown in this draft, do you?


Eric from Atlanta, GA

Hey, Matt. Based on what I saw this year I think we need to address both lines in the draft and free agency. More specifically, I think if there is a good free agent right guard out there, I say get him. And I think Dontari Poe is good for now but think that they should boost the D-line in the draft, or maybe get a few more linebackers to help Deion Jones. Do you think Matt Ryan will take a 'hometown discount' to help our efforts in re-signing unrestricted free agents on our team? And what moves do you think Thomas Dimitroff will make in free agency/draft? Thanks!

Matt: Yes, I think – and Dimitroff has stated – that whatever they end up doing with Ryan, it will help the team be more flexible with the salary cap. I, too, would like to see the continue to build through the draft vs. going after a big name in free agency. As far as who they might target in free agency, Eric, I'm not sure at this point. It'll depend on the strengths of this draft class and where the real value is in free agency. Right now the team is in the midst of evaluating every single player on the roster.


Valerie from Midway, GA

Not so much of a question but more of a statement. Very impressed with the Falcons especially after NFC championship game on Sunday. Just wanted to say thanks for another exciting year and for all of their hard work. Also, thank you for the column SFTB.

Matt: The Falcons didn't finish where they wanted to, but it was still a good year. And thank you for reading, Valerie. I really appreciate the kind words – and glad you enjoy it. Look forward to hearing back form you during the offseason.


James from Decatur, GA

The pain has subsided a bit – has been here since '66. Just three more months to go before my juices start to flow ready to get on that horse again and ride it out to the end this time hoping for the win! I'm ready for next year to start!

Matt: Well, alrighty, James. Giddy-up and let's do this!


Dave from Camden, NJ

What up, Beek. I'm pretty pissed we missed out on a chance at rematch against the champs but my question is, how do you feel about bringing Greg Knapp on board and do you feel this year was a success even though we struggled through out?

Matt: I think the move to bring in Greg Knapp, a veteran quarterbacks coach who has worked with Quinn in the past as well as some very good veteran quarterbacks, was a solid move. But time will answer that question, Dave. And, yes, I thought it was a successful year. The Falcons were the only NFC team to return to the playoffs from a year ago, so it shows you how tough it is year and year out. Yes, they did not reach their ultimate goal, but only team does each year.

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