SUWANEE, Ga. - Having failed through the draft to find NFL-caliber cornerbacks, the Atlanta Falcons Tuesday made a bid for a proven talent.
The team submitted a four-year contract proposal to Indianapolis' Ray Buchanan, considered the best young cornerback available in free agency. Because Buchanan is a "transition" player, Indianapolis has one week to match Atlanta's offer.
"We felt this was an area where we could improve ourselves the most, and that he is the best young corner out there," coach Dan Reeves said. "Looking at all the scenarios, including his age and the fact there would be no compensation, we thought this would be a good move."
If Indianapolis does not match Atlanta's offer, the Falcons will not owe the Colts any draft picks.
Buchanan, 25, played free safety at Louisville and in his first 1« seasons in the NFL. He made the NFL All-Rookie team in 1993, was third in the NFL in interceptions with eight in 1994 and also had 137 tackles that year. He registered 105 tackles in 1995, helping the Colts reach the AFC title game. Last year, Buchanan started 13 games and had two interceptions and 71 tackles.
Also a punt returner - and the Falcons need one, because Eric Metcalf isn't expected to return - Buchanan scored three touchdowns on returns in 1994 and had an 82-yard return last year.
Buchanan, 5-9, 195 pounds, would instantly become the team's premier defensive back. Of last year's four starters, only strong safety Devin Bush is expected to retain his job. Cornerbacks Darnell Walker and Lenny McGill are free agents - unrestricted and restricted, respectively - and strong safety Patrick Bates was a major disappointment.
The Falcons have drafted several cornerbacks in recent years, including Anthony Phillips, Ron Davis, Juran Bolden and Walker. None has made a lasting impact.
Buchanan becomes the second "transition" player in history the Falcons have pursued. Defensive tackle Pierce Holt was signed away from the San Francisco 49ers in 1993.
Buchanan's agent, Roosevelt Barnes, did not return phone messages Tuesday.
Reeves cautioned that offers to transition players are matched more often than not by the player's existing team.