Coming off a 13-3 season and a trip to the NFC Championship game, the Atlanta Falcons don't need to undergo a major rebuild. The Falcons have plenty of talent and depth at many spots. Still, the Falcons do have some needs this offseason and filling them could help them take the next step toward reaching a Super Bowl.
Biggest need: Tight end
The Falcons have talent on offense, with Matt Ryan at quarterback and Julio Jones and Roddy White at wide receiver. However, with Tony Gonzalez planning to retire, the Falcons will have a void at tight end. Gonzalez led Atlanta with 93 receptions last year and was one of Ryan's favorite targets in crucial situations. Losing arguably the greatest tight end in NFL history would be bad enough, but the lack of depth behind Gonzalez makes matters worse.
Fortunately for the Falcons, there are a number of tight ends available both in free agency and the draft. Martellus Bennett, Fred Davis and Jared Cook are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents. In the draft, Tyler Eifert and Zach Ertz are considered to have first-round potential, and both could be available when the Falcons come up on the clock.
A pass rusher is also a major need with John Abraham off the depth chart. The team's leading pass rusher was released on March 3. Considering he accounted for over one-third of the Falcons' sacks last season, the franchise is in desperate need of a player able to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Dave Choate of SB Nation's Falcons blog The Falcoholic wrote:
The biggest need for the Atlanta Falcons this off-season is an improved pass rush. The Falcons struggled mightily when it came to pursuing opposing quarterbacks, and aging stud defensive end John Abraham accounted for a large share of the sacks the Falcons did manage. Mike Nolan did well with the personnel he had and promising young players like defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi and defensive tackle Travian Robertson might be ready to help this year, but there's no magic bullet on the roster today.
They will need to find an impact pass rusher in free agency or the draft and get more out of their current personnel if they're going to make another deep playoff run in 2013. Given a tight cap situation, that player might have to come out of the draft.
Other needs: Defensive end, safety, cornerback, linebacker
The Falcons finished fifth in the NFL in scoring defense last season, but still had issues at times, including in the playoffs. Atlanta was unable to generate much of a pass rush, finishing 28th in the NFL with only 29 sacks. Without Abraham, they're left with 19 sacks in production. Atlanta's other starting defensive end, Kroy Biermann, has 16.5 career sacks in five seasons.
Both of the Falcons' starting safeties made the Pro Bowl last season, but that doesn't mean there might not be a need at that position. William Moore is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent and if he departs, the Falcons will have a major hole at strong safety. Thomas DeCoud also made the Pro Bowl, but struggled in coverage during the postseason.
Dunta Robinson was cut along with Abraham to clear cap space. Cornerback Brent Grimes will be a free agent March 12, so bringing him back is even more crucial to the Falcons' success in 2013. Robinson started opposite of Asante Samuel, while Grimes was on injured reserve last season.
Atlanta has invested heavily in its starting linebackers, but inconsistent play and a lack of depth could lead to the team adding to the linebacker corps.
NFL Draft outlook: Atlanta to pick 30th
After not having a first-round pick last season, the Falcons will pick 30th this season. Despite their position near the bottom of the first round, Atlanta should still be able to fill a key need with its pick. SB Nation's Matthew Fairburn has Tank Carradine going to the Falcons at No. 30 overall.
In addition to the 30th pick, the Falcons currently have six other draft picks, one in each round. Outside of the second round where they hold the 28th pick, the Falcons will pick 30th in every round.
Salary cap situation: Falcons $21.19 million under the cap
Atlanta is currently projected to be $21.198 million under the 2013 salary cap, according to D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Moore, Grimes and left tackle Sam Baker remain the most important players on the roster to re-sign.
Atlanta cleared space by cutting veterans in order to make room for these key free agents. General manager Thomas Dimitroff has said the top priority is re-signing current team members.