Free agency is getting closer, meaning the Falcons are getting closer to recalibrating their roster, as general manager Thomas Dimitroff put it.
In the next week or so, we'll get a better idea of which players the Falcons are fed up with and which ones they value. We'll know which areas they believe they need to spend money on and which areas they believe can be addressed at bargain prices when players hit the open market March 11.
In terms of re-signing their own impending free agents, I believe one player might be a priority over the others. And it's not the one some might think.
Sure, popular veteran defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux is a guy a lot of folks would love to see back. He has been productive for years and is great for the locker room. But Babineaux, who turns 33 in October, probably isn't going to want to take less than the $5 million per year he averaged. And the Falcons probably won't want to pay him near that price range.
That being said, here's the player I expect to be a priority to retain: Joe Hawley. The 2010 fourth-round pick from UNLV replaced Peter Konz as the starting center last season and performed well, for the most part, despite being undersized. Six-foot-3, 302-pound Hawley brought some toughness up front. That was sorely needed for an offensive line that got pushed around for the majority of the season.
Sure, Hawley also had his struggles. But, in fairness to Hawley, it was hard for him to compensate for the weaknesses next to him at right guard. The position was a turnstile -- in more ways than one -- between Konz and recently released Garrett Reynolds, with a little bit of Harland Gunn sprinkled in at the end.
One has to wonder how Hawley will fare if the Falcons reel in a big, tough right guard next to him such as Jon Asamoah (6-4, 305) from the Kansas City Chiefs, who was drafted by new Falcons assistant general manager Scott Pioli. A player like Asamoah, coupled with solid left guard Justin Blalock, would give Hawley plenty of help.
If Hawley is re-signed, as expected, he might have to compete with Konz. The Falcons don't want to just give up on Konz, a second-round pick in 2012. But an offseason in the weight room might not be enough to get Konz back to where he needs to be, although new offensive line coach Mike Tice surely will try to get the most out of him.
As for Hawley, he won't be an expensive option. He made $630,000 last season. The Falcons seem highly unlikely to invest in a top-caliber center such as Alex Mack from Cleveland, who averages about $3 million per season now.
Dimitroff said at last week's combine that no contract offers had been made yet to his own free agents, although discussions had taken place. We'll see how talks with Hawley develop.