Depending on who you ask, the Falcons have somewhere between $1.5-$6.5 million in available cap space right now. Regardless of where they fall in that range, their days of spending big in free agency are over this year, with small signings and contract extensions to potentially follow.
We turned to our staff to see if they (and I) thought Falcons free agency was a success this year, and what the team needs to do in the draft. Here are our responses.
Free agency is so hit and miss, yet NFL fans get caught up in the hoopla every single year. There’s often a reason that teams are willing to let players walk, so counting on free agents to “fix” your roster is often perilous. That said, being judicious with signings can still yield benefits, and in the case of Poe I think that will hold true. It’s a low-risk deal, unlike past contracts given to guys like Tyson Jackson. It was a smart move that helps the interior of the defensive line, even if it’s not a long-term fix - yet. Ultimately, the Falcons are going to be consistent contenders based on what they do in the draft, not who they sign off the street. They’ll undoubtedly sign some smaller scale free agents here and there, but don’t expect a repeat of the highly successful 2016 free agent class.
The Falcons found free agency success during the season by re-signing Ryan Schraeder and Robert Alford. Locking up both key players proved to be a wise decision. Teams were dishing out absurd contracts for tackles. Look no further than Matt Kalil and Russell Okung. The notion that left tackles are far more valuable than right tackles is outdated. Schraeder faced Cameron Jordan, Khalil Mack, Von Miller, Justin Houston, Melvin Ingram, Cliff Avril, and Brandon Graham last season. Re-signing him was a crucial move for the offensive line’s future.
The same applies for Alford, as quality number two cornerbacks aren’t easy to find or develop. Poe is a low-risk, high-reward addition that the front seven desperately needed. This was a mostly successful free agency period. Losing DiMarco stings, but it’s yet to be determined how Steve Sarkisian values the position. Drafting an edge rusher and offensive guard should be top priorities going into the draft.
There was not a ton of noise surrounding the Falcons prior to the free agency period apart from the fact that they would focus on re-signing their own guys and maybe add a piece or two. That is essentially what happened this offseason. The signing of Dontari Poe is huge--literally and figuratively--for a number of reasons: it allows the Falcons to draft an interior D-lineman without the expectation or need that he produces immediately, and it also opens the team up to the possibility of addressing needs along the offensive line with the 31st pick.
This free agency period was not very flashy and it was not too exciting, but that isn’t really what the Falcons have been about under Dan Quinn. They are about getting guys to address needs and filling holes with players that offer good value--even with the Sanu and Mack signings last season. It was what the team needed at this point, and it makes me very excited about what the Falcons can do in the draft.
There are still a couple of weak spots on this Falcons roster that need to be addressed in the NFL Draft, and until I see what Atlanta elects to do at guard, linebacker, and edge rusher, I’m not 100% convinced this was a successful free agency. There’s little doubt that Atlanta set out to accomplish a couple of major goals--retaining their own quality players and landing a difference maker on the defensive line--and they accomplished both. By the team’s definition, it was a success, and I can’t quibble with anything but the loss of Patrick DiMarco.
That said, the Falcons will need to add a starting-caliber player to guard or linebacker and get a quality edge rusher to really cap this thing off. That may sound demanding, but this is a Super Bowl-caliber team now. We are demanding.
The Falcons had an easy go of this offseason. Anyone worth keeping they locked up way back during the season. Nearly every position has an entrenched starter or a young player with tons of potential. It’s almost impossible to mess it up. The team needed a starter at guard, defensive tackle, and defensive end out of free agency and the draft. I was really only expecting to fill one of those positions, and the team succeeded.
Poe has had multiple Pro Bowl seasons, came on a one-year deal, and should be able to play more consistently when not forced to play 70% or more of the snaps. My only knock is the deal doesn’t allow the team to spread out his cap hit, and they are basically out of the market for any new additions. Atlanta added Jack Crawford, who should be a good enough defensive end who can play tackle. He’s not a starter, but should be a big improvement over Tyson Jackson.