Free agency is under way but, according to D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Falcons made some moves Thursday to ensure some contributors from 2008 remain in Atlanta.
According to Ledbetter, tight end Justin Peelle, linebacker Coy Wire, defensive tackle Jason Jefferson and center Ben Wilkerson agreed to terms to stay with the team. Contract talks continue with other unrestricted free agents including cornerback Domonique Foxworth and defensive end Chauncey Davis.
The team announced Sunday that free agent safety Lawyer Milloy will not be re-signed.
Peelle’s return, guarantees the top two tight ends from last season’s playoff team remain on the roster.
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan didn’t throw to the tight end much in 2008, but the addition of Peelle provided an option to compliment the blocking power of Ben Hartsock.
The 29-year-old was signed at the end of the preseason and quickly integrated with an offense ran by his former position coach — current Falcons offensive coordinator — Mike Mularkey. He finished the season with 15 catches for 159 yards and two touchdowns. Peelle also recorded three catches for 11 yards and a touchdown in the Falcons Wild Card playoff loss at Arizona.
All the contract extensions address a position thought to be on the Falcons wish list for the NFL Draft.
Thursday, Oklahoma State tight end Brandon Pettigrew said he met with Falcons staff at the Scouting Combine. He’s regarded by many experts as the best all-around tight end in the rookie class and may remain on the Falcons radar.
But, with the bulk of the league’s 10th-best scoring offense returning, the Birds are also expected to take a long look at the defense.
The move to keep Wire and Jefferson solidify some things on that side of the ball.
Jefferson, who was signed just before the start of the season, played in 13 games in 2008. He started in Week 2 at Tampa for an injured Grady Jackson.
Wire was never officially listed at the top of the depth chart in 2008 but he did take on a key role in run defense in the last four games. Wire split time with linebacker Michael Boley at strong-side linebacker and finished the year with 24 tackles and one pass defensed.
He had five solo tackls in the team’s playoff loss.
In all, five defensive starters from 2008 are on the free agent market: Boley, Foxworth, Keith Brooking, Jackson and Milloy.
Ledbetter also reports the Falcons made moves to secure the services of two restricted free agents. Right tackle Tyson Clabo and right guard Harvey Dahl received second-round tenders, meaning any team that signs them must reward Atlanta with a second-round pick.
Both players, journeymen early in their careers, started on a 2008 offensive line that allowed just 17 sacks and cleared the way for 2,443 rushing yards.
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