The Atlanta Falcons, having hired Dirk Koetter and Mike Nolan as the team's new coordinators, still have a lot of work to do. Though the coaching situation may no longer be up in the air, the status of the team's 17 players set to become free agents this offseason is not exactly set in stone.
Now that we know that Koetter will also run a fairly conventional offense (only with more of an emphasis on the vertical passing attack) and Nolan will keep the defense in the 4-3, we can make better deductions over who will be sticking around in Atlanta for the 2012 season and who Thomas Dimitroff feels should seek their fortune on another team.
While a couple of these players' futures may be little more than a guess, I can assure you that everything I predict will come to be 100% true (it always is, right?).
Guys Who Will Stay:
I've also heard new coordinator Mike Nolan stress the importance of having a good secondary in a pass-happy league. Grimes is the closest thing this team has had to a legitimate shutdown corner in a long time, and let's also remember that with 17 free agents the Falcons have some big-time cap room this offseason.
If Arthur Blank wants the Falcons to win now, he'll give Grimes whatever he asks for (unless of course they can swipe free agent CB Tracy Porter away from New Orleans)
MLB Curtis Lofton- Lofton is the other critical free agent the Falcons have to take care of this offseason. He's Pro Bowl-caliber, excellent against the run and solid in coverage, and most of all a leader on the defense. Of the Falcons' big name free agents, Lofton is the perhaps the safest bet to be back in Atlanta next season.
C Todd McClure- I'd bet he'll be back in Atlanta on a one-year deal. McClure has spent his entire career in Atlanta and probably doesn't want to leave in what could be his last year as a pro.
Plus, McClure is still a solid, consistent option at center. With the Falcons possibly choosing to focus on upgrading at left tackle and right guard, they may want to keep 'ole Todd around one more year as a stop-gap solution. And if not, well there's always UGA's Ben Jones.
DE Kroy Biermann, DT Vance Walker, KR Eric Weems, RB Antone Smith, TE Michael Palmer, LS Joe Zelenka-
Nolan made the point that he would rather have "10 guys with four sacks" than the other way around. Biermann is certainly the type of situational player that brings pass-rushing depth to this Falcons defensive line.
Weems, whom Mike Smith named one of his MVPs for the 2011 season, will almost certainly be back, as will all of the others mentioned above. Smith is a great special-teamer. Walker is a restricted free agent, and thus easier to retain, and Palmer is an exclusive-rights free agent (so the same reasoning applies).
Guys Who Will Leave:
DE John Abraham- Yes, I'm said to say it, but Abe will likely want a contract worth far more than his 9.5 sack season in 2011. The other thing with Abraham is that he's certainly on a decline. He's 33 years old and not getting any younger. For the Falcons, this means we'll likely see an influx of other pass rushers this offseason.
FS Thomas DeCoud- DeCoud was the real weak link in the secondary. I mean, sure he created some turnovers. But countless other times I witnessed DeCoud misread a coverage, take a bad angle on a receiver or simply miss a tackle when playing the run. Though solid, I don't believe DeCoud to be the long-term solution, and I think the Falcons can get better at safety quickly.
WR Harry Douglas- I'm really torn on Douglas. On one hand, he's been injured and the Falcons never really tapped into his full potential under Mike Mularkey (shocker). On the other, there are so many great free agent wide receivers this offseason (Robert Meachem, Pierre Garcon and Mario Manningham to name a few) that it would be foolish to not upgrade through free agency.
QB Chris Redman, RB Jason Snelling, OLB Mike Peterson, CB Kelvin Hayden, SS James Sanders-
Redman because he looked really ineffective in his only "relief" appearance this season (very briefly against the Lions). With Jacquizz Rodgers looking to see an increased role, Snelling becomes more and more limited in the Falcons offense, and will likely take a deal anywhere else. Peterson, though solid, will likely retire.
Finally, I don't really see Hayden or Sanders coming back. Hayden's injuries proved to be his downfall in the latter half of the season, and Sanders could very well get a starting gig somehwere else.
There you have it, folks. That's everyone, all 17 free agents, and now you know what will happen to them.