Falcons get to work on finding help for defensive line

All 32 teams will get a chance to see the defensive linemen and outside linebackers go through their workouts Sunday at the NFL combine in Indianapolis.

The Atlanta Falcons had better watch closely.

Upgrading the defensive front is a major point of emphasis for the Falcons this offseason, be it through the draft or free agency. In fact, the Falcons already took a look at one free-agent option, defensive tackle Earl Mitchell, who made a visit but signed a four-year, $16 million deal with the San Francisco 49ers.

The Falcons need edge rushers and interior defensive linemen with pass-rush ability. General manager Thomas Dimitroff was asked about finding such help.

"There are definitely guys that would fit into our system," Dimitroff said, speaking about potential free agents. "We'll see how it all plays out, however, because a lot of teams are trying to get their D-line back. That's just the way it is in this."

The Falcons are expected to move on from veteran defensive tackles Jonathan Babineaux, who is headed to free agency, and Tyson Jackson, who would have to be released with two years left on his contract. And there is no guarantee that the Falcons will re-sign 37-year-old pass-rusher Dwight Freeney, despite the seven-time Pro Bowler expressing a desire to return for a 16th season. However, the Falcons do plan to re-sign versatile defensive lineman Courtney Upshaw, who had a price tag of just $1.25 million last season.

The Falcons might look into potential free-agent defensive tackle Terrell McClain, as mentioned a couple of weeks ago. He made a tremendous impact for the Dallas Cowboys upon returning from a toe injury. Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli certainly wants McClain back in Dallas because he's a difference-maker, although Marinelli would also like to see McClain be rewarded financially for his ability. McClain is known more for his run-stopping, coming from the league's top-rated run defense, but he has pass-rush ability. He had 2.5 sacks and seven quarterback hits from the nose last season.

Edge rushers of impact are unlikely to be available in free agency, considering the better ones already have signed new contracts or have been hit with the franchise tag.

"Our goal is to re-sign our guys first, see where we're at financially, then continue to make decisions on investing in free agency," Dimitroff said.

The Falcons will enter free agency with about $18 million in cap space based on a $167 million cap.

As for the draft prospects, edge rushers such as Tennessee's Derek Barnett, UCLA's Takkarist McKinley and Missouri's Charles Harris are among those who have been linked to the Falcons. Barnett is set to battle through an illness to participate in the combine, and McKinley's upcoming shoulder surgery is a concern that could drop his draft stock. The Falcons own the 31st overall pick in the first round and need another edge rusher opposite reigning NFL sacks leader Vic Beasley Jr.

Keep an eye on Villanova defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon and Youngstown State defensive end Avery Moss. They are versatile defensive linemen who are likely to catch the Falcons' eye.