AP Source: Falcons Hope to Acquire Asante Samuel

A trade for Samuel would provide a highlight to what has been a relatively quiet offseason for the Falcons, who have worked to retain their free agents instead of making a splash through trades or free agency.

The Falcons have six picks but no first-round selection in the NFL draft. They hope to acquire Samuel before the draft, according to a person familiar with the talks.

The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity on Tuesday because the deal, which may include a draft pick, is not complete.

Samuel, 31, is a four-time Pro Bowl pick. He would give the Falcons’ new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan a strong trio at cornerback with Dunta Robinson and Brent Grimes, who Tuesday signed his franchise tag tender. Grimes will make $10.262 million this season.

Grimes’ agent, Ben Dogra, said the cornerback would like a deal that lasts beyond the 2012 season.

“We will continue to talk and the goal is to hopefully reach a long-term deal at some point,” Dogra told The Associated Press.

Samuel’s contract calls for him to earn $9.9 million in 2012 and $11.4 million in 2013. He might rework the deal to help the trade fit the Falcons’ salary cap.

The Falcons began their offseason program on Monday.

Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff was New England’s director of scouting when the Patriots selected Samuel in the fourth round in 2003. Samuel set a career high with 10 interceptions for the Patriots in 2006.

Samuel signed a six-year deal with the Eagles in 2008. The Eagles acquired cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie before the 2011 season, creating a trio that didn’t mesh.

An Atlanta trade of one or more draft picks for an established veteran such as Samuel would be another sign Dimitroff’s focus is on 2012 instead of the future.

That’s fine with quarterback Matt Ryan.

“I’m certainly in a win-now mode,” Ryan said Tuesday. “I think that’s the only way you can approach the NFL. Every time you suit up and every time you play, it’s for one reason and that reason is to win.”

Ryan said Samuel, who had 30 tackles and three interceptions in 2011, has been a difficult opponent.

“As far as Asante Samuel, I can only speak for having played against him a number of times and I know that’s he’s been extremely difficult to play against and has done a great job against us when we’ve played him in the past,” Ryan said.

The Falcons were 10-6 last season and 13-3 in 2010 but lost their first playoff game each season. An improved secondary would boost the team’s hopes for 2012.

Falcons linebacker Sean Weatherspoon called Samuel “a player who would improve anyone’s defense.”

Samuel has 45 career interceptions in nine seasons. His three interceptions in 14 games last season was his low total since 2005.

Dimitroff was preparing for the draft and was not available for comment on Tuesday.

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Falcons Place Franchise Tag on Cornerback Grimes

Grimes, who led the team with 17 passes defensed in 2011, is one of the most important names in an unusually large class of 17 unrestricted free agents. He had a combined 11 interceptions in 2009 and 2010 and was an alternate Pro Bowl pick in 2010.

Grimes’ agent, Ben Dogra, said the decision by Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff was expected.

“We anticipated receiving the franchise tag,” Dogra told The Associated Press. “Brent Grimes is certainly viewed as one of the elite cornerbacks in the NFL, and getting franchised is not a surprise to any of us. We look forward to continuing to speak with Thomas Dimitroff over the next few days.”

Dimitroff announced the move on the team’s radio partner, Atlanta’s WQXI AM-790. He said he plans to continue talks on a long-term deal with Grimes.

“Our feeling is, Brent Grimes is an excellent athlete with the ability to move, cover, break on the ball with some of the top corners in this league,” Dimitroff said. “We feel comfortable with his abilities, the way that he’s picked up our system and settled in nicely in the few years since we have been here.”

“We feel like, as we all know, you’re always looking for corners that can settle into your system and cover and stay in phase, as what we call it often, and make big plays on the ball. I think Brent Grimes does that, obviously, against big, small, fast or slow receivers in this league. We’re encouraged about having him back.”

Dogra said Grimes hopes “to explore all options with the Falcons, including signing a long-term deal.”

Dimitroff was scouting players in California on Friday and could not be reached for additional comment.

Grimes (5-10, 183) was an undrafted free agent from Shippensburg who emerged after joining the team’s practice squad in 2007.

Other top Atlanta free agents include linebacker Curtis Lofton, who led the team in tackles, safety Thomas DeCoud, who topped the Falcons with four interceptions, defensive end John Abraham, who led with 9 ½ sacks, and center Todd McClure. Other free agents include backup running back Jason Snelling, backup quarterback Chris Redman and receivers Harry Douglas and Eric Weems.

Dimitroff said after the season it might be difficult for the team to keep more than eight free agents.

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