ATLANTA -- Having taken care of their most pressing offensive need, with the three-team trade that landed them disgruntled Denver Broncos wide receiver Ashley Lelie on Tuesday night, the Atlanta Falcons a few hours later addressed one of their biggest defensive shortcomings.
And in a big way.
The Falcons late Tuesday reached agreement in principle with unrestricted free agent defensive tackle Grady Jackson on a three-year contract. Jackson, 33, is scheduled to arrive at the Falcons' complex on Wednesday for a physical examination. If there are no problems, the giant-sized tackle will sign the deal and immediately add much-needed bulk and a top-shelf run-stuffer to the undersized Atlanta defensive front.
Financial details were not immediately available. But earlier in the day, Jackson's agent, Angelo Wright, told ESPN.com that he was seeking a contract similar to the three-year, $6.5 million deal that free agent defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson signed with the Miami Dolphins last week. That contract will pay Wilkinson $1.3 million to $1.5 million in 2006 between bonuses and base salary.
If he is in even decent physical condition, Jackson could vie for the starting job at nose tackle on a unit that struggled to stop the run in 2005, when the Falcons statistically rated 26th in rushing yards surrendered. The Falcons had problems versus the run in their first two preseason games as well, and it was obvious that Atlanta needed to add some bulk to its interior.
Jackson met with Atlanta officials earlier in the free agent period, but the team backed off signing him when a physical examination indicated a possible heart problem. Subsequent examinations by an independent physician and by the medical staffs of other franchises interested in Jackson showed no problems.
The nine-year veteran, who has often fought the battle of the bulge in the past, apparently has his weight under control as well. Sources said that when Jackson auditioned for the New York Jets and the New York Giants last week, he checked in at a manageable 359 pounds, considerably less than he weighed only a couple months ago.
Jackson, who played for Green Bay the past three years, is coming off one of the most productive seasons of his nine-year league tenure, having started all 16 games for the Packers in 2005, when he registered a career-best 72 tackles. Despite his performance, the Packers made little effort to re-sign Jackson once he entered the unrestricted free-agent market.
The deal with the Falcons, if it is consummated, will reunite him with defensive coordinator Ed Donatell, who held the same position in Green Bay during part of Jackson's tenure there.
Even at this late stage of his career, Jackson remains an interior defender capable of clogging things up in the middle and of playing effectively against the run. He often commands double-team blocking because of his size and strength, and that allows teammates to flow more readily to the ball. His stamina appeared to be much improved in 2005, and his 16 starts were his most since the 2001 season.
Earlier in his career, Jackson also provided some inside push in pass-rush situations, but he hasn't played on third down the last several seasons and has just two sacks in the past two campaigns.
In 123 games, including 80 starts, Jackson has recorded 431 tackles, 32½ sacks, nine forced fumbles, seven recoveries and 24 passes defensed.
Jackson began his career with the Oakland Raiders in 1997, when they made him a sixth-round draft pick from Knoxville College. He has served stints in Oakland (1997-2001), New Orleans (2002) and Green Bay (2003-05).
The Falcons have one of the most effective "under" tackles in the league, in Rod Coleman, but have had problems this summer filling the nose tackle spot. Former starter Chad Lavalais has fallen out of favor with the Atlanta coaches and his roster spot could be in jeopardy. While the staff likes youngster Darrell Shropshire, and feels Antwan Lake and rookie Tommy Jackson have promise, too, Jackson is a proven commodity and a clear upgrade.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here.