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Atlanta Needs To Consider Moving To 3-4 Defense

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With so much cap space invested on the offensive side of the ball, the Falcons need to consider becoming strictly a 3-4 defense. Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images.
With so much cap space invested on the offensive side of the ball, the Falcons need to consider becoming strictly a 3-4 defense. Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images.

The time for a dramatic change of direction is now. The Atlanta Falcons are a team where the offensive side of the ball receives a larger amount of the team’s overall cap dollars. With stars such as QB Matt Ryan and WRs Roddy White and Julio Jones, this should not come as a monumental surprise.

But consider the fact that of the Falcons Top 5 projected cap figures for 2014, only one belongs to a defensive player in safety William Moore. Ryan, White, LG Justin Blalock and LT Sam Baker will count a combined $37.4 million in comparison to Moore’s $5.5 million. 

Atlanta had one of the worst defenses in the NFL in 2013. The unit was 27th overall in total defense, with the worst opponent's third down conversion rate in the league. The team only managed 32 sacks for the entire season, good enough for the 29th overall ranking. 

With those numbers in mind, now is the time to draft and sign players that better fit defensive coordinator Mike Nolan’s 3-4 base defense. Falcons head coach Mike Smith has talked about being able to be “multiple” with the team's defensive fronts, but that should be reassessed in Atlanta. 

In a salary cap league, the biggest difference in running a 3-4 versus a 4-3 defense is that players are typically cheaper contractually in a 3-4. For a Falcons team that is offensively committed with its salary cap, keeping the defense cheap and more effective would be ideal.

To illustrate the difference in cost between running a 3-4 and a 4-3 defense, listed below are the highest paid players at their positions for 2014:

4-3
DE Mario Williams          $18.8 million
DE Julius Peppers         $18.1 million
DT Ndamukong Suh      $22.4 million
DT Gerald McCoy            $15.6 million

Total:                                  $74.9 million

3-4
DE Calais Campbell       $11.2 million
DE Darnell Dockett            $8.7 million
DT Haloti Ngata               $16.0 million
LB Lamar Woodley         $13.6 million
LB Terrell Suggs             $12.4 million

Total:                                  $61.9 million