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Falcons free agency 2018: Here’s a complete list of Atlanta free agents

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The Falcons do have a few major decisions coming up.

Atlanta Falcons vs New Orleans Saints Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Sadly, the offseason has begun for the Atlanta Falcons. That means it’s already time to start thinking about who may be coming and going with this roster, and the Falcons certainly have some big names and valuable role players to consider as we edge closer to free agency.

Below, I’ve sorted out and commented on every Falcons free agent, giving you my thoughts on whether they’ll return or not. Bookmark this and return to it often and we’ll see how close I get.

Big Ticket Free Agents

DT Dontari Poe

Age: 27

There is no bigger (pun intended) free agent than Dontari Poe. The Falcons have next to nothing at defensive tackle outside of Grady Jarrett next year, with Jack Crawford returning as a nickel option and practice squadders Taniela Tupou and Joey Ivie looming as the only options. Crawford is a roster lock and I think the staff likes Tupou, but that’s still an exceedingly thin group, even if they bring back part-time run stopper Ahtyba Rubin.

Poe wasn’t an elite player in 2017, but he helped solidify the run defense, had some fine moments as a pass rush, and soaked up a ton of productive snaps at the position. The problem is that the Falcons are likely to be dealing with a little bit of a cap crunch that will make it difficult to sign Poe for anywhere close to his market value without sacrificing elsewhere on the roster, especially after he inked a $10 million deal heading into 2017.

Cutting ties with Brooks Reed and Andy Levitre would help get them there, but I’m not sure that’s the move Atlanta needs to make. The Falcons will need to make a decision on Poe ahead of the draft, in all likelihood. If they’re picking up a defensive tackle in the first couple of rounds and they’re willing to shake the tree in free agency elsewhere, Poe is probably gone. Right now, given everything involved with re-signing him, I bet he will be.

Will he return? No

WR Taylor Gabriel

Age: 26

Gabriel should command a multi-year deal worth $3 million or more annually. Teams like the Bears and Jets who are receiver-starved should take a look at him if he reaches the open market, and his speed will be deeply intriguing for just about anybody. If teams like him as a returner more than the Falcons apparently do, that will only increase his value.

Turbo presents a legitimate quandary for the Falcons. I think we saw in 2017 that Gabriel needs an offensive coordinator who is willing to commit to finding creative ways to get him open and into space, as Kyle Shanahan did in 2016. Steve Sarkisian used him more as a conventional slot receiver in 2017 and tried to get him involved on some run plays and screens, and the net effect was that Gabriel caught two fewer balls on one more targets, averaged five fewer yards per catch, and scored five fewer touchdowns. That all came in a full season, too, not after Gabriel was added to the roster midseason.

He simply was not the same force to be reckoned with under Sark, and I think if the offense isn’t going to be able to spring him the way they did in 2016, they simply can’t justify giving him a decent-sized, long-term deal. They’d probably be wise to try to lock up Justin Hardy as a long-term fourth receiver—he consistently makes tough catches in traffic when asked to—and look at the draft or free agency to try to find a slot receiver who fits the current version of this offense better. Other teams will find productive uses for a young, speedy receiver who struggles to get open on his own.

Will he return? No

DE Adrian Clayborn

Age: 29

Clay had a flukey sack total this season. It’s okay to admit that those 9.5 sacks probably aren’t happening again if the Falcons re-sign him.

That said, they probably should re-sign him. Clay is a quietly productive end against the run and was one of the team’s three or so best pass rushers again in 2017, proving to be a valuable piece of the rotation at defensive end. Takk McKinley figures to emerge next year, Vic Beasley may mix in at linebacker more often, and Brooks Reed and Derrick Shelby are under contract and capable, but Clay would be a welcome presence again on a one-to-two year deal. I imagine the staff will feel the same way if his production doesn’t price him out of their range.

Will he return? Yes

K Matt Bryant

Age: 43

At this point, you’re betting against Father Time. Bryant has continued to defy the odds and kick productively after the age of 40, something very few kickers have done, and he was nails again in pressure-packed situations in 2017. There is no particular reason to bet against him continuing to kick at a high level aside from the fact that age has to catch up with him eventually. Ditto the team’s aging elite quarterbacks like Tom Brady and Drew Brees, frankly. The flip side, of course, is that the Falcons could seek to finally go young and cheap at the position. They’ve filtered through some young kickers over the years like Steve Hauschka and Nick Rose who have gone on to kick pretty well at other stops, and I’d say finding at least a decent option isn’t going to be that difficult. Of course, when you have one of the league’s elite kickers and you can probably go year-to-year at this point, why make a change? If there’s money in the budget, Money’s back.

Will he return? Yes

Important free agents

G Ben Garland

Age: 29

Garland proved down the stretch that he can be at least a spot starter for a playoff team that runs a zone blocking scheme, not that it should have been in doubt. With some very good performances spelling Andy Levitre at left guard, Garland is almost certainly going to get a one or two year deal from a team willing to give him a long look at starter, and he should command decent money in the process.

The Falcons could certainly use Garland, but it’s not clear just yet whether he’ll fit into their plans. The Falcons basically gave Sean Harlow a redshirt year, declaring him inactive every single week, but he could step into a key reserve role or even contend for a starting job in 2018 in much the same way Wes Schweitzer did in 2017. We just don’t know yet whether he’ll be able to.

The Falcons will have Andy Levitre at left guard if they want him, and I suspect they will. Schweitzer drew praise from Ryan Schraeder immediately after the game and figures to return as the starter at right guard after showing some promise and considerable durability at the position, which would leave Garland functioning as a super sub and break-in-case-of-emergency option at guard and center. He would be worth the price he’ll fetch in that role, but I’m genuinely unsure of where the Falcons will go at guard at the moment.

Will he return? Maybe

LB Kemal Ishmael

Age: 26

In a pinch, Ishmael always comes through. He was one of the team’s few reliable special teamers in 2017, he played reasonably well as a reserve linebacker, and his ability to impact the game via thumping tackles and the occasional turnover can never be understated. He’s a player I love having around.

The problem is that both linebacker and safety are getting a bit crowded. The team is still high on third-rounder Duke Riley and he figures to have a larger role in 2018, while LaRoy Reynolds also plays linebacker and is a core special teamer. The Falcons have promising fifth rounder Damontae Kazee at safety alongside Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen, as well.

Because of his special teams value and positional versatility, though, I think Ishmael comes back on another 1-2 year, cheap deal. The only concern is that another team will covet him for those traits (maybe Arizona if they bring aboard Keith Armstrong) and will scoop him up.

Will he return? Yes

DE/DT Courtney Upshaw

Age: 28

Upshaw is a guy you can feel good about giving 10-20 snaps to per game. He can flash as a pass rusher in the right situation, has positional versatility to recommend him, and definitely does work against the run most of the time. The Falcons are going to thin out at defensive tackle over the offseason and could be tempted to bring back Upshaw as an affordable option at the back end of the rotation. My gut says the Falcons will go elsewhere, however, with plenty of bodies at defensive end and a high round draft pick or two looming at DT.

Will he return? No

KR/WR Andre Roberts

Age: 30

I’ll be blunt: I don’t see any real compelling reasons to keep Roberts around. He was a non-factor on offense, as you’d expect, but his tenure as kick returner featured a number of solid returns, a couple of great ones called back by penalties, and some very poor decisions with the football that left the Falcons in poor field position. You can hang a lot on this team’s inability to block effectively for him and avoid penalties, sure, but it seems to me that Justin Hardy could probably give you what Roberts did without taking up an additional roster spot.

Will he return? No

FB Derrick Coleman

Age: 27

Coleman was a proficient special teamer and game tackler in 2017, forming one of the core pieces of this special teams unit when the unit was otherwise in flux. That made him valuable for the Falcons.

His play at fullback, on the other hand, really did not. Coleman threw a handful of good blocks but was a clear downgrade from Patrick DiMarco, as anticipated, and that’s still his primary job at the end of the day. I’d anticipate the Falcons will move on.

Will he return? No

Low Impact Free Agents

CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson

Age: 28

In his limited 2017 opportunities, Wreh-Wilson was surprisingly solid. He’ll be a candidate to return as the team’s fourth or fifth cornerback in 2018, depending on whether the Falcons invest a draft pick or take a hard look at converted cornerback Deante Burton. He certainly showed enough to get a one year deal from Atlanta.

Will he return? Yes

T Austin Pasztor

Age: 27

Pasztor looked like the team’s swing tackle until they acquired Ty Sambrailo from Denver. With Sambrailo under contract and an active part of the offense in 2017, Pasztor is headed elsewhere.

Will he return? No

LB Jordan Tripp

Age: 26

A useful stopgap special teamer and reserve linebacker, Tripp isn’t coming back unless the Falcons move on from Kemal Ishmael. Even then, it’s dicey, especially Tripp coming off of a season-ending concussion.

Will he return? No

DT Ahtyba Rubin

Age: 31

Rubin is a quality run-stopper who helped this run defense, and given how thin the team is at the defensive tackle position at the moment, he’s got a shot to return on a one year deal. I don’t think the Falcons will make that decision until after early free agency and the draft, however, and with Rubin rarely playing more than 10 snaps, he won’t be a priority signing.

Will he return? Maybe

WR Nick Williams

Age: 27

Nick Williams has hung around on this roster for years now, occasionally making special teams plays or a third down catch just when you’ve forgotten about him. He has value as a fifth or sixth receiver, but the Falcons are loaded up with young options for that role with Marvin Hall and Reggie Davis lurking, and Kyle Shanahan may want one of his favorite role players back.

Will he return? No

LB Sean Weatherspoon

Age: 30

I love ‘Spoon, as do we all, but he’s a 30-year-old linebacker who barely played, and this is a crowded depth chart. He’ll probably be on the emergency call list again.

Will he return? No

CB Leon McFadden

Nah.

Will he return? No


Restricted Free Agents

S Ricardo Allen

Age: 26

The Falcons will need to tender Allen at a second-round level, at minimum, to ensure they keep him around. They may even want to go for a first in case some team covets Allen and tries to sign him away. With Marquand Manuel showing his appreciation for Allen’s skills on a weekly basis, I’d say there’s absolutely zero chance they let him walk away.

Will he return? Yes

RB Terron Ward

Age: 25

I’ve come around on Ward in a major way. Every time he’s given the opportunity, he runs hard and delivers some big gains, and he’s capable of being a mighty useful special teamer. If they tender him at the original round level teams will be able to sign him away without surrendering anything, which is a risk the Falcons will probably take. I hope he returns.

Will he return? Maybe

RB Terrence Magee

Age: 24

Magee could be back if Ward is not, but I’m sort of doubtful the young back will return. The Falcons don’t need to carry four guys on the active roster, and if Ward departs, they may want a late round draft choice. It’d be nice to still have Brian Hill.

Will he return? No

Exclusive Rights Free Agents

Jamil Douglas

Age: 25

Douglas surprisingly was on the roster at one point this year, not just the practice squad. He’s just 25 and has starting experience in this league, which means he could be an option for the Falcons as a reserve on the interior if Ben Garland departs.

Will he return? Yes

Sharrod Neasman

Age: 26

A decent special teamer and deep reserve at safety, Neasman will be cheap and will almost certainly return.

Will he return? Yes


As you can see, I’m expecting the Falcons to have a small handful of holes here. They’re going to need to upgrade at defensive tackle, wide receiver, potentially the interior of the offensive line, and snag a kick returner in addition to adding depth. If the offseason unfolds this way, this will still be a strong roster, however, and I’m hoping another strong free agency and draft period plus growth from young defenders can propel this team further forward. All that remains is to wait.