It's bittersweet really. The premature end of another Atlanta Falcons season can be tough to deal with but after we've navigated our way through the seven stages of grief we can turn our attention toward the positive. Next season. Of course, there may not be a next season but I just got over the Falcons playoff loss so don't bring me down with the thought of no football at all.
Now, where was I? Right, what to do about 2011? The Falcons face a lot of offseason decisions including determining which of their 12 unrestricted free agents* to re-sign. Adding to the drama, there's also the possibility that Tony Gonzalez calls it a career. Will this 13-4 team be able to keep all the key pieces together for another run at the Super Bowl? Let's take a walk through the valley of "Will they or won't they be Falcons next year".
Justin Blalock (Age in 2011: 28) - Started 62 games at left guard since 2007 and has been a consistent cog in the Falcons offensive line. I expect him back next season.
Matt Bryant (36) - Bounced back after a terrible 2009 season to beat out Steven Hauschka in training camp and post his second-best season as a pro. He gave the Falcons no reason to look elsewhere for a kicker.
Tyson Clabo (30) - He's been the best Falcons lineman over the past three seasons and is part of one of the most underrated units in football. Top priority among the O-line.
Harvey Dahl (30) - A tough guard with a mean streak. He gives the Falcons offensive line much-needed swagger. He could be the odd man out in this equation though unless the Falcons manage to sign all three.
Brian Finneran (35) - He caught more touchdowns (3) this year than he has since 2002 but at this stage of his career he's more valuable as a mentor than a player. I don't expect him back in 2011.
Jerious Norwood (28) - The five-year pro has played in only 21 games over the last two seasons and carried the ball just twice before tearing his ACL in September. I believe he played his last game as a Falcon.
Jason Snelling (28) - Has caught 72 passes the past two seasons and has shown he is quite capable of filling in for Michael Turner. A valuable insurance policy for Turner. Definitely will be back unless another team breaks the bank.
Michael Koenen (29) - A down year for his punting average but his leg on kickoffs pays dividends. Also in Madden NFL 11, Gus Johnson pronounces his name as Kotch. I have no idea why.
Trey Lewis (26) - Only appeared in one game this season while Jonathan Babineaux served a one-game suspension against the Steelers. The depth at D-line is too great for Mr. Lewis. He won't be back.
Stephen Nicholas (28) - Very consistent player started 11 games in 2010 subbing for an injured Sean Weatherspoon. He's one of my favorites and I expect him to be a Falcon next season.
Mike Peterson (35) - Played in all 16 games but posted his lowest tackle numbers since his injury-shortened season in 2006. I know there's loyalty there with Mike Smith but I haven't seen anything on the field to believe the Falcons will re-sign him.
Brian Williams (32) - Demoted to nickel back with the signing of Dunta Robinson and did not record an interception in 2010 for the first time in his career. Hated as a starting corner but loved as a nickel back. Still, with the depth in the secondary, I think Williams is gone.
O-Line: Of the three free agent offensive lineman, I would rank them as follows: 1. Clabo 2. Blalock 3. Dahl. I believe Clabo is the best lineman the Falcons have and I give Blalock the egde over Dahl based on his age.
Backfield: All things being equal, I think Norwood is a better complement to Turner but he's Mr. Glass so the obvious choice is Snelling if you can only keep one.
Linebackers: I have been down on Peterson for a while so if you can only re-sign one, Nicholas is my guy. He's tremendous in pass coverage and always seems to be around the ball.
* There's not a definitive source for contract info so this list was compiled using the best of my internet sleuthing culled together from multiple sources.