NFL Analysis: Falcons Franchising Brent Grimes a "No Brainer" Now?

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There has been plenty of discussion as to who the Atlanta Falcons will slap with the franchise tag, if anyone.  Previous speculation was that Curtis Lofton would be franchised, as he has been the nucleus for the defense since he was drafted in 2008.  Since then, we have found out that Mike Nolan believes Lofton to be only a two down linebacker, and numerous other 4-3 MLB's with similar skill sets are expected to be free agents as well.

Gregg Rosenthal of suggests Brent Grimes is a "no-brainer" to be franchised.  Rosenthal believes Grimes is "above-average" as well as a player in his prime, and is in his top 8 list of players likely to be franchised.

Grimes has been our best defensive back since the Arizona game in 2007 when he was first active. had him as their vote for starting NFC Probowl corner this year.  After consistently grading out as one of the NFL's top corners, PFF had this to say about Grimes:

Grimes is a playmaker who simply hates to have balls completed into his vicinity. For that reason he sometimes gambles but this season the risk/reward ratio has been well in his favor with a league low 42% of passes thrown his way completed.

Sounds well above-average, and even bordering on an elite talent.  Hitting his age 29 season, Grimes is more than worthy for the franchise tag.  Considering Grimes has been shuffled in and out of the line up the past few years, his level of play the past two seasons is even more impressive after inconsistent playing time.  It would be a positive move if Atlanta did not lose the best part of their underperforming defensivebacks.

However, the ongoing assumption is that Mike Nolan will utilize more press coverage than we ever had under Brian "Deep Zone" VanGorder.  If Atlanta does move to the more physical type play in the secondary, the undersized Grimes may be exposed against the bigger/more aggressive widereceivers.  For that reason, maybe Nolan wants to move forward from the 5'10", 180lbs Grimes to the 6'0", 200lbs Dominique Franks.

The nickel position, where Franks has been playing, changes in Nolan's previous schemes to the "Big Nickel" formation.  Instead of a nickel corner, Nolan subs a linebacker for a safety.  This is a compromise between either a linebacker or a smaller corner, likely better in coverage than a linebacker but better in run support than the nickelback.  Considering Nolan said his base defense is likely to be in nickel (and I assume it will be in big nickel) there is somewhat less emphasis on the corner position, especially the traditional nickel corner.

I would realistically expect Grimes to be franchised, and Lofton to be signed to a moderately priced contract considering the other competition he will have on the market.  Whether or not we keep Grimes after this year is drastically less certain.