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2017 Free Agency Preview: Deciding Falcons every free agent’s future

The Falcons have plenty of decisions to make in the off-season. Determining the statuses of 18 free agents is the first step towards maintaining their status as a top contender.

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Atlanta Falcons v Carolina Panthers Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Free agency is drawing near. Unlike previous seasons, the Atlanta Falcons don’t have to make any monumental decisions. They wisely re-signed Ryan Schraeder and Robert Alford during the season, which leaves them with one key starter, rotational pieces, aging veterans, and backups left to consider. The sheer number of veterans heading into free agency is arguably the most compelling part of this list.

Some veterans are either fan favorites, considering retirement, or possibly linking up with Kyle Shanahan. The overall roster doesn’t have many holes. That should allow the front office to focus their attention on making the right personnel decisions. Here are the 18 free agents that should be re-signed or not given another contract from my perspective.

Jonathan Babineaux

The long-time fan favorite doesn’t plan on retiring, despite turning 35 in October. A more reduced role was necessary for Babineaux. After being productive for countless seasons, age finally caught up to the reliable veteran. Dan Quinn is still continuing to rebuild the defensive line following the personnel disaster in 2014. With Tyson Jackson likely being released, Babineaux and Ra’Shede Hageman are the current lone survivors from that dreadful group.

Based on loyalty to the franchise and a desire to win a championship, Babineaux should want to remain in Atlanta. How the coaching staff views him is another discussion. The new regime hasn’t been shy about not re-signing or releasing beloved figures. After cutting Roddy White, they won’t hesitate to move on from another rapidly declining player.

Babineaux doesn’t command a high salary or starting role like White did in 2015. His excellent late season performances against New Orleans and Seattle showed that he could still play well in a limited capacity. Quality defensive lines need depth, especially after the defensive line (as well as the entire defense) gassed out in the Super Bowl. On a young defense, a veteran presence can be useful in a backup role.

Verdict: Re-sign

Matt Schaub

The front office won’t get involved in a bidding war with San Francisco for Schaub’s services. Kyle Shanahan is going to add a veteran quarterback that thrived in his system. Brian Hoyer is another possible option, if Schaub wants to remain as Matt Ryan’s backup. This decision will ultimately fall on the veteran quarterback. A team like San Francisco will pay him more than the Falcons. No point in going above and beyond for a backup quarterback.

Verdict: Let him walk

Paul Worrilow

There is no reason to re-sign Worrilow. A coverage limited, two-down linebacker doesn’t fit in Quinn’s defense that is so reliant on speed and versatility. Some organization will take a chance on Worrilow based on his starting experience and production, but Deion Jones has developed into Atlanta’s defensive centerpiece.

Verdict: Let him walk

Chris Chester

The aging veteran deserves credit for holding up despite his glaring weaknesses. Power rushers gave him fits all season. According to Pro Football Focus, Chester allowed seven sacks and 13 hits, and age caught up to one of the lightest right guards in the league. He made up for it with key second level blocks to spring Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman into the open field.

Similar to Babineaux, Chester played surprisingly well in the playoffs. He didn’t allow Mike Daniels or Malcom Brown to overpower him like most analysts expected. Retirement is a possibility based on his age and shoulder issues. With Andy Levitre’s high-priced contract, the Falcons will likely have two different starting guards in 2018. They should look to replace one starter at a time. Chester is still a serviceable player, but the Falcons need to see what Wes Schweitzer and another potential draft pick or free agent signing can bring at right guard.

Verdict: Let him walk

Jacob Tamme

Another decent player that is expendable in a prolific offense. Tamme is a smart route runner with excellent hands, but it’s unclear how much new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian values tight ends. Shanahan is known for using two tight end sets on a consistent basis, and it made Tamme a valuable piece within the offense.

Austin Hooper will be featured in a bigger role this season, while Joshua Perkins is an intriguing prospect. Adding more speed or a true blocking tight end would benefit the offense more than re-signing Tamme. The reliable tight end is a poor blocker and struggles to win in traffic, which hurts his value at a position filled with promising young talent. It wouldn’t be expensive to re-sign him. He simply doesn’t offer much value at this stage of his career.

Verdict: Let him walk

Sean Weatherspoon

After rupturing his Achillies in 2014 and 2016, Weatherspoon’s value isn’t very high. Not many teams are going to take a chance on a player that has only played 25 games since 2012. The fan favorite hasn’t been shy about wanting to remain in Atlanta. Although they need to re-sign a few veterans, do they want to keep such an unreliable player?

Weatherspoon does want to become a mentor for the young linebacker unit. Another one-year deal won’t hurt their development. Relying on him as the main backup linebacker would be a mistake, though.

Verdict: Re-sign

Courtney Upshaw

As the season wore on, Upshaw’s play steadily improved. Quinn deserves credit for utilizing him in multiple ways. Adding weight ended up working for him. He showed flashes as a pass rusher, especially in the playoffs. The coaching staff knew about his sheer power.

Nobody knew Upshaw could use his hands so effectively. Not many players beat Bryan Bulaga this handily. The former linebacker has revitalized his career and now looks like a solid rotational piece. Similar to Adrian Clayborn and Derrick Shelby, Upshaw can play multiple positions.

Verdict: Re-sign

Eric Weems

The special teams ace is in a precarious situation. Although Weems is a valuable weapon on kickoff coverage, he doesn’t add anything as a returner. Every team needs some sort of upside on kickoff and punt returns. Weems doesn’t provide that any longer, as his speed and vision aren’t there.

Decision-making proved to be an issue as well. He put the offense in unnecessary situations by not securing punts on numerous occasions in the 2016 season. After the Falcons drafted Devin Fuller in the seventh round, it’s time to see what the former Bruin can offer as a returner.

Verdict: Let him walk

Dwight Freeney

With Freeney deciding to return in 2017, the Falcons should gladly welcome him back. The legendary edge rusher was outstanding in the Super Bowl. He consistently beat Nate Solder with an array of devastating moves. As Bleacher Report’s Cian Fahey showed here, the notorious spin move is still lethal.

Freeney is still an asset in a limited role. With key players returning from injury and forthcoming additions, he should play a more preferred 15 to 20 snaps per game rather than 25 to 30 snaps. That will allow him to be more effective.

Verdict: Re-sign

Philip Wheeler

As the strong side linebacker position continues to become an afterthought, Wheeler doesn’t have much value. He struggled against the run and doesn’t add much anywhere else. Re-signing him for depth purposes is reasonable. Relying on him as a starter for 20 snaps a game would be harmful, especially for a below average run defense.

Brooks Reed could slide back into his old position. They may revisit the Vic Beasley strong side linebacker experiment as well. Wheeler isn’t more than a backup at this point, which makes him expendable. They could draft someone in the sixth or seventh round to fulfill his role.

Verdict: Let him walk

Dashon Goldson

The veteran strong safety took Charles Godfrey’s role as the emergency backup safety. Goldson didn’t receive anywhere near the same amount of snaps as Godfrey had before. He is a liability in coverage and doesn’t offer much as a run stopper at this point in his career. The coaching staff played Sharrod Neasman over him in the last two games of the season, and thus, re-signing Kemal Ishamel is far more important.

Verdict: Let him walk

Tom Compton

Jake Matthews and Ryan Schraeder have been durable for the past two seasons. With Shanahan using several two and three tight end sets, Compton was rarely used as an extra blocker. He is a decent backup that can play both tackle positions.

It’s difficult to keep backup tackles around, especially when Compton is another player that has past ties with Shanahan in Washington. The front office should attempt to re-sign him.

Verdict: Re-sign

Patrick DiMarco

Don’t hesitate with this easy decision. DiMarco deserves to be the highest paid fullback in the league. He has played at an All-Pro level for two seasons now. After not being used much in 2014, Ryan even showed more confidence in him on check downs, and it helped the offense.

DiMarco is known for pancaking linebackers and creating gaping holes for the dynamic running back duo. After paying Ovie Mughelli in 2007, they should reward another terrific fullback with a premium contract.

Verdict: Re-sign

LaRoy Reynolds

Reynolds was largely underwhelming in backup duty behind Deion Jones. Tackling proved to be an issue for him. His lack of awareness was exploited against Seattle as well. Whether they sign a veteran or draft someone in the latter rounds, the new addition should be an upgrade over Reynolds.

Verdict: Let him walk

Aldrick Robinson

Another player that could possibly reunite with Shanahan in San Francisco. Robinson played under him in Washington, before signing with Atlanta. Every prolific offense needs one deep threat to challenge opposing defenses. Taylor Gabriel’s emergence took some buzz away from Robinson.

Although the speedy wide receiver is one-dimensional, Matt Ryan built a strong rapport with him. Robinson contributed with big games against Carolina and San Francisco. His breakaway speed commands respect. If the front office can re-sign Robinson before another team tries to lure him away, they shouldn’t hesitate to keep their impressive wide receiving core together.

Verdict: Re-sign

Blidi Wreh-Wilson

The former third round pick was active for one game. He was signed for depth purposes following Desmond Trufant’s season ending injury. Cornerback is one of the Falcons’ strongest positional groups. With their best corner returning, Wreh-Wilson isn’t needed.

Verdict: Let him walk

Levine Toilolo

Toilolo is too inconsistent as a run blocker to be re-signed. Despite averaging over 20 yards per catch, it mostly came from Shanahan’s brilliant play calling. The lumbering tight end wasn’t exactly beating man coverage.

It was always puzzling to see the coaching staff never truly utilize him in the red zone. A six foot eight player should be useful in narrow areas, yet Toilolo was rarely targeted. With Hooper showing great promise as a blocker, the front office should add a quicker option or pure blocking option to complement him, and let Toilolo go.

Verdict: Let him walk

Kemal Ishmael

One of the bigger surprises this season was Ishmael’s versatility. After filling in for Keanu Neal against Tampa Bay and Oakland, the strong safety moved to linebacker and started two games as well. He did an admirable job replacing Campbell. Most front offices appreciate flexibility, which will make Ishamel a mid-level commodity. A season ending shoulder injury may lower his price, but the Falcons will likely face some competition.

Besides DiMarco, they should prioritize on signing their backup linebacker and strong safety more than any other player. Injuries are bound to occur at some point. To have an excellent tackler with strong instincts capable of playing two positions is fantastic. Ishmael played a significant part in Atlanta’s upsets over Oakland and Denver.

Someone could potentially outbid them, but it would be disappointing to see the front office not show any urgency towards keeping Ishmael. Campbell missed five games in 2016. Acquiring quality linebacker depth is extremely difficult. This should be a no-brainer, unless he gets paid like a starter.

Verdict: Re-sign