The Atlanta Falcons have too many holes to fill with just five draft picks in 2016, so they need to be active in free agency and focus on the bargain bin of free agency. Getting players on some prove-it style deals will allow them to improve the depth and starters on the roster. The Falcons need to address needs all around the team, but they need to truly focus on the offensive line, linebacker and safety.
Atlanta is currently projected to have around $21 million in cap space in 2016 and could free up another $15-20 million with cuts that could include Andy Levitre, Jon Asamoah, William Moore, Tyson Jackson, Paul Soliai, Matt Bryant, Roddy White, Devin Hester, Justin Durant, Brooks Reed and Jonathan Babineaux. After those cuts, if the Falcons had anywhere from $35-40 million in cap space, they could fill a ton of holes with those prove-it deals.
It would also leave enough money to pursue a big name out there. If Von Miller or Alshon Jeffery are allowed to test free agency, the Falcons need to go after them, because they'll have the money both short- and long-term to make it worthwhile. Adding a big name to go with the following seven guys would improve the Falcons and turn them from a team that looks headed down a path to 7-9 to a potential playoff team even before adding a draft pick.
WR Rishard Matthews
Projected Contract: 1 Year, $2.5 million
After a poor year from Roddy White and underwhelming performances from Leonard Hankerson to lead off 2015, the Falcons have a need for a true No. 2 receiver to Julio Jones. Rishard Matthews isn't currently a great NFL receiver, but he is a solid all-around player with the potential to break out the same way that Michael Crabtree did this past season. Matthews is built very similarly to White and has a similar athletic profile as a younger Roddy.
Miami would let Matthews go because DeVante Parker and Jarvis Landry already being under contract, and Matthews should look for a spot that would let him prove to the league that he's a true No. 2 option behind someone like Julio. If he performs well enough, the Falcons could afford to give him a bigger contract on extension after the 2016 season ends.
TE Coby Fleener
Projected Contract: 3 Years, $12.0 million
Coby Fleener has been underwhelming in a contract year, but he's shown potential to be a good all-around tight end for an offense. With Indy's primarily man-blocking concepts, Fleener has shown an ability to move guys off the ball. In Atlanta, he would be better suited as he could seal the edge in the zone scheme much more efficiently. As a receiver, Fleener can attack the ball in contested catch situations effectively and be that big safety valve Ryan loves.
This isn't to say that Jacob Tamme has been terrible. As a pure pass-catcher, Tamme has been worth keeping at least another year. But Fleener would be a massive upgrade over Toilolo as both a blocker and as a receiver. Fleener would give the Falcons someone who could help them out by not tipping whether the play is a pass or a run due to personnel at tight end on the field, too.
OL Kelvin Beachem
Projected Contract: 5 Years, $24.5 million
The best zone-blocking guards are tackles who are undersized and quicker than the norm. Andy Levitre has been a solid player for the Falcons in 2015, but a long-term solution at right guard needs to be found with Chris Chester nearing the end of his career. Kelvin Beachem would be an ideal solution for the Falcons. He's an underrated talent at left tackle for the Steelers, but can play any of the four non-center positions on the offensive line.
Beachem will be tough for the Steelers to keep with their current cap situation too. Because of that, the Falcons should sneak in and sign him to be their long-term solution at right guard. His quickness and intelligence on the line would be appreciated between whoever the new center will be and Ryan Schraeder at right tackle. Beachem should be able to slide right into a zone-blocking scheme and create better holes than what Levitre and Chester did.
C Ben Jones
Projected Contract: 4 Years, $10.5 million
Mike Person has been terrible as the starting center for the Atlanta Falcons. He needs to be replaced by someone with zone blocking experience that can also call protections. The Falcons would be wise to look to Houston's Ben Jones, as he has experience within the zone scheme and has been providing the Texans with solid protection calls all season long. He also wouldn't break the bank.
As an average to above-average center in the NFL, he should only be making in that $2.0 million to $2.5 million range per year. The Falcons should give him a little bit more just to make sure that he comes to town to shore up the middle of the offensive line, and to give Ryan has the protection he needs to succeed. Jones will appreciate having more talent around him than what he has in Houston, as well.
LEO Aldon Smith
Projected Contract: 1 Year, $2.0 million (with potential to be 7.5 million through NLTBE incentives)
Vic Beasley would be better if he was allowed to move full time to a strong-side linebacker role. He'd be on the field during run situations, and his pass rushing wouldn't force him to be down on the line until third downs, when he's aligned as the left-side defensive end. But in order to have Beasley switch permanently to the strong-side, the Falcons will have to bring in the right LEO to help the team.
The LEO position is a demanding one that requires someone who can rush the passer effectively while also stopping the run well from a 7-tech or 9-tech in the base defense. Aldon Smith is an ideal fit for the role because he does his best when lined up out wide. If Aldon can get his head together, the Falcons could have a steal here for peanuts in the first season into the deal.
LB Mark Barron
Projected Contract: 3 Years, $10.0 million
Atlanta's linebacker situation in 2015 has been anywhere from bad to abysmal. Paul Worrilow just doesn't have the speed to be effective as a middle linebacker in the scheme, and Justin Durant goes from injured to underperforming and back again. The Falcons need to upgrade this spot heavily in 2016. In free agency, they should consider Mark Barron for the role. He's a former strong safety from the Buccaneers and current Rams linebacker.
Barron has been a revelation as a weak-side linebacker for the Rams and has even been playing in nickel packages as their primary coverage linebacker. The Falcons could use him in a similar role to what Telvin Smith has been playing this season. His career year should earn him at least a prove-it deal, and at just 26 years old, he's going to be worth an investment for the long term.
S George Iloka
Projected Contract: 5 Years, $20.5 million
The Falcons have been getting pretty poor play from William Moore in 2015. Kemal Ishmael and Robensen Therezie aren't long-term solutions as starters in the Falcons defense either, so they need someone who can come right in and start, while also providing an upgrade over what Moore has offered. George Iloka has the potential to breakout and be a star within the Falcons scheme due to his combination of size and instincts.
Iloka currently plays a similar role for the Bengals, with Reggie Nelson being the true eraser in the back of the defense. Ricardo Allen should enjoy having Iloka next to him, because it will give the Falcons another guy who could cover deep while fitting in Dan Quinn's scheme perfectly. If the Falcons can swing it, getting Iloka's contract structure in the range of what Thomas DeCoud's was would be ideal.