The team has struggled with a lack of depth for years while losing big names to retirement and ineffectiveness. The last few seasons have exposed the team's roster, and are a big component of 2015's historic collapse.
Short their 5th and 6th round draft pick in 2016, Thomas Dimitroff needed the perfect free agency. Early in the offseason, the team's general manager and head coach talked about adding speed to the roster. The big roster holes were evident: replacing Roddy White and William Moore, upgrading on Paul Worrilow and Mike Person, and finally replacing Patrick Kerney.
We are quickly approaching the draft, but most of these problems are still outstanding. If we could hop in a time machine, and assume players would take similar deals to play for Atlanta, here is my offseason redo, and the explanation why.
This is not to say I disagree with all the signings. I would absolutely bring back Adrian Clayborn, I like the Derrick Shelby signing, and I think Philip Wheeler could find a role on this defense. These players provide quality depth, but the team's starters are a little more confusing.
Pass on Alex Mack, sign Ben Jones
Mack is most certainly a beast, and should help massively by not being Mike Person. At the same time, did the team overcorrect too far? In 2015, they gave the starting spot to a backup guard who had never played center. In 2016, they signed the most expensive center in the league.
The perfect middle ground would be signing Ben Jones, who ultimately landed with the Tennessee Titans on a very reasonable deal. His cap hit is nearly half of Mack's every season of his deal, and would be a solid improvement. I would make this move almost entirely for financial reasons: 5 years, $45 million compared to 4 years, $17.5 million.
That extra money could be better invested elsewhere.
Pass on Mohamed Sanu, sign Travis Benjamin
The Sanu signing still strikes me as odd. I assume the front office believes that Sanu can continue to improve and will live up to his contract. That is a risky proposition. When Sanu received a bigger role in 2014, he struggled mightily. In 2015, he was demoted behind a number of decent, but not great, pass catchers. Even if Sanu improves, the team still lacks any speed from their pass catchers outside of Julio Jones.
The team could have solved their speed problems with a player that stepped up when given the opportunity: Travis Benjamin. The speedster (4.36 40 time) is coming off his career-best year with 966 receiving yards, and eventually signed for slightly less than Sanu. 5 years, $32.5 million compared to 4 years, $24 million.
Pass on Paul Worrilow, sign Danny Trevathan
This does not even have to be Trevathan. The very good Jerrell Freeman signed a deal for only 3 years, $12 million. Trevathan got $24.5 million over 4 years. The reasoning is simple. Worrilow has been one of the league's worst inside linebacker the last few seasons, and is in no way worth $2.553 million. That money would be better spent making up a significant portion of a great player's salary. Additionally, money saved from the other two signings would allow another linebacker and Atlanta could still be in the same cap situation.
Free agency is the best place for a linebacker. This year's draft has a number of questionable 4-3 linebackers available early in the draft, but why spend an early pick on a player you hope can play as well as Jerrell Freeman, or maybe one day turn into Trevathan?
Bonus signing: bring in Ladarius Green
OK, Green would obviously only work if and when the team clears up cap room, and is not filling an immediate need. The Falcons would need to get rid of Devin Hester, and potentially one more veteran to make this work. However, he would be the perfect addition to the team, and could provide the elite speed down the seam this team has been missing. Jacob Tamme had his career best season, but does not provide much after the catch.
Entering the draft
The biggest problem with Atlanta's offseason plan is they need endless luck in the draft. The team needs to come away with immediate starters at strong safety and weakside linebacker, early contributors at defensive end and middle linebacker, and could use help at defensive tackle, wide receiver, guard, and tight end.
That is a lot to ask with only four picks in the first six rounds of the draft. Looking back on free agency, and looking forward to the draft, it is inexcusable the team passed over multiple linebackers. It hamstrings their entire draft plan.
If they were able to fix the middle linebacker problem, they could afford to address defensive end and strong safety early in the draft, add a weakside linebacker in the middle rounds, and have enough flexibility to hit on one of many different positions with their remaining two picks.
Best of all, the team would not have any glaring roster holes. Now the roster looks like it will slow and incomplete. The Falcons needed to work some magic in free agency. Now they need gobs of luck in the draft to adequately finish out the roster.