FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- There's no doubt the Atlanta Falcons have a lot to fix after an 8-8 season, most notably the problem they had with 30 giveaways.
Another area of emphasis is improving the play up front on both sides of the ball. The offensive line was pushed around at times, leading to some of those turnovers by way of Matt Ryan interceptions. The defensive line didn't create enough pressure on opposing quarterbacks, which is why the Falcons finished dead last in the league with 19 sacks.
Falcons coach Dan Quinn vowed to address the line issues, although they have been neglected in recent years.
"It's going to be a huge emphasis, the line of scrimmage on both sides," Quinn said. "I have such belief in that, and that's how we're going to play really well. Offensive line, defensive line, it will kind of be at the front of our thinking all the time. That's how important I think it is.
"I think when our big guys are rolling, that's when we're at our best."
Offensively, tackles Jake Matthews and Ryan Schraeder are the two keepers on the line, with Schraeder set to become a restricted free agent and likely to get an extension. Veteran guards Andy Levitre and Chris Chester were more stop-gap players. Chester, who signed a one-year contract, played the end of the season basically with one arm and will have shoulder surgery soon. Levitre, who led the team with 11 penalties, was acquired in trade with Tennessee, but that doesn't mean the Falcons won't cut ties with him. Levitre has base salaries of $4 million, $5.25 million, and $7 million over the next three seasons.
The Falcons need to get bigger on the interior of the offensive line, including at center. Quinn was pleased with the performance of Gino Gradkowski as the starting center in the season finale, but Gradkowski is undersized himself. Gradkowski took over for Mike Person, who had too many snap issues.
On the defensive side, the Falcons could use another pass-rusher to team with Vic Beasley Jr., who showed flashes of his great potential toward the end of the season. There will be talk of Quinn maybe pursuing one of his old Seattle Seahawks if Bruce Irvin reaches free agency. Irvin had 5.5 sacks this season, more than any individual on the Falcons. (Beasley led the team with four.)
Veteran Adrian Clayborn is likely to be approached about a contract extension as he showed his impact playing defensive end and led the team with 15 quarterback hits. And Grady Jarrett is a promising young player who will contribute for years to come. But the Falcons have to figure out what to do with veterans such as Paul Soliai, Tyson Jackson, and Jonathan Babineaux. Babineaux wants to play one or two more seasons and is a stabilizing force as a team leader and resource for the young linemen. Soliai’s cap number for next year is $6.9 million, and Jackson’s is $6.35 million.
Defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman is the wildcard in the equation. He has the strength to push people around but doesn't play with discipline, which causes him to be out of his gaps.