Atlanta Falcons Blog

Atlanta Falcons blog by D. Orlando Ledbetter, the pro football and Atlanta Falcons reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Cover 9@9: Michael Bennett is a good fit for Falcons, Atlanta 

Good morning! Welcome to The Cover 9@9 blog. It's our weekly blog of nine things at 9 a.m. Wednesday that you need to know about the Atlanta Falcons. The offseason is about to pick up some steam with free agency set to start with the tampering period on March 12. The Falcons need to get Matt Ryan’s contract extension done in order to be real shoppers in free agency. Enjoy!

The Michael Bennett file. Is the football player Michael Bennett a good fit for the Falcons? 

The definitive answer is yes. 

Is Michael Bennett, the outspoken and progressive anthem protester, a good for Atlanta? 

The answer there is yes, too.

Don’t claim to be the birth place of the Civil Rights movement and then turn your back on Bennett like the NFL did on quarterback Colin Kaeperknick. 

However, if the Falcons make the trade for Bennett, apparently, there will be some unrest among folks who call themselves fans.

Real fans support their team. It’s not an either-or proposition. You’re either with your team or you not.

Check with the Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions and Philadelphia Eagles fans. At least the Eagles fans were finally rewarded with their first Super Bowl title. 

Some Falcons “fans” have decided if Bennett is added, they are walking out of the door. (You know, if they put some more doors in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium.) 

Anchor Justin Farmer at WSB-TV said he’s heard from three fans that said they planned to protest the move. 

Just one of my regular e-mailers wrote about the move. 

The problem seems to be Bennett’s decision to kneel during the anthem to protest racial and social injustice. Some folks never got the reason why players like Bennett and Kaperknick were protesting.

They went for the “disrespecting the military” pump-fake.

Simply search the names Walter Scout, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile and, of course, Trayvon Martin. There were also the murders of the African Methodist Episcopal church members in Charleston, S.C. Those were the events that players decided to protest. 

My e-mailer: “I can't see (Falcons owner) Mr. (Arthur) Blank selling his soul to acquire this anthem protester, hope he ends up in Oakland where his antics will be appreciated.”

Me: “Protester of social and racial injustice? Protester of police brutality?” 

My e-mailer: “It's call(ed) disrespect for the nation, the flag, the anthem and the people that PAY for entertainment not protest, which should take place elsewhere.”

Me: “They were never protesting the military.” 

My e-mailer: “Cops have been shot in the back of the head, set up ambushes, truth will win out and justice will preserve the law of the land.”

What Bennett could do on the football field is unquestioned.

The three-time Pro Bowler, who’s 32, would play in the defensive end rotation and slide down to tackle in the nickel package.

He’s nasty and mean as a football player and what defense couldn’t use those traits. After blowing a 28-3 lead in Super Bowl LI, the young defense has improved, but it can get nastier and meaner. 

NFL Network analyst and nine-time Pro Bowl defensive end DeMracus Ware believes Bennett joining the Falcons “makes a lot of sense.”

Here’s what he had to say on a recent television appearance as reported by our Alex Makrides. 

“When you can bring leadership to a young team when they already have Dan Quinn there, and he’s already gotten them to the NFC Championship (once), now I just think if you can get a guy that is versatile, can play defensive end, play tackle -- you have Vic Beasley, you have Grady Jarrett, they also have Takk McKinley -- so you have all those guys that can play, bring them together and they will have that pressure defense they want,” Ware said.

Perhaps, Bennett could have a signing for his book “Things that make White People uncomfortable” at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, the National Center for Civil and Human Rights and at Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum. 

He could explain his views and possibly offer some solutions to what ills our society.

The Falcons and the community shouldn’t run for Bennett just because he has a lot to say.

“I love the military,” Bennett said in a Newsweek article in August 2017. “My father was in the military. I love hot dogs like any other American. I love football like any other American. 

“But I don’t love segregation. I don’t love riots. I don’t love oppression. I don’t love gender slander. And I just want to see people have equality that they deserve.”

Sign him up. 

Atlanta is the perfect place for Bennett and all of his alleged “problems” and “controversies.” I’m certain Andrew Young and John Lewis would welcome him to town. 

The Falcons had two kneelers in Grady Jarrett and Dontari Poe. Jarrett was ticked about being called a son of a bitch by the President. Poe was also and noted that he is a supporter of the military. 

The Falcons had discussions on race and societal matters in wake of the protests. The team met with Blank and an expert on the matter, Andrew Mac Intosh, national director of leadership and education programs for the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (RISE).

After Jarret and Poe knelt against Detroit in game three, the Falcons stood and most interlocked arms during the national anthem. 

Seven players -- long snapper Josh Harris, punter Matt Bosher, kicker Matt Bryant, center Alex Mack, fullback Derrick Coleman, tackle Jake Matthews and left guard Andy Levitre -- stood off to the left end of the line and did not lock arms most of the time.

There’s room for Bennett in the brotherhood. 

2. Salary cap. The Falcons will have $178,321,399 for the salary cap in 2018, counting their carryover money. The official salary number was released by the NFLPA on Tuesday. The salary cap was set at $177.2 million.

The Falcons made two moves to save $7 million under the cap by releasing tight end Levine Toilolo (with a June 1 designation) and defensive end Derrick Shelby last week.

The Falcons are currently negotiating a contract extension with quarterback Matt Ryan. Kicker Matt Bryant was signed to a three-year, $10.5 million contract on Tuesday before he reached free agency. 

Currently, the Falcons’ top 51 contracts total $163,507,634 and they have $14,813,765 million under the salary cap. Free agency is set to start on March 14. Teams can talk to agents on March 12. 

Granting Ryan an extension could lower his salary cap number from $21.6 million to between $9 million to $12 million depending on the structure of his deal, according to CBS sports business analyst Joel Corry, a former NFL agent. 

Ryan and Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers could be waiting for the Kirk Cousins’ derby to be complete. With several quarterback-starved teams expected to bid for his services, Cousins, who’s never won a playoff game, could re-set the market at the position. The Falcons are expected to re-negotiate guard Andy Levitre’s contract to lower his $8.3 million cap number.

Another salary cap casualty candidate is defensive end Brooks Reed. By cutting Reed the Falcons could save $3.6 million. 

Other unlikely cap casualty candidates include quarterback Matt Schaub ($3.25 million) and wide receiver Mohamed Sanu ($3.1 million).

3. Free agency tracker. The unrestricted free agent list:

— Bryant has been re-signed.

— Defensive Adrian Clayborn led the team in sacks with 10.5 (including the playoffs). He played 576 snaps, the third-highest total along the defensive line.

— Fullback Derrick Coleman played 268 snaps on special teams and led the team in special teams tackles with 15.

— Wide receiver Taylor Gabriel didn’t provide the same explosive plays and will not be re-signed. Was a disappointment in second season with the team. 

— Offensive lineman Ben Garland is well-liked, but team is looking to upgrade the guard position.

— Linebacker/safety Kemal Ishmael played 336 snaps on special teams and has value a reserve. Will test to market to see if someone things he’s more than a reserve.

— Running back Leon McFadden was a late-season add with both starting running backs suffering concussion. 

— Offensive tackle Austin Pasztor was the backup swing tackle who was active for eight games. 

— Defensive tackle Dontari Poe is headed for free agency where he’s expected to land a “lucrative deal,” according to general manager Thomas Dimitroff. He played 868 defensive snaps, the second highest on the team behind Jarrett’s 870. He also played eight snaps on offense. 

— Returner Andre Roberts was plagued by poor blocking. He’s expecting to become a free agent.

— Defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin provided quality depth as a run-stuffer. 

— Linebacker Jordan Tripp considered a solid special-teamer when healthy.

— Defensive tackle Courtney Upshaw plays the run well for a former linebacker. Has held up well in the trenches. 

— Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon was insurance last season for the young and inexperienced unit. He wants to continue playing.

— Wide receiver Nick Williams will likely end up in San Francisco. Quinn mention Marvin Hall and Reggie Davis as potential replacement for the Gabriel and Williams.

— Cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson was a solid defender and willing hitter. The former third-round pick by Tennessee may have gotten his career back on track.

4. Restricted free agents. There’s a report that the Falcons want to deal a long-term deal with free safety Ricardo Allen, but there doesn’t appear to be any money for this when they can take care of him next year. Looks like a second-round tender would keep him with the team.

— Running back Terron Ward is a valuable reserve that the team has confidence in. 

— Running back Terrence Magee provided additional insurance as the backs got injured over the course of the season. Zeke Sandhu, his agent, told the AJC he’s returning.

5. Exclusive-rights free agents. The Falcons have two:

— Safety Sharrod Neasman played 184 special teams snaps as a valuable reserve.

— Offensive lineman Jamil Douglas has potential at the interior positions.

6. Official draft slots. The NFL released the official order for the draft on Tuesday.

The draft will he held April 26-28 in Arlington, Texas.

The Falcons have seven draft picks will pick 26th in six rounds with an additional seventh round compensatory pick, which be the 38th pick overall and the final pick of the draft.

The Falcons do not have a fifth-round pick. It was traded to Denver for backup tackle Ty Sambrailo on Sept. 2, 2017. 

Here are the Falcons’ official draft positions: 

Round 1 -- 26 - 26 overall

Round 2 -- 26 - 58 overall

Round 3 -- 26 - 90 overall

Round 4 -- 26 - 126 overall

Round 5 -- Traded to Denver 

Round 6 -- 26 - 200 overall

Round 7 -- 26 - 244 overall; 38 - 256 overall (compensatory)

7. Study Dimitroff’s draft-day trade record. Dimitroff has made at least one trade in every draft going back to his first season in 2008. 

Last season, the Falcons traded up in the first round to land defensive end Takkarist McKinley.

The Falcons gave up the 31st pick, a third-rounder (95 overall) and seventh-rounder (249) pick to move up five spots.

Click here to go back and study his draft record. 

8. Bryant’s message to the fan. While the team didn’t do a press conference of a conference call for the local media after kicker Matt Bryant signed, they issued a message to the fans through the team. Click here to see his message to the fans. 

9. Mock drafts are stupid. Seven-round mock drafts don’t make a lot of sense.  Doing Mock Drafts before free agency doesn’t make a lot of sense. But here’s one we found. 

Click here for seven-round mock draft.

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About the Author

D. Orlando Ledbetter is the Atlanta Falcons beat writer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.