The Atlanta Falcons have a few tricky positions to fill: defensive end, wide receiver, middle linebacker, and strong safety. Other positions, like tight end and interior offensive line can be filled later in the draft and with cheaper free agents. With Atlanta's quickly expanding cap space, they should get a shot at 4 to 5 new immediate starters in free agency and the draft.
At those premium positions, the Falcons are probably hoping to coming away with any of Mario Williams, Danny Trevathan, Travis Benjamin, and George Iloka. Those are some very good players, but should the team make an aggressive move for a player with the perfect combination of youth and impact?
Miami Dolphins DE Olivier Vernon had the highest score of any 4-3 end, according to Pro Football Focus. And the competition was not even close. His pass rush grade was better than every player in the league, outside of J.J. Watt. His numbers are nuts. Vernon is averaging 8.5 sacks in his last 3 seasons, and does not turn 26 until October.
Pro Football Focus gave Vernon 30 quarterback hits, 41 quarterback hurries, and 50 stops last season. The 6-foot-2, 275-pound end has enough size to play on either side of the line, and simply put, would change this defense. If Atlanta wants to stand a chance against Cam Newton and Jameis Winston over the next decade, they need an explosive pass rusher like Vernon.
How can Atlanta pry away Vernon from the Dolphins? Thanks to Miami's cap problems, the team was forced to transition tag Vernon. This means Miami is on the hook to pay him $12.734 million this season, but if he signs a better deal with another team, Miami gets a chance to match but gets no compensation if they get outbid.
Currently, Miami is projected at $3.5 million over the cap. They will need to make some big moves just to retain their restricted free agents, sign their rookie class, and add a few veterans on minimum contracts. The team should need $10 to $15 million in clear cap space to make that happen, meaning they could have to clear nearly $20 million just to maintain their overall talent level.
If Atlanta is so inclined, they can offer Vernon a deal with a smaller signing bonus, but larger base salary in his first year, pushing his cap number up to a level where Miami can't possible match. They don't even have to get caught up in a bidding war, but may be stuck offering offering more than the $10 to $11 million dollar averages given to Vinny Curry, Cameron Hayward, and Cameron Jordan.