Hours of furious debate over Rafael Bush's role and ability for these Atlanta Falcons was for naught, as it turns out:
I'm still a saint yep— rafael bush (@rbush36) April 7, 2014
Rafael Bush's agent confirms via email the Saints matched the offer sheet for the RFA.— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) April 7, 2014
Because the Saints matched, Bush will be in New Orleans in 2014. The Falcons lose out on the opportunity to add a fairly young veteran with at least some upside, while the Saints get to keep a formidable trio of safeties intact.
You don't have to be a Rafael Bush enthusiast to know the Falcons are right back to being woefully thin at safety. They have the usually great William Moore plus a banged-up Zeke Motta and an unknown quantity in Kemal Ishmael, and it would take a family-sized can of optimism to see more than one starting safety in that bunch. At this point, the Falcons more or less have to invest in one through the draft, and they can't probably cannot afford to pass on doing so in the first two days. I do like both Motta and Ishmael, to be clear, but asking them to make the leap isn't a gamble I'd willingly take.
Ultimately, my frustration stems from watching the Falcons pass on average veteran after average veteran after either whiffing on or not showing interest in the top safeties in the free agent class. That left them without a reasonable stopgap option if they weren't able to pry Bush away from New Orleans, and that's exactly the scenario they find themselves in now.
The best options remaining are probably players like Steve Gregory, Thomas DeCoud (who won't re-sign), Mike Adams and Kerry Rhodes. Only Rhodes would be an actual upgrade and natural fit for free safety at this stage of the game, so there isn't a team in the NFL who isn't aware that the Falcons have to look at a rookie to fill one of their most pressing needs. Unless there's another trick up the team's sleeves at this late stage, there's going to be an enormous amount of pressure to hit on a safety pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.
The good news, of course, is that this is a draft with some gifted safety prospects. If the Falcons are willing to pony up a second or third round pick, they have a shot at a player who may be able to start for a long time. Let's hope they make the most of that shot.