Defensive Departures Mark Day 1 for Falcons

Defensive Departures Mark Day 1 for Falcons

Under any circumstances, the Atlanta Falcons knew that they would be trotting out a very different defense in 2009. Before free agency even opened on Friday morning, at least four Atlanta defenders were on point for new surroundings.

  • Linebacker Keith Brooking voided his contract based on incentives and will test the free agent market. Brooking has been a leader for a long time, but the team wants to get faster on the outside and Curtis Lofton's ascent left Brooking as the odd man out.

  • Linebacker Michael Boley has signed a five-year deal with the New York Giants. Last year, Boley was benched on first- and second-down situations on favor of Coy Wire. There was no way he was coming back.

  • On Friday, cornerback Domonique Foxworth signed a four-year, $27.2 million contract with $16.5 million guaranteed with the Baltimore Ravens. Foxworth was an important part of the Falcons' defense when he started at left cornerback over the second half of the season after a trade from Denver, but the Falcons may be looking to spend their money elsewhere. If the money was even or close, Foxworth was going to return to his native Maryland.

  • Last week, the Falcons informed safety Lawyer Milloy that they would not be pursuing him as a future concern. Milloy provided great leadership, but he had also lost at least a step and was famously burned by Anquan Boldin in the Falcons' playoff loss to the Arizona Cardinals. Making a public scene about his contract, and his dissatisfaction that he was making less than kicker Jason Elam, didn't help matters. This is another position at which the Falcons hope to get faster -- most likely in the draft, though the re-signing of Jamaal Fudge gives them an option.

Where do they go from here?

Brooking may come back in a reserve role if he can't get starting time and money, but let's say that the outside linebacker positions are both wide open. Converted safety Nic Harris of Oklahoma received serious interest from the Falcons' braintrust at the Senior Bowl and the Combine -- Atlanta had a formal interview with him last week in Indianapolis.  Not surprising there, since NFLDraftScout.com compares him to Boley.

The market for outside 'backers is stocked this year -- from Wake Forest's Aaron Curry, to the USC kids Brian Cushing and Clay Matthews, Jr., to small-school star Larry English of Northern Illinois, or even Cincinnati jack of all trades Connor Barwin, there are numerous options in the draft.

Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff made it very clear at the Combine that his team was not going to go nuts in free agency, specifically building the team through the draft.

"Last year, it was no surprise, we spent a lot of time and a lot of money in the draft and free agency on our offense," he said. "Obviously, we'll be focusing on both sides of the ball with an emphasis on defense as well. I do want to make a statement that again, at the outset of taking the job over in Atlanta I made the statement where we will definitely try to build through the draft and be mindful of free agency to supplement. I would suggest now that our focus is not to be a major player in free agency, but to be focused on this process here and try to get young and energetic, fiery football players that we can continue to build with and get youth on our team heading in the right direction."

The secondary options in the draft are just as appealing. From big safety-style defenders like Ohio State's Malcolm Jenkins to the versatile Vontae Davis of Illinois to speedburner Darius Butler of UConn, you can have whatever kind of cornerback you want. Dimitroff's Combine comments about safeties indicated a bad fit with Milloy going forward and set up the future of the secondary.

"We just used to look for that tough hombre, that strong safety," Dimitroff said. "The guy that is going to step up there and fill the hole, real strong. A 220-pound-plus guy. Now, ideally we'd like to get to a situation where you have interchangeable safeties. Maybe one guy is the strong safety, but you can flip it. There is a lot of variety in your coverages. I think it's something that usually will keep the offenses guessing. I'm a lot more apt to evaluate a player with the ability to cover as well as have the ability to come up and stick his nose in there and be an aggressive run stopper guy.

"There are some great ones out there in Troy Polamulu and Ed Reed. Those guys are great football players, who set the benchmark. It's not easy to find those guys year-in and year-out. But those are the type of guys that we are looking for ultimately at the safety position." Western Michigan's Louis Delmas is probably the most intriguing option, though it's not a star-studded safety class this year and this is one position where the Falcons might look to augment through free agency.

Could there be arrivals for the Falcons in Day 2 of free agency after all those recent departures? Stay tuned to Falcon Insider to find out!


Doug Farrar is the Publisher of FalconInsider.com. You can also find his work on Football Outsiders, ESPN.com, the Washington Post, and the Seattle Times. Feel free to contact Doug here.

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