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Falcons should be relieved to escape harsh punishment from NFL

The Atlanta Falcons were expected to get stung by the NFL. Instead, they got off somewhat unscathed.

On Monday, the league announced a $350,000 fine and the loss of a fifth-round draft pick in 2016 as punishment for the Falcons for piping in crowd noise to the Georgia Dome over the past two seasons. Former director of marketing Roddy White, who was fired due to the incident, was determined to be directly responsible for the violation. Although no one else was cited for having knowledge of the situation, team president Rich McKay also was suspended from his role as chairman of the league’s competition committee from Wednesday until at least the end of June.

The organization might view the punishment as "severe" but that would be far from the case. The league could have really crippled the Falcons by taking away their first-round draft pick and their ability to secure one of the top pass-rushers in this year’s draft class. In regard to the financial penalty, even a billionaire like Arthur Blank should be infuriated about having to pay a six-figure fine, particularly for such a foolish act that was totally unnecessary.

"What took place was wrong and nowhere near the standards by which we run our business," Blank said in a statement. "Anytime there are actions that compromise the integrity of the NFL or threaten the culture of our franchise, as this issue did, they will be dealt with swiftly and strongly."

The most significant development involves the draft pick. Even the loss of a second- or third-rounder this year would have been debilitating for a team trying to rebuild under new coach Dan Quinn. Instead, the Falcons get to keep their 2015 draft plans intact with eight selections.

The Falcons’ most pressing needs, outside of a pass-rusher, are at free safety, inside linebacker and cornerback. They struck out in free agency at safety when Darian Stewart agreed to sign with Denver while visiting Atlanta and when Ron Parker's asking price became too high before he re-signed with Kansas City. At linebacker, the Falcons brought in versatile veteran Justin Durant, who should help if he remains healthy. However, the team still needs a young talent to help shore up the position for years to come.

Again, no team wants to lose a draft pick. The Falcons simply should breathe a sigh of relief knowing that guys such as Missouri’s Shane Ray, Nebraska’s Randy Gregory and Clemson’s Vic Beasley can remain on their draft board in the first round and that they can take their pick of what needs to address as they progress through the second, third and fourth rounds.

In recent years, the Falcons have selected players such as Ricardo Allen, Marquis Spruill, Stansly Maponga, Bradie Ewing, Jonathan Massaquoi, Jacquizz Rodgers and Dominique Franks in the fifth round. Rodgers is the only one you could say made a great impact and he wasn’t re-signed this offseason. Massaquoi, Ewing and Franks are no longer members of the team.

The NFL obviously takes the integrity of the game seriously. The Falcons broke that trust with stupidity. However, they should be grateful that the league didn’t create much more noise with their disciplinary measures.