The NFL season is inching closer. Through July, Shutdown Corner will examine three big questions for each NFL team as it heads to training camp.
Report date: July 26
Where: Flowery Branch, Georgia
1. How do you even recover from, you know, 28-3?
When last we saw the Atlanta Falcons, they were limping off the field in Houston as confetti fell, victims of the greatest single-game collapse in sports history. Everything that could have gone wrong in their Super Bowl matchup with New England went wrong, turning a 25-point third-quarter lead into an overtime loss that, six months later, still doesn’t seem quite real. Every Falcon who’s spoken publicly has put on a brave face, but come on … how do you recover from something as devastating as this?
Answer: you don’t. You accept it—or, as head coach Dan Quinn is preaching, you “embrace the suck.” Unless and until the Falcons win a Super Bowl, the specter of 28-3 will rise up before them like the Ghost of Christmas Past. The only way out of this nightmare, for the Falcons, is to get back to the Super Bowl … and win it this time. And that’s a task that can’t be accomplished in training camp, or even the regular season.
2. Will Devonta Freeman sign a long-term deal?
Running back Devonta Freeman had a spectacular 2016 season and was a key reason why the Falcons reached the Super Bowl, which made his agent’s decision to start carping about a new contract during Super Bowl week an odd choice, at best. (Freeman would go on to miss a key block that led to a crucial late-game sack of QB Matt Ryan, but we won’t hold that against the agent.)
Freeman, 25, is playing the final year of his rookie deal, and he expects to get paid. The Falcons expect that too, with GM Thomas Dimitroff agreeing that Freeman is one of the Falcons’ key components, right up there with Ryan, Julio Jones and Alex Mack. The team hopes to sign Freeman to a long-term deal this week, and that would go a long way toward keeping harmony in the clubhouse and the Falcons together as a playoff-caliber unit.
3. How healthy is Julio Jones?
Jones is one of the best receivers in the NFL, tall enough to outjump anyone faster and fast enough to outrun anyone taller. His everyday catches would be any other receiver’s highlight reel. But he suffered a toe injury last season that limited his practice time and his mobility; the key question for Atlanta heading into this season is whether he’ll be at 100 percent. Naturally, the Falcons say that he’s completely ready to go, but we’ll have to wait for some time to see how he explodes off the line and vaults into the air. As Jones goes, so go the Falcons, so it’ll be of paramount importance to have him healthy for January, even if that means sacrificing playing time in August and September.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION, on sale now at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Contact him at email@example.com or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.
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