Back in 1996, the Atlanta Falcons needed a veteran for the defense. They signed Cornelius Bennett, who had gone to the Super Bowl four times with Buffalo and was a two-time AFC Defensive Player of the Year.
Bennett stayed with the Falcons for three years, and in his third season he helped the Falcons reach their only Super Bowl. He was 31 when he was signed, and while he clearly wasn’t the player he had been with the Bills, Bennett was still a very effective veteran player.
The Falcons have the same need right now – to find a veteran player that can help lead the team to the Super Bowl. There are veteran players on the Falcons, but they may simply need one or two more to have the type of roster that can get the team over that dreaded hump.
John Abraham will turn 35 this May, so there’s no doubt he is a veteran player on the Atlanta defensive line. But his salary may be needed to open up more cap room so the Falcons can bring in more talent. If Abraham agrees to stick around for a smaller salary, that might work. But if not, he’ll probably be released.
There are a couple of players available that would be perfect to compliment Abraham on the defensive line. Dwight Freeney, like Bennett, is a veteran of the Super Bowl and an AFC Defensive Player of the Year winner. He’ll be 33 this season, and while he has noticeably slipped compared to his younger days, Freeney is still a dangerous defensive player.
Then there’s Osi Umenyiora, who just turned 31 in November and is on the way out in New York. Umenyiora actually lives in Cleveland, GA, which is 80 miles away from Atlanta and only 40 miles to Flowery Branch, where the Falcons train.
Umenyiora has had some injury issues the last few years, but when healthy he is still a beast on the defensive line. Both Umenyiora and Freeney have made their money by rushing the passer, which is exactly what the Falcons need on their defense.
Look, the Falcons need more talent. They showed us that by falling short against San Francisco in the NFC Championship Game. They need another linebacker. They need to lock up the secondary. But they really need some playmakers on the defensive line.
They could get someone in the draft, and maybe there will be someone available with the 30th pick that could become a star player. But they need someone who is a star now, and while it is unfortunate they are limited with cap space that they have to instead rely on going after more veteran players who may be past their prime, it might actually be a blessing in disguise.
The Falcons need someone who has been there before, someone that has lifted the Lombardi Trophy as a Super Bowl Champion. They need a veteran who can help these younger players realize what they need to shoot for. They need to sign Freeney or Umenyiora and hope that Abraham will also come back at a decreased salary.
Falcons’ general manager Thomas Dimitroff knows his team is close. The moves he’ll make this offseason could make the difference in getting Atlanta back into the playoffs. Finding the right veteran player for the defense might be the crucial decision that finally gets the Falcons back to the Super Bowl.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at http://www.foxsports1670.com/. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.