The Falcons will fine-tune their free agency shopping list later today, depending on what potential free agents are given the franchise tag by their current teams. One of the highest profile players available will be defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who will not be tagged by the Detroit Lions.
Do I think the Falcons will go after Suh? No. He may end up with the richest contract for a defensive player in the NFL: in the nice neighborhood of $18 million a season for six years. That would total $104 million, with likely $50-to-$60 million guaranteed.
Suh’s a great player (36 sacks, 15 knocked down passes, 181 tackles in five years from the defensive tackle position) But he’s also a bit of a kook and isn’t known for being a great leader. The biggest issue where the Falcons are concerned, however, is that’s he’s far too big of a financial commitment to expect the team to make given the number positions they need to upgrade: defensive end, outside linebacker, offensive line (particularly center), running back, tight end.
There’s no question Suh would make them better. But they would have to fill other voids with draft picks and low-level free agents. With Matt Ryan playing under a five-year deal worth $103.75 million deal and wide receiver Julio Jones expected to receive a major extension, Suh’s signing also would mean a significant portion of the salary cap would be occupied by three players.
So what direction will the Falcons go? I mentioned a few names here, depending on franchise tags later today. But some to think about: New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (who’s expected to be tagged). Buffalo defensive end Jerry Hughes (uncertain if he will be tagged), Pittsburgh outside linebacker Jason Worilds (won’t be tagged), Tennessee defensive end Derrick Morgan (formerly of Georgia Tech).
UPDATE: For a complete recap of “tagged” players and some standouts left untagged, see below.
If the Falcons try to get pass rush help in the draft, they’ll want to know pretty soon whether the NFL is taking away a pick for piping fake noise through the public address system at home games. It was a humiliating story that broke Super Bowl week, and owner Arthur Blank said he was “embarrassed and angered” when he found out about the investigation last November.
There has been unsourced media speculation that the Falcons will be hit with a significant penalty — possibly a second-round pick. My sense all along was that it would be a low-round selection, if anything, but the fact the investigation has gone on this long makes you wonder. (An NFL spokesman said via email Monday he didn’t know when an announcement would be made.)
But this seems certain: If the Falcons get hit with a high draft pick, it’s doubtful the league will have found a rogue stadium employee as the only culpable party. Losing a high draft pick usually suggests somebody high up the food chain is being held partially responsible for the actions.
Here’s a list of “tagged” players and some top players left “untagged,” via NFL.com.
Justin Houston, Kansas City Chiefs, linebacker: The NFL’s leading sack-man with 22 in 2014 will remain under Andy Reid’s guidance. Just 26, Houston has made three straight Pro Bowls and was the key to the Chiefs’ front-seven dominance last year. The linebacker won’t sign the tag ($13.195 million) right away, NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reports.
Demaryius Thomas, Denver Broncos, wide receiver: The wideout earned 469 targets, 297 receptions, 4,483 yards, 15.1 yards per reception and 35 touchdowns over the past three seasons with Peyton Manning at the helm. Keeping him in Denver was the Broncos’ offseason priority. Now they hope to use the ($12.823 million) tag leverage to get a long-term deal done.
Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys, wide receiver: A long-term deal will be tricky to work out, but Jerry Jones made it clear he would never let Bryant walk away. This means that DeMarco Murray should hit free agency and will probably leave Dallas.
Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants, defensive end: Rapoport broke the news that JPP will remain a Giant. Tagging him will cost the Giants $14.813 million, so they will desperately try to work out a long-term contract. Observers slept on Pierre-Paul’s quietly excellent 2014 campaign which included dominant run-stopping play. The Giants know how valuable he is.
Stephen Gostkowski, New England Patriots, kicker: Rapoport reported that the Patriots have franchise tagged Gostkowski. His tag carries a $4.56 million figure.
Charles Clay, Miami Dolphins, tight end: Clay received the Dolphins’ transition tag, the team announced. Clay will receive $7.071 million under the under the transition tag. Clay can sign an offer sheet with any team he wants, but the Dolphins will have the right to match any contract.
Ndamukong Suh, Detroit Lions, defensive tackle: In the end the $26.8 million tag number proved too rich for the Lions’ brass. Suh will be the rare Hall-of-Fame-caliber player to hit free agency in his prime. Jockeying for his services should thrust his contract north of the six-year, $100 million deal J.J. Watt signed.
Julius Thomas, Denver Broncos, tight end: By tagging Demaryius Thomas, the Broncos will allow the tight end to test free agency. Many teams are said to be interested in pursuing the uber-athletic pass catcher. His market will likely price him out of Denver.
DeMarco Murray, Dallas Cowboys, running back: The Cowboys will find out if it was their offensive line or Murray that truly made their running game roll in 2014. He’s likely to get paid more elsewhere.
Devin McCourty, New England Patriots, safety: Following the Patriots’ decision to franchise tag Gostkowski, McCourty will likely hit the free agent market.
Randall Cobb, Green Bay Packers, wide receiver: The Packers have plenty of cap space and want to retain the shifty receiver, but not at the $12.823 million level. Cobb will be the top free agent target for receiver-needy teams.
Jeremy Maclin, Philadelphia Eagles, wide receiver: Maclin bet on himself last year and it paid off. The receiver is confident a deal could get done in Philly — an offense that might be his best fit — however he could find interest from teams like the Chiefs who have a need at the position and a connection with Andy Reid.
Jerry Hughes, Buffalo Bills, defensive lineman: A top-10 free agent on our 101 list, Hughes has averaged 10.0 sacks and 40 quarterback hurries over the past two years. He should get plenty of attention on the open market.
Jordan Cameron, Cleveland Browns, tight end: Cameron has concussion questions to answer, but is the next best available tight end after Julius Thomas to hit the open market without strings attached.
•Some recent ramblings from the digital jukebox
— AJC: Falcons’ payroll slash continues — Blalock, Douglas released — AJC: Steven Jackson expected to be missing piece, but he wasn’t — MyAJC: Can Kevin Seitzer avoid being Braves’ next scapegoat — AJC: Freeman on ’14 roster: Heyward leading off not well-constructed lineup — MyAJC: By any name, Braves need a different Upton — AJC: How long should Braves give Upton to show improvement? — MyAJC: Braves have issues but McDowell not one of them — AJC: I still can’t talk to Roger McDowell without thinking of ‘The Second Spitter’ — AJC: Poll: Are expectations for Braves too low, high or about right? — MyAJC: Will Gonzalez be given some latitude during Braves’ rebuilding? — MyAJC: Falcons’ roster gutting could have big names — AJC: Data show Falcons got least (10-22) from most ($279.3 million) — MyAJC: Georgia shows why we still can’t assume success — AJC: Are Hawks getting Ray Allen? Odds site makes them favorite — MyAJC: Private agendas still at play in Hawks’ offices — AJC: Tiger Woods seems in danger of missing Masters (again) — AJC: Trade likely means Hawks are planning for something — MyAJC: Kyle Shanahan, the coach’s son, has absorbed a lot of jabs — AJC: Greg Hardy skates (and is he worth the risk for Falcons)? — MyAJC: Hawks’ deadline move wouldn’t hurt chemistry — AJC: Tech doing just fine, recruiting rankings notwithstanding — MyAJC: Dan Quinn’s ascent to top job was years in making — AJC: Forget trade talk — Dan Quinn wants Julio Jones on his team — AJC: Falcons need players but Dan Quinn is a good start — MyAJC: Tom Brady takes the air out of critics in Super Bowl