Falcons sign exclusive-rights players

The Atlanta Falcons quietly continue to move through the process of getting ready for the start of free agency.

After placing the franchise tag on cornerback Brent Grimes, the Falcons are now dealing with some other players that were not under contract for 2012.

The team announced Tuesday morning that tight end Michael Palmer and running back Antone Smith have signed their exclusive-rights tenders.

Palmer, who joined the Falcons in 2010, isn’t known as a pass-catcher, and that’s not needed because Atlanta has Tony Gonzalez in that role. But Palmer has played an important role in the offense as a blocker.

Smith has spent the past two seasons with the Falcons, playing primarily on special teams. But he also has some ability as a running back, and he could get a chance to show more of that moving forward. The Falcons have made it clear they want to lighten the load of feature back Michael Turner.

They have Jacquizz Rodgers, who is likely to get more use as a speed back in his second season. But Smith could compete with Jason Snelling as part of the rotation.