Look at the Falcons' roster, preferably with fainting couch handy. There are holes on this team you could pilot a zeppelin through, perhaps a half-dozen in all, and those holes undoubtedly can and perhaps will keep Atlanta from contending in 2014 unless they are addressed.
The Falcons don't need to address all these needs in free agency, but they must bring a sense of urgency to the signing period. When March 8 opens and they can negotiate, they'll need to be off and running.
Why, you ask?
A Thin Free Agency Class
If you look at safety, Jairus Byrd and T.J. Ward are easily the best two options. After that it's all injury questions (Louis Delmas), average ability (Antoine Bethea) and a combination of age and ability concerns. If the Falcons don't move quickly and manage to lock down Byrd or Ward, it's a starter who will be a tick above average or a drafted safety. It's also a relatively thin safety class, by all accounts.
Try guard. There's Geoff Schwartz, Jon Asamoah, Rodger Saffold, Travelle Wharton and Chad Rinehart. Everyone else in the class has questions, and there are actually legitimate questions about Asamoah and Rinehart, as well. With so many needs at guard across the NFL, those guys could disappear quickly, leaving the Falcons to go for solid if unspectacular options like the recently released Uche Nwaneri or Willie Colon, who is coming off of an injury.
At defensive tackle, Linval Joseph is the biggest name in the class, Henry Melton is a hell of a player, Vance Walker is still beloved in Atlanta, Lamarr Houston is versatile and Paul Soliali offers great size and run-stopping ability. After that, there's just a string of question marks and age concerns down the line.
You get my point. The Falcons have some outsized needs at these positions, particularly guard, and there's only a half-dozen truly good options at each. The Falcons have traditionally found some great bargains by letting the market settle, but with gobs of cap space across the league, a complacent Atlanta team will be one with lower-tier free agents that are likely to do little to solve some of the glaring problems on the roster.
So the solution is obvious. Find the players you want at the positions you want, bring your cap space to bear and then get out. There will still be a couple of decent guys hanging around in the summer the Falcons can bring aboard as depth and competition, but if you want the Byrds and Schwartzes of this class, it's imperative you most fast. The Falcons should be able to rebound nicely in 2014, but I'd be lying if I told you they can afford to whiff in free agency.