With the bulk of free agency now out of the way, the 2011 roster is finally beginning to take on a solid shape. The Falcons, in typical Dimitroff fashion, made one big signing in Ray Edwards, but otherwise tried to keep the Falcons' own free agents. Fortunately the team doesn't look too different from the Falcons roster that went 13-3 last season.
Actually, in many ways this year's roster is better than last year's version, with quite a few high potential players that will alter the course of the whole season. Let's take a look:
New Arrivals: Like I said, Edwards is the big one. In fact, he's the only non-Falcon veteran that's been brought into Atlanta this offseason. He'll get the bulk of the snaps at LE opposite from Abe, and hopefully the consistency he brings will bolster the Falcons pass rush in 2011. Ten sacks from Edwards wouldn't be unreasonable.
And, of course, as far as rookies go I've discussed their respective roles on the Falcons in detail already. However, it's also worth noting that after seeing Julio Jones in person, I'm willing to bet he could double as a linebacker. He's absolutely huge.
The Falcons also have signed over 23 undrafted free agents. I've already mentioned a few I like to beat the odds and make the roster, including Adam Froman and Paul Fenaroli. However, with such a short training camp these rookies' chances will likely all come down to how they perform in the preseason games.
Departures: In a move to free up cap space, the team cut Michael Jenkins and Jamaal Anderson last week. While I thought Jenkins could still be valuable to the team, the presence of Julio would likely have limited Jenkins' ability to be on the field too much to justify his $5M salary.
The only major player the Falcons couldn't keep was Harvey Dahl, who went to the Rams. Jerious Norwood also went to the Rams, and the team lost a few other small pieces in Finneran and Brian Williams. Michael Koenen also went to the Bucs on a reasonable(?) six year, $19M contract. Fortunately, the Falcons have potential replacements on the roster at all of these positions.
Outlook: The roster really doesn't look too different from the one that went 13-3 last season, and that's probably a good thing. The Falcons addressed their three biggest needs this offseason as well: pass rusher (Edwards), big play wide receiver (Jones) and speedy running back (Rodgers).
If the team can manage to bring Snelling back, that would make an already dangerous offense even better. 2010 produced six Pro Bowlers on the Falcons offense, and this season they should yet again be the unit that carries this team. Roddy White has already broken out the "greatest show on turf" comparison.
However, you simply cannot overlook a defense loaded with as much young talent as this Falcons group. Biermann, Jerry, Peters, Weatherspoon, Lofton, DeCoud, and Moore were all drafted in 2008 or later. Add in established veterans John Abraham and Dunta Robinson and Brian VanGorder has one potentially fantastic group at his disposal.
If the Falcons can somehow pickup a veteran defensive back between now and the start of the preseason, that would make me a little happier. But I'd be lying if I said I wasn't thrilled with the current Falcons roster.
For more on the Falcons, check out The Falcoholic.