The Falcons did not have an exciting offseason. No big names were brought into Atlanta. No Mario Williams. Sam Baker is still at left tackle. Curtis Lofton signed with the Saints. The only outside free agents signed were two guys who were out of football last season.
But what the Falcons did have was a successful offseason. Of the team's 15 free agents that have actually signed with teams at this point, 13 of those players came back to play for Mike Smith's squad. The team hired a fantastic defensive coordinator in Mike Nolan and hopefully found an upgrade on offense in Dirk Koetter.
With news now finally breaking that the Falcons have retained longtime center Todd McClure for one more season, the Falcons keep the core of their team intact and return 21 of 22 starters from a team that won 10 games last year.
But even with the projected improvement the Nolan and Koetter hires bring to the team, will this be enough to finally win in the postseason?
An update, now featuring the traitorous Curtis Lofton:
So the offseason really boils down to this: the team lost Lofton and Eric Weems, but also signed Lofa Tatupu and Vince Manuwai to considerably cheap deals.
If all goes well, either Manuwai or former third-round pick Mike Johnson (health was an issue for both last year) should provide a big upgrade over the Reynolds/Hawley combo at right guard.
As for Lofton, Mike Nolan (and other teams) apparently only saw him as a two-down linebacker. Now the team will have an open competition for the middle linebacker job between Tatupu and Akeem Dent, according to Smitty.
While Dent's coverage skills are in question as is his experience, Tatupu was playing at a very high level in 2010 before injuries derailed his career in Seattle. It's also possible we could even see a platoon at the position, with Lofa filling in for Dent on running downs. At the very least, we have talent similar to Lofton's abilities at MLB.
Beyond those two positions, the Falcons are essentially the same. Brent Grimes may ultimately be traded or not re-signed, but really this is still a team with immense talent, and it's the consistency Atlanta has gotten from Smitty and Thomas Dimitroff that keep the Falcons as contenders almost every single year.
At the end of the day, I believe hiring Nolan to bring in a new vision on defense may be the missing element that pushes the Falcons to a playoff victory. This isn't a team that needed much player turnover, but rather a schematic turnover.
Don't believe me? Look no further than the 49ers who won six games in 2010. They simply hired Harbaugh and kept the roster mostly the same. NFC Championship game.
It's amazing what good coaching can do, and I think the Falcons could be the newest example of that.
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