After reaching the Super Bowl with a young, but leaky defense, Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff noted the team would continue to concentrate on the defense during the offseason.
The franchise landed a big piece Thursday when free-agent defensive tackle Dontari Poe agreed to a one-year, $8 million deal.
The Falcons hope that Poe, a two-time Pro Bowler, can help add some teeth to their hard-hitting, but statistically weak unit.
Poe, who’s 6-foot-3 and 346 pounds, should immediately help the run defense, which gave up 104.5 yards rushing per game (16th of 32 teams in the the NFL) last season. The Falcons also gave up 15 rushing touchdowns, which ranked 21st.
Overall, the Falcons gave up 371.2 yards per game (25th in the league) and 266.7 yards passing (28th).
“Poe is an athletic, big guy that can push the pocket,” Dimitroff said. “He will add to our defensive line group and will mix nicely with (Vic) Beasley, (Grady) Jarrett, (Derrick) Shelby and (Adrian) Clayborn. We are happy to be able to add him to our roster.”
Poe has made 202 total tackles in 78 NFL games since he was selected 11th overall out of Memphis in the 2012 draft. He’s had 13 sacks, 12 passes defensed, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery over his career.
“That’s awesome,” Jarrett said of the move. “That makes us a better team and a better defensive line. It will be good to definitely have him on board.”
The Falcons also added former Dallas defensive end Jack Crawford in free agency.
“It’s definitely an exciting time for us, getting new guys to come and join our team,” Jarrett said. “We want to get better as a unit. We need to improve. I’m looking forward to working to the new guys.”
There was room along the defensive line after the team elected not to re-sign veteran defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux and after they released Tyson Jackson.
Jarrett said the veterans will be missed.
“They meant a lot to my development and other guys’ development as far as their professionalism and how they handled the game,” Jarrett said. “It was definitely an honor to be able to play with both of them.”
Poe, who made $6.1 million last season, also visited with Indianapolis, Jacksonville and Miami in free agency after he was not re-signed by the Kansas City Chiefs. He was slated to visit Oakland.
On Tuesday, the Chiefs signed defensive tackle Bennie Logan to a one-year, $6.68 million deal that included a $1 million signing bonus, according to the Kansas City Star.
The Falcons finished with 34 sacks last season, which ranked 16th in the league, and likely are not finished addressing the defensive line. They could add a pass rusher and another tackle in the draft next month.
Michigan State’s Malik McDowell, who has ranked in the top 10 in pass-rush productivity over the past two seasons by Pro Football Focus.com, is a fit for the Falcons, if he lasts long enough for the team to have a chance to select him.
“Malik McDowell, it depends on how you classify him, if he’s going to play inside or outside,” ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said Wednesday. “He’s tall and long. He might be the most talented defensive lineman … from a skill standpoint. He can become a highly disruptive player. He’s probably going to come of the board in the 10 to 25 range.”
The Falcons have the 31st pick.
Also, Florida defensive tackle Caleb Brantley, who turned off some teams by showing a brash attitude during interviews at the scouting combine, could help solve the issue.
“Brantley from Florida is kind of a classic (defensive tackle),” McShay said. “He’s very disruptive as a pass rusher. I think it was 5.5 career sacks. He’s not the best finisher, but he was disruptive and strong versus the run. He’s going to probably be a second-round pick.”
Falcons coach Dan Quinn was the defensive coordinator at Florida from 2011-12. Brantley arrived in the 2013 recruiting class.
Michigan’s Chris Wormley, Iowa’s Jaleel Johnson and Auburn’s Montravius Adams (from Dooly County High School) are also are highly rated defensive tackles.