The Atlanta Falcons have in the neighborhood of $29 million in cap space for the upcoming season, are planning on extending at least one of their own stars, and have a list of 26 free agents hitting the street. They’re going to need that money, in other words, and they’re not going to make more than one or maybe two big splashes in free agency. Frankly, they also don’t need to.
Here’s a look at some of the biggest names on the market at positions of need, and a few thoughts about fit and whether the Falcons might actually pursue them. I welcome yours, as well. We’re just getting started on the free agency front before the new league year opens in about a month.
S Eric Berry
This man is near the top of everyone’s wish list, but he’s also perhaps the least likely player on this list to sign in Atlanta.
This sounds weird given that Berry is a native, that pairing him with Keanu Neal would create one of the most formidable safety duos in the NFL, and Atlanta’s an attractive place to play right now. You have to remember, though, that Berry has put down deep roots in Kansas City, the team will make every effort to sign him and has already made it clear that they expect to, and Berry is a strong safety, which is the same position Keanu Neal is currently excelling at.
Given that the Falcons have bigger needs and limited funds, I imagine Berry won’t be here.
DE/DT Calais Campbell
One of the biggest names—and biggest players—on the market, Campbell is a massive 6’8”, 300 pounder who would play defensive tackle for the Falcons and had eight sacks in 2016, so he would fit a massive need for this Atlanta defense. Put him next to Grady Jarrett and rotate in Ra’Shede Hageman and Tyson Jackson, and suddenly your DT corps looks a lot more impressive than it did a year ago.
The problem is going to be money and prying him away from Arizona, where he has played since he was drafted in the second round back in 2008. The team could certainly slap a franchise tag on him, which would put the brakes on Atlanta’s efforts, but I’d love to have him here and hope the Falcons will pursue him.
DE Jason Pierre-Paul
Pierre-Paul is one of the game’s better edge rushers, even if he blew off part of his hand in a fireworks-related accident. He had seven sacks for a tough Giants defense last year, and while that’s solid and JPP can still bring plenty of pressure, I question whether the Falcons should pony up for him.
My chief concern with Pierre-Paul is that he may never return to being the force of nature he once was, and he’s going to cost way too much money for there to be any doubt. Pass rushers get paid, as we all know.
LB/DE DeMarcus Ware
Aging pass rusher with solid 2016 production joining the Falcons? Weirdly, I feel like that works out pretty well for Atlanta recently.
Ware did only have four sacks in 2016 for the Broncos and you’re gambling any time you take on somebody this old, but if the Falcons are looking for another bridge player and Dwight Freeney isn’t coming back, they could do a hell of a lot worse than the legitimately great Ware.
G Ron Leary
Part of that excellent Dallas Cowboys offensive line, Leary started 13 games at left guard and played very well all year long. He’s a free agent and likely to strike out in search of a bigger contract, and if the Falcons want to jettison Andy Levitre or feel like Leary will play right guard for them, they could upgrade the line nicely by landing him.
G Kevin Zeitler
Another quality guard for the Cincinnati Bengals, if the Falcons should strike out on Leary. I suspect the Falcons are going to go young to replace Chris Chester at right guard, but I like that they’ll have strong veteran options if they don’t.
DT Glenn Dorsey
Bring him home at last, TD.