COVER 9@9: Freeman deal is on the back burner for Falcons

Falcons running back Devonta Freeman spikes the ball after scoring a touchdown against the Arizona Cardinals to tie the game 7-7 during the first quarter Sunday, Nov. 27, 2016, at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

Good morning! Welcome to The Cover 9@9 blog. It’s our weekly blog of everything you need to know about the Atlanta Falcons, which is 9 items published at 9 a.m. each Wednesday morning.

1. FREEMAN ON BACK BURNER:  Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff made it clear that the team is not ready to offer running back Devonta Freeman a contract extension.

“The time of that is not now,” Dimitroff said during an interview on the team’s flagship radio station on Monday.  “The timing of that, if you look at our history, we are very particular about when we do i.e. when we extend our guys and that’s something that will be taking care of in due time.”

Freeman is set to enter the final year of his rookie contract and make $1.8 million next season. His camp wants him to be paid like an “elite” running back. They made it known during the Super Bowl week and again during free agency, before trying to distance themselves from tweets from Luther Campbell.

The Falcons have made it a point, during Dimitroff’s regime, to extend players in the final year of their contracts in October or November like that did cornerback Robert Alford and right tackle Ryan Schraeder last season. So, Freeman is up this October or November.

However, by speaking out during Super Bowl week and then tweeting about the negotiations during this free agency period, it seems the Freeman camp doesn’t want to go into the final year of Freeman’s rookie deal, which the two-time Pro Bowler, has clearly out-performed.

Dimitroff doesn’t see any murky contract negotiation clouds coming. The Freeman camp, looking at the dip in the running back market and the risk of injury, has a case for wanting to get extended sooner.

“We have a good dialogue,” Dimitroff said. “I think Freeman is in a good spot. This is where he wants to be and we want him here for years to come. I’m confident that something is going to get done.”

Remember, there are very few guaranteed contracts in the NFL. If Freeman, who’s finishing up work on his Florida State degree, suffers a career-ending injury while waiting on his contract extension, he’s basically out of luck.

“It’s not going to be a contentious issue in my mind,” Dimitroff said. “It’s going to be one that is going to be fairly quick. We know what the market is and we are confident that we can get something done, when the timing is right. It won’t be done during this free agency period.”

2. POE UPDATE: The Falcons had cleared some salary cap space, presumably to get in better position to sign free agent defensive tackle Dontari Poe.

But it apparently wasn’t enough to help land Poe, arguably the best defensive tackle left in free agency.

Poe left Atlanta on Tuesday without a deal after meeting with the Falcons, according to CBSSports.com.

Poe, who had earlier interviewed with the Indianapolis Colts, flew to South Florida to meet with the Dolphins.

“We’re not close to a deal,” said Jimmy Sexton, Poe’s high-profile agent, when reached on Friday.

Poe, a two-time Pro Bowler who made $6.1 million deal, apparently is balking at taking a one-year, make-good deal.

The Chiefs, Poe’s former team, 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.

After not re-signing veteran Jonathan Babineaux and releasing Tyson Jackson, the Falcons are looking to buttress their defensive tackle position behind Grady Jarrett.

3. BREAKING THE BANK:  It’s apparent the Falcons are not going to pay big-bucks for Poe and Armando Salguero of The Miami Hearld doesn’t think the Dolphins will either.

“The Dolphins are not paying big bucks for Dontari Poe.

I have previously outlined for you how the Dolphins have significant resources already tied up in the defensive tackle position. And I’ve reported that the team doesn’t want to sink tons more resources into the position in the form of an over-priced free agent signing. That is why this Poe thing is going to hit a brick wall if Poe wants a major contract from Miami.”

So, while Poe has left town, maybe he’ll be back.

Stay tuned.

4. BURKHEAD TO PATRIOTS: Former Cincinnati Bengals running back Rex Burkhead, who visited the Falcons, signed with the Patriots on Tuesday.

The Falcons are still looking for a replacement for Pat DiMarco.

“That’s one of the situations where he had to look at everything,” Dimitroff said about losing DiMarco to Buffalo. “He had to make the move that he thought was most financially right for he and his family. No one can be faulted for that, of course.”

The scouts have extensive discussions with new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian about DiMarco’s replacement.

“We will be coming into this year making sure that we have an athlete at that position, a guy who can move around,” Dimitroff said. “The sort of old fashion fullback-type might not be exactly what we are looking for….We’ll continue to look. We figure that might happen in free agency, but there are a lot of opportunities in the draft to pull someone’s (name) off the board as well.”

Here’s what the Patriots saw in Burkhead.

5. DQ BACKS ATLANTA UNITED:  Falcons coach Dan Quinn hasn’t tweeted much lately. He did fire off one supporting the soccer team. Hope he remembers to tweet from his Pro Day visits and scouting trips as he’s off to Georgia today and will be at Georgia Tech on Friday.

5. DQ ON TMZ: This came out of nowhere. Quinn was strolling through LAX last Monday when TMZ politely rolled up on him. Unfortunately for the TMZ guy, Quinn didn’t have any leads on who stole Tom Brady’s jersey.

 

6. DIMITROFF ON ISHMAEL: “We are pleased to be able to get Kemal back,” Dimitroff said. “He is one of the toughest competitors we have and continued to battle every week last year despite a shoulder injury. He has shown the ability to play both safety and linebacker for us and that will continue to be valuable in our scheme.”

7. DIMITROFF ON ROBERTS: “Andre is an experienced receiver that will come in and compete for our returner spot as well as provide depth at wide receiver,” Dimitroff said. “We are really happy with the moves we have been able to make in free agency so far, and we feel we have added some really solid pieces while continuing our focus on retaining our own players.”

8. FREE AGENCY TRACKER: Here’s a summary of the Falcons moves in free agency:

NEW TO THE TEAM — ($12.1 million)

–DE Jack Crawford signed a three-year, $10.3 million deal.

–WR Andrew Roberts signed a one-year, $1.8 million deal.

STAYIING ($26.6 million, not counting restricted tenders)

–SS Kemal Ishmael signed a one-year, $2.5 million deal.

–LB LaRoy Reynolds signed a one-year, $1.3 million deal.

–QB Matt Schaub signed a two-year extension for $9 million.

–TE Levine Toilolo signed a four-year $12 million deal.

–DT Courtney Upshaw signed a one-year, $1.15 million deal.

–CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson re-sign to a one-year $775,000 deal.

–WR Taylor Gabriel (made just $510,000 last season) and has received a second-round tender from the team for $2.7 million.

–FS Ricardo Allen received his tender.

–OG Ben Garland received a tender from the team.

–DB Akeem King received a tender.

GOING

–DT Tyson Jackson was released by the team.

SIGNED WITH OTHER TEAMS

–FB Patrick DiMarco is set to sign a four-year, $8.4 million deal with the Bills.

–WR Eric Weems signed with Tennessee.

–WR Aldrick Robinson signed a two-year, $6 million deal with San Francisco.

–LB Paul Worrilow sign a one-year deal with the Lions.

–OT Tom Compton signed with the Chicago Bears.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

–DT Jonathan Babineaux wanted to return, but the team is allowing him to reach free agency after 12 years of service. Since being drafted in the second round back 2005 out of Iowa, Babineaux has played in 185 games and made 133 starts for the Falcons. “Babs has done a great job for us over the years,” Dimitroff said. “He’s been such a great leader for us.”

–RG Chris Chester is contemplating retirement. The team would like for him to return.

–DE Dwight Freeney said he wants to keep playing, but the team will revisit the veteran later in free agency.

–SS Dashon Goldson was safety insurance and not expected to be re-signed.

–TE Jacob Tamme said he wants to return, but the team will allow him to hit the open market. The development of Austin Hooper has been key.

–LB Sean Weatherspoon wants to return, but the team may look elsewhere for depth behind the talented linebacker corps.

–LB Philip Wheeler a key veteran backup, who can start in a pinch. The Columbus, Ga. native wants to return.

–CB Deji Olatoye played some snaps as injuries mounted.

–LB Josh Keyes is a speedy player.

–TE D.J. Tialavea provided some depth.

–WR Nick Williams he was a favorite of the former offensive coordinator.

9. CHEERLEADER TRYOUTS: Under the guidance of longtime Falcons cheer coordinator Chato Hendrix and choreographer Jakene Ashford audition preparation classes for the 2017 Atlanta Falcons cheerleader squad have started.

The classes will provide candidates with an overview of the program along with a brief question/answer session and teach dance combinations similar to those performed during the games. The Falcons offer several class options. One participant from each class will automatically advance to finals.

Classes will be taught by the Atlanta Falcons Cheerleaders staff and current cheerleaders. The March 11 and April 1 classes will be held at Windy Hill Athletic Club, located at 135 Interstate North Parkway SE in Atlanta.

The auditions for the 2017 squad will be held on Sunday, April 2, with a $35 non-refundable application fee.

FEBRUARY 5, 2017 HOUSTON TX Falcons cheerleaders on the sideline. The Atlanta Falcons meet the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI at NRG Stadium in Houston, TX, Sunday, February 5, 2017. John Spink/AJC

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