Even with the Falcons’ crushing loss to the 49ers in the NFC Championship game last Sunday fresh in everyone’s minds, the the questions surrounding the team’s future are unavoidable. Perhaps the biggest question mark is the tight end situation and whether or not Tony Gonzalez will return for another season. All indications from his postgame comments are that Sunday’s game was the final time he will put on pads despite coming so close to that elusive Super Bowl berth.
With Gonzalez likely calling it a career, it appears that the Falcons may need to find a replacement in free agency or through the draft. The only tight ends under contract right now are Chase Coffman, Tommy Gallarda and Adam Nissley, none of whom appear capable of replacing a future Hall of Famer.
Perhaps one of the biggest reasons the Falcons couldn’t hang on and beat the 49ers was the lack of a run game, which gathered only 81 yards against a tough run defense. Michael Turner clearly isn’t the player he once was, and while the tandem of Jason Snelling and Jacquizz Rodgers showed some flashes of greatness, neither appears ready to shoulder the bulk of the rushing load. Free agency may be the route the Falcons choose to take, but depending on cap space, they may need to take a cheaper option or draft a project such as Marcus Lattimore, who is coming off massive knee surgery, or Kenjon Barner, who was part of the explosive Oregon offense and was among the nation’s rushing leaders. If Atlanta decides to release Turner, along with other high-priced defensive players such as Dunta Robinson, the team may be able to add a player like Rashard Mendenhall, who spent much of this season sharing carries with Jonathan Dwyer after coming back from a multitude of injuries.
DEFENSIVE UPGRADES …
While upgrading the offensive end of the ball is certainly imperative, multiple defensive positions must also be addressed and Thomas Dimitroff is sure to do so in April’s draft, as well as through free agency. The cap space may soon become minimal, though, after quarterback Matt Ryan’s expected lucrative contract is officially signed.
With the Falcons’ strong ownership and management, there is no reason to believe the team will regress, even with the seemingly impossible task of replacing Gonzalez. The team does have options for replacements at multiple positions, and, despite the disappointing end to the season, fans must remember that the core group of players, which includes an elite quarterback and possibly the best receiver duo in the NFL, is still young with plenty of good years ahead.
HAWKS STRIKING POSITIVE NOTE …
With a sub .500 record so far in 2013, many have questioned the Hawks’ ability to sustain their strong play from early in the season. The team just recently received crushing news that guard Lou Williams, who had been a key spark off the bench and had inserted himself into the NBA Sixth Man of the Year conversation, tore his ACL in last week’s loss to the Brooklyn Nets. In wake of the injury the Hawks brought back Jannero Pargo, who spent last season with the team. Pargo fueled a Hawks rally in Monday’s win over the Timberwolves, scoring 16 points in his Hawks return.
While Pargo may not be the long-term answer, a coaching change isn’t the answer either. Larry Drew has these Hawks playing with a team-first mentality, a far cry from the iso-Joe days. Aside from the injuries, which have piled up throughout the team’s first 41 games, Drew’s biggest headache has been Josh Smith, who is likely playing out his final season as a Hawk. If the team is able to make a meaningful deal for Smith that nets Atlanta solid young talent as opposed to expiring contracts, the Hawks should still have enough pieces to make a playoff run.