Here are the moves the Atlanta Falcons should consider when free agency opens at 4 p.m. ET Thursday:
Address the defensive line. The Falcons underwent a major facelift at linebacker last offseason; this year, it's the defensive line's turn. Veteran defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux, at age 35, won't be re-signed after spending 12 seasons with the team. There is a strong chance the Falcons will part ways with defensive tackle Tyson Jackson, who is signed through 2018 and will carry a $5.85 million cap number next season. And although seven-time Pro Bowl defensive end Dwight Freeney has expressed an interest in returning, the Falcons seem more than likely to move on from the 37-year-old pass-rusher or at least wait until the last possible moment to re-sign him. With defensive end Adrian Clayborn and defensive lineman Derrick Shelby coming back from injuries, the Falcons have to make sure they have enough capable bodies in case the injury bug bites once again. The bottom line is the Falcons, with NFL sacks leader Vic Beasley Jr., need to find a front-four combo capable of pressuring the quarterback, so edge-rushers and interior linemen with rush ability are a must.
Find a guard: The Falcons face uncertainty at the right guard spot with starter Chris Chester headed toward free agency and undecided about continuing to play at age 34. Wes Schweitzer, a rookie this past season who was inactive for every game, doesn't appear to be the answer. Versatile Ben Garland is a nice backup player who can play center, guard and even on the defensive line, but Garland might not be ready for a full-time starting role. So, the Falcons have to find a player or two in free agency or the draft capable of getting out and running in the outside-zone-blocking scheme former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan implemented. We'll see if new coordinator Steve Sarkisian targets anyone he's familiar with from his college coaching days at Washington, USC and Alabama.
Collect depth in the secondary: Coach Dan Quinn made it clear at the NFL combine that he's always looking for defensive backs with speed. The Falcons need depth at safety, although Quinn said nickelback Brian Poole would get a look at free safety to compete with starter Ricardo Allen. The team is trying to re-sign Kemal Ishmael for insurance at strong safety as well as weakside linebacker, but you never know how negotiations might go. And although the Falcons seem to have a surplus at cornerback with one-time Pro Bowler Desmond Trufant returning from injury, Robert Alford fresh off signing a four-year extension and Jalen Collins filling in admirably for Trufant, you can never have enough quality corners.