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2017 NFL free agency: Falcons intend to bring back veteran defensive lineman Courtney Upshaw

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The versatile lineman came on strong at the end of the year.

NFL: Super Bowl LI-New England Patriots vs Atlanta Falcons Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

If you had asked midway through the season whether Courtney Upshaw would return to Atlanta in 2017, I would’ve said no. At that point, Upshaw was a part-time player who hadn’t done a whole hell of a lot, and if not for injuries to Adrian Clayborn and Derrick Shelby, he might’ve stayed that way.

That all changed in the second half of the season, when Upshaw wound up drawing five starts thanks to injuries. He racked up a few tackles, played solid run defense both inside and outside on the defensive line, and legitimately flashed as a pass rusher a handful of times in the playoffs and even in the Super Bowl. That was more than enough to earn him a longer look from Atlanta, and now it seems the Falcons will bring him back.

Upshaw will join a crowded rotation, and chances are his playing time won’t be as easy to come by this year. With Clayborn and Shelby back, the team expected to add another pass rusher, and upgrades coming to defensive tackle, Upshaw will be a special teamer and part-time end and tackle who will be available if injuries hit again. He’s shown us enough in that role for me to support what’s likely to be a very reasonable signing, so I’m good with it.

This is likely to be the Falcons’ M.O. before free agency, as they scramble to lock up useful starters and part-timers who can help the team before sinking some of their remaining cap space into a handful of useful outside free agents. If they wind up following through on their promises to bring back the likes of Taylor Gabriel, Ben Garland, Levine Toilolo, and Upshaw, they’ll be in pretty good shape.