Falcons' free-agent plan may include keeping Julio Jones
ATLANTA (AP) The Falcons' financially conservative approach to this year's free-agent signings may have been influenced by hopes of keeping star wide receiver Julio Jones from leaving next year.
Jones can be a free agent following the 2015 season. Even while signing 12 free agents, the Falcons have protected salary cap space to deal with Jones, who set a franchise record for yards receiving last season.
The Falcons exercised their option on the fifth year of Jones' contract at about $10 million for 2015. There has been no indication talks have started on a contract extension, but the team still is about $20 million under the salary cap.
A new deal for Jones will be costly, especially following his successful recovery from the broken foot which limited him to only five games in 2013. Jones was quarterback Matt Ryan's favorite target last season. He set career highs with 104 catches and a team-record 1,593 yards receiving.
Two recent signings by receivers may help to set the market for Jones. Earlier this month, the Kansas City Chiefs signed Jeremy Maclin to a five-year deal worth as much as $55 million. Randall Cobb re-signed with Green Bay for four years and $40 million.
The Falcons have added at least five possible starters in free agency: linebackers Justin Durant and Brooks Reed, defensive end Adrian Clayborn and wide receiver Leonard Hankerson - as the third or fourth receiver. Tight end Jacob Tamme could push 2014 starter Levine Toilolo.
Even so, Atlanta didn't land any of the biggest names on the market. Some newcomers may struggle to make the team, but new coach Dan Quinn offered the reminder that more help will come in the NFL draft.
Before the draft begins on April 30, Quinn will have his first up-close look at his team with the start of organized team activities in about two weeks.
''We like the way our roster is coming together and we still have the draft to continue to add to our team,'' Quinn said. ''I cannot wait to get our guys in here on April 6 and connect with each and every one of them.''
Atlanta signed four free agents who had at least brief exposure to Quinn when he was the Seattle Seahawks' defensive coordinator: linebackers Allen Bradford and O'Brien Schofield, offensive lineman Mike Person and tight end Tony Moeaki.
Two key signees come to Atlanta with a history of injuries.
Clayborn played in only one game with Tampa Bay last season due to a torn biceps. He missed almost half of his games in his four seasons with the Buccaneers but will be needed to push for a starting job in Atlanta.
''I think with the guys they've got there already and the guys that are coming in, as long as we jell together as quickly as possible ... we'll be fine,'' Clayborn said.
Hankerson battled two serious injuries in his four seasons with Washington and also played in only one game last season.
The Falcons also have signed cornerback Phillip Adams, who has eight career starts in four seasons with three teams, including four starts with the Jets in 2014.
The Falcons' makeover began when the team released receiver Harry Douglas, running back Steven Jackson, guard Justin Blalock and defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi.
Two Atlanta free agents, linebacker Sean Weatherspoon and defensive tackle Corey Peters, signed with Arizona. The Falcons lost cornerback Robert McClain to New England.
Among the free agents who re-signed with Atlanta were kicker Matt Bryant, defensive end Kroy Biermann, running back Antone Smith and Eric Weems, a wide receiver and special teams leader.
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