The Atlanta Falcons have shown interest in free agent defensive tackle Earl Mitchell. Whether or not they land him, you’re not going to see the same group of DTs we did in 2016, when it was arguably one of the weaker position groupings on the Falcons defense.
As Vaughn McClure writes today, Mitchell (or Dallas defensive tackle Terrell McClain) could be one of the first moves for a Falcons team that knows it needs more out of its defensive line if the entire defense is going to take a needed step forward in 2017. If the team is intent on improving its defensive tackle rotation, Mitchell’s unlikely to be the only signing or draft pick added to the rotation alongside Grady Jarrett and Ra’Shede Hageman. It’s worth noting that McClure believes Hageman is back in the coaching staff’s good graces, which means he’ll have a chance to prove he belongs here over the long haul in 2017.
That could mean that Tyson Jackson will find his way out of Atlanta, something that has been predicted every year and hasn’t come to fruition. As McClure notes:
There is an expectation that defensive tackle Tyson Jackson, who is due a base salary of $3.5 million next season and set to count $5.85 million against the cap, won't be back, at least not without a reduced price tag. Jackson, who turns 31 in June and is coming off a career-low 13 combined tackles (311 snaps played), is signed through 2018. Releasing him would save $2.65 million against next year's salary cap.
I had argued that Jackson is likely to stay as a solid run-stuffing rotation piece, given that $2.65 million isn’t a massive savings. But it is true that Jackson hasn’t remotely lived up to his contract to this point, and getting a re-structure out of him to free up a little money while keeping him around for early downs wouldn’t be the worst approach. I always prefer teams honor contracts, but if Jackson has an opportunity to get a bit more job security out of a re-structure in the form of an additional year or two, it might behoove him to do so.
The Falcons may well put that money toward Mitchell, though, and may just be looking to upgrade on Jackson. If you can gain a little money this year and more next year, and you’re able to roll forward with something like a Jarrett/Hageman/Mitchell/Jaleel Johnson rotation at defensive tackle, I think we’d all feel pretty good. We’ll see what happens with Mitchell when he visits the Falcons later this week, and we’ll certainly know Jackson’s status before the start of free agency.