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2017 NFL Free Agency: Falcons stick to the plan, stay quiet on the first day

Just one outside signing on the first day for the Falcons, who are watching the market.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons-OTA Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

There was reason to think that the Falcons might make an early splash on their first day, signing the one big name free agent they can afford before sinking back into the mud and lying in wait for the market to settle, as they often do in this mixed metaphor I’m creating. That was before the market exploded and there was a fullback that’s averaging like $5 million a year, oh my god, so the Falcons kept an even lower profile than anticipated.

The big—and only outside—signing of the first day was former Dallas Cowboys defensive lineman Jack Crawford, who will join the team’s defensive line rotation and offers some upside as a pass rusher and run stopper. Otherwise, the team stuck to re-upping with backups, getting back Courtney Upshaw, LaRoy Reynolds, and Levine Toilolo.

This is part and parcel of the approach, here. I’m still hopeful Atlanta will pony up for a guy like Dontari Poe or Jonathan Hankins, but they feel they have a pretty complete roster that’s going to continue to grow, and they’re certainly justified in thinking that. Adding pieces to fill in weaknesses and relying on the draft to add young, cost-controlled talent is a much more sustainable approach than throwing gobs of money at big names, as the most successful teams learn again and again. Atlanta can’t afford to stand pat this year, but they are also smart to make judicious use of fairly limited cap space. I’m not even ready to worry slightly, at this point.

Hopefully we’ll get that Desmond Trufant extension and a little more clarity into the team’s plans in the coming days. Just remember that this team pushed their way into the Super Bowl last year when no one expected them to be able to, and thus far, we have no good reason to doubt the plan in place.

Around the NFL

  • The Panthers landed one of the biggest duds of the first day. Matt Kalil has the draft pedigree, but Vikings fans were glad to see him go, and the Vikings have one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL. The Panthers gave him a huge, costly deal that seems very likely to bite them in the ass, and may not do enough to upgrade an offensive line that actively impeded Cam Newton in 2016.
  • The Buccaneers, meanwhile, had a canny first day. They landed veteran defensive tackle Chris Baker and deep threat DeSean Jackson, bringing back a handful of their own valued players, and still have enough money to keep going. Tampa Bay is one of those teams that never, ever seems to put it all together, but I’ll be wary of them this season, particularly if Jameis Winston can take a step forward.
  • The Saints are still shopping Brandin Cooks, but in the meantime, they’re adding guard Larry Warford, noted speedy drop machine Ted Ginn Jr., and a handful of useful defensive pieces. They’re the worst team in the division on paper and that’s unlikely to change, but I can’t say I dislike their moves so far.
  • The Jaguars continued to splurge, and their team is now studded with high-round draft picks and stellar free agents. I’ve always had a soft spot for the AFC expansion team, and this might be the year that some of these moves really start to pay off. Might.
  • If you’re looking for the most fascinating moves of Day 1, look no further than the Browns and Eagles. The Browns added some valuable pieces, but they also swapped exactly nothing to the Texans in exchange for Brock Osweiler and a second round pick, and immediately set about finding a trade partner to take Osweiler for another pick. They’re shrewdly building around the idea that gobs of cap space and a treasure chest full of draft picks can turn you into a contender, and it’s an experiment I’m eager to see work out for them.

The Eagles, meanwhile, got Alshon Jeffery and Chance Warmack on one year deals. Both players are eager to prove they deserve big money, while the Eagles can walk away if it doesn’t work out. After Philadelphia was burned so many times by big free agent contracts, this looks like a savvy play.