With Julio Jones Out for the Season, Do the 1-4 Atlanta Falcons Look to the Future?

Courtesy of NFL.com. Matt Ryan and Co. may have to look to 2014.

Courtesy of NFL.com. Matt Ryan and Co. may have to look to 2014.

As one of the favorites to win the NFC heading into the season, the first five games for the Atlanta Falcons have been pretty much a downright disaster. It started with an opening-week loss to the New Orleans Saints on the road and continued with a plethora of injuries that have destroyed any competitive edge one of the most talented teams in the NFL may have had.

Steven Jackson went down with a hamstring injury early in the first quarter of Atlanta’s Week 2 win against the St. Louis Rams. He’s missed the last three games and may be out beyond Atlanta’s Week 6 bye. Atlanta’s stable of running backs have tallied a total of 136 yards on 36 rush attempts over the past two games. Without that type of balance, Matt Ryan has struggled with consistency as protection has broken down in front of him.

Defensive end Kroy Biermann tore his Achilles in the very same game and was immediately placed on injured reserve. His replacement, Jonathan Massaquoi, has recorded a total of five tackles and zero sacks in three games. It’s not a coincidence that Atlanta has racked up a total of nine sacks in five games and is on pace for just 29 on the season.

Defensive leader Sean Weatherspoon also went down early in the season. The standout linebacker suffered a Lisfranc injury in September and isn’t slated to come back until sometime later in the season. Various reports set his return date to be in Week 11, at which point Atlanta will likely be out of the playoff race.

Then you have the best wide receiver tandem in the entire National Football League in the form of Roddy White and Julio Jones, who combined to record 171 receptions for over 2,500 yards and 17 touchdowns last season. White was hampered with a high-ankle sprain during the early part of the season. The injury obviously impacted White’s ability to produce as he recorded just 14 catches in Atlanta’s first five games. The Pro Bowl receiver then went down with a pulled hamstring in Atlanta’s loss to the New York Jets Monday night and will likely miss the Falcons next game, a Week 7 matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Courtesy of ESPN: Julio Jones is gone for the season.

Courtesy of ESPN: Julio Jones is gone for the season.

For his part, Jones’ injury is far more worrisome for the Falcons. The all-everything wide receiver was leading the NFL in receptions and yards through the first four weeks of the season but came up lame against the Jets on Monday. Various reports from all around the NFL world indicate that Jones will miss the remainder of the season after breaking a screw in his surgically repaired right foot. Jones had surgery prior to the 2011 NFL draft.

It’s unrealistic to expect any team to be able to rebound from these types of devastating injuries, let a lone a team that is built from the skill-positions outward. Sure teams like the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks have overcome injuries this season, but they have much deeper overall units.

Atlanta simply couldn’t afford to lose the players it has lost and expect to be in a good position at this point in the season.

Add into the equation what has been horrendous coaching by Mike Smith and you have the perfect storm that has led to a 1-4 start for a team that lost just three games during the entire 2012 regular season. To make things worst for the Falcons, they are now a full four games behind the division-leading New Orleans Saints who have not lost a single game yet this season. Being the best one-win team in the NFL means little, Atlanta’s season seems to be pretty much over at this point.

What does this mean?

For starters, the Falcons should think about trading away a few different veterans who might not have a future with the team beyond 2013 and could provide it with a bit of value in return. A lot of the focus is going to turn to tight end Tony Gonzalez, but NFL insider Jay Glazer threw a bucket of water on that mention earlier in the week. Gonzalez doesn’t want to be traded and fully intends on finishing his career in Atlanta. We will continue to hear mentions as the trade deadline approaches in late October because some think Gonzalez deserves a shot to go out on top. The Kansas City Chiefs have been thrown around as a possibility. Gonzalez played the first 12 season of his career with the Chiefs after they selected him in the first round of the 1997 draft. Yes, there are some reading this who weren’t even born then. Don’t make Gonzalez or myself feel any older. Thanks!

There are some other real possibilities here.

Courtesy of ESPN: Asante Samuel is one of a few players Atlanta could look to move.

Courtesy of ESPN: Asante Samuel is one of a few players Atlanta could look to move.

Veteran cornerback Asante Samuel is due $6 million in 2014, the final year of his contract. He’s been pretty good in coverage this season, but Atlanta did exhaust a first-round pick on Marcus Trufant and a second rounder on Robert Alford in April’s draft. They’re the future at cornerback, not Samuel. Considering how well he’s played, you could be looking at a mid-round pick coming back to the Falcons.

Defensive end Osi Umenyiora, who Atlanta brought in on a two-year contract in the offseason, has tallied four sacks in five games and is due only $4.75 million next season. While that might hint that the Falcons will want to retain him moving forward, he’d likely draw some nice interest on the open market from a contending team short on pass rushers. With that said, Atlanta shouldn’t go into complete rebuilding mode. Instead, it would be smart to sell off a few players for picks with eyes at contention in 2014. I am not too entirely sure where Umenyiora fits into the larger picture.

Other players the Falcons could look to move for picks include: Peria Jerry, Jonathan Babineaux and Corey Peters, all of whom are set to be free agents following this season.

At 1-4, this team has seen its season come crashing down after just five weeks. While this is a bitter pill to swallow for the franchise and its fan base, it might give the organization an opportunity to cut the fat from the roster, earn a few extra draft picks and be better prepared to overcome injuries in 2014. It just remains to be seen if the powers to be including Mike Smith, who is firmly on the hot seat, have come to the conclusion that the 2013 season is a lost cause. If so, some of these deals make sense.

With the talented core that Atlanta has on its roster, it will be in contention for quite some time. It’s now up to the Falcons front office to do what is needed for them to take the next step. With that comes some difficult personnel decisions.

 

Vincent is the head sports editor at eDraft, co-host of eDraft Sports Radio (which airs every Tuesday and Thursday from 3-6 p.m. ET) and a fantasy writer for Pro Football Focus. He’s also the news director at PFC and co-host of Football Debate Central with Ryan Riddle every Friday. He’s also a former league-wide featured columnist at Bleacher Report and a contributor at Yahoo!

Comments

  1. Robert_Green says:

    they should trade gonzales back to KC