With the NFL’s new business year ready to start, the Falcons, flush with cash, are ready for action.
The reigning NFC champions want to retain much of their roster and then possibly add a few in free agency.
“I want to stress more than anything, our free agency, 100 percent, is going to start with our guys,” Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution at the NFL scouting combine. “We already started with (Robert) Alford. We already started with (Ryan) Schraeder and obviously our next major move is going to be Desmond (Trufant).”
Once Trufant, the team’s Pro Bowl cornerback, agrees to a extension, the Falcons have another tier of players they plan to complete contracts with before the league’s new business year starts at 4 p.m. on Thursday.
The team wants to re-sign tight end Levine Toilolo, safety/linebacker Kemal Ishmael and fullback Patrick DiMarco.
“Levine is a guy that we’re talking to,” Dimitroff said. “He’s still a young guy (25) here.”
Toilolo, 6-foot-8 and 260 pounds, was drafted in the fourth round in 2013 and has continued to develop. Initially viewed as a red-zone threat because of his height, he developed into a blocking tight end who’s been helpful in the run game.
He caught a career-high 31 passes in 2014, but had several drops. He had 13 catches last season for 264 yards last season and averaged 20.3 yards per catch. He scored two touchdowns as teams occasionally would leave him uncovered.
“He’s done a really nice job of evolving into a tight end for us,” Dimitroff said. “He’s mostly a Y-tight end, a blocking tight end who will catch the ball. You can rely on him. He’s got some nice consistency about him. We’re in the process of talking to him.”
Veteran tight end Jacob Tamme, who opened the past two seasons as the starter, appears headed for free agency. He caught 81 passes in 2015 and had 31 catches in eight games last year before suffering a season-ending pectoral injury.
“Jacob will more than likely get to free agency,” Dimitroff said. “Again, he’ll have some decisions to make as well.”
Veteran defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux wanted to return for a 13th season with the team, but he will also be allowed to reach free agency. Drafted in the second round in 2005, Babineaux has played in 185 games and made 133 starts.
“Babs has done a great job for us over the years,” Dimitroff said. “He’s been such a great leader for us.”
The Falcons are waiting to hear back from right guard Chris Chester, who is 34 and contemplating retirement. They also will revisit defensive end Dwight Freeney’s situation after the draft.
The Falcons placed a second-round tender offer on wide receiver Taylor Gabriel, who set to make $2.81 million. Offensive guard/defensive tackle Ben Garland is also a restricted free agent and is projected to receive a third or fourth round tender. The tender offer gives the Falcons the right of first refusal if Gabriel or Garland are offered contracts from others teams and draft compensation should they sign elsewhere.
Once they’ve handled their internal business, the Falcons will look outside the organization for help.
“Then we keep our eyes open in free agency,” Dimitroff said. “What we get out of free agency and the draft will determine where we go with some of the guys that we haven’t re-signed that are unrestricted free agents.
“I’m a big believer in that you definitely need to compare what’s out there in the draft and what’s out there in free agency with your own roster and make some really creative decisions because money does come into it.”
The salary cap for 2017 is projected to go up 7.5 percent to $167 million. The Falcons are projected to be about $28 under the cap and will need about $5 million of that to sign their rookie class.
“We are paying some substantial money to a lot of really good football players,” Dimitroff said. “That’s where you want to be. We’re not starting off with just a bunch of young guys who are not making a lot of money. We have a fortunate situation right now, where we are able to sign two corners because we have the young linebackers, young safeties and a young defensive end. In time, we’ll have to be creative with that, but for now we are in a good spot.”
With the team reaching the Super Bowl, Dimitroff and assistant general manager Scott Pioli had to get the coaching staff up to speed with scouting free agency and the draft eligible players.
“I thought we did a really good job over the last three or four weeks at the back end of the season projecting,” Dimitroff said. “I thought Scott Pioli and our personnel department teed it up well for Dan (Quinn) and the coaching staff to get ready when the time was right to jump in heavily into free agency as well the draft preparation.
“We have some new coaches, of course, with the changes and some adjustments on the defensive side. Again, I have all the faith in the world in Dan that we’ll be in the right place with them, educate them quickly on our scheme and our culture.”
Once the free agency market is settled, the Falcons will be sitting in the back rows of the draft with the 31st pick. Dimitroff is willing to listen to offers.
“At 31, I think it’s all about patience,” Dimitroff said. “I also think there are opportunities. Some of the teams with double picks or teams that have picks where they might want to move back, they are going to look at 31 and that potentially gives us an opportunity to be aggressive. We have never been short of aggressiveness in our approach with the Falcons, so we are always open to talk about that.”