At 4 p.m., the NFL's deadline to franchise tag players passed. A handful of teams elected to use the their tag, and the end result is a market missing some of its top players, particularly at positions of need for our beloved Atlanta Falcons.
Pass rushers are thinned out
Justin Houston and Jason Pierre-Paul were franchised, taking two of the best options off the open market. Greg Hardy remains as a borderline elite pass rusher, but looming suspension questions, off-the-field concerns and his price tag may complicate matters. So what's left?
Jerry Hughes, one of my favorites from the class and a guy I genuinely hope the Falcons pursue, though the Bills are likely to try to forge a long-term deal with him. Pernell McPhee of the Ravens is still available, Jason Worilds of the Steelers was not tagged and there's Brandon Graham, a favorite of many analysts for his per-snap production. The Falcons will almost certainly walk away from free agency with one of these guys, but obviously not having players like Houston and Pierre-Paul on the open market will have a cascading effect, driving up prices for players like MccPhee.
Tight end is very thin
The Falcons could chip away at their tight end need by signing players like Niles Paul, Rob Housler and Virgil Green, who can be effective complementary options and should be reasonably priced. They could go for a legitimate starter like Jordan Cameron, Julius Thomas or Jermaine Gresham. If they prefer to do the latter, they're going to have to move quickly and carry a fat wallet, because you're not getting an above average starter after the three guys I just mentioned have shuffled off to the Jaguars, Raiders and Buccaneers.
Given that the draft class is also thin in 2015, the Falcons may either need to punt having a stellar tight end and settle for Levine Toilolo, a decent complementary piece and perhaps a true blocking tight end. Charles Clay of Miami would have been a nice fit, but he's got a transition tag on him and the Falcons will likely have to go quite high to pry him away from the Dolphins.
A few intriguing options may hit the open market
The Patriots may still be able to re-sign safety Devin McCourty, who would instantly become the best free safety on the market. They elected to use their franchise tag on their kicker (?), and so they now have just over a week to agree with McCourty before he's a free agent. As a premier cover safety, he's going to get paid, and if Dan Quinn wants to try to give himself a strong safety tandem like he had in Seattle, McCourty's an intriguing possibility.
Ndamukong Suh is out there, too. The Jaguars and Raiders can give him massive paydays the Falcons can't match, and Atlanta is stronger on the interior with Jonathan Babineaux, Tyson Jackson, Paul Soliai and Ra'Shede Hageman than they are at end, making a Suh signing unlikely. He is arguably the most impactful defender available, however, and I bet most teams will at least check in on him.
And if the Falcons really want to make a splash at wide receiver, where Harry Douglas was just released and Roddy White is aging, they could chase Randall Cobb or Percy Harvin. Given the price tags there, particularly with Cobb, I can't say I view that as tremendously likely.
Ultimately, this Falcons team is still going to use their free agent dollars to try to patch several holes, and it's an attractive enough landing spot that they shouldn't need to scrap the bottom of the barrel. Who do you think they'll land?