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The Falcons’ offseason plan: what players the team needs in free agency and the draft

We are pretty familiar with being in the offseason too early, so we are taking a familiar deep dive into what we expect from the team’s offseason plans.

NFL: NFC Divisional Playoff-Atlanta Falcons at Philadelphia Eagles Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Hello darkness, my old friend. You know it is draft season again.

We do not need to talk much about the 2017 season here, because we are onto 2018. It looks like Keith Armstrong is staying with the Falcons, and Dan Quinn brought Greg Knapp back as a quarterbacks coach. The coaching staff should be complete, so the next four months will be dedicated to free agency and the draft.

Lets call this our first stab at where the roster will shake out, and some options for the team. Sometimes options fail to match up with team needs, pushing a certain position to either free agency or the draft. Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff talked about coaching up defensive players, so my assumption is they will continue to generally prioritize free agency dollars on offense, and draft picks on defense. Plus the last thing this offense needs is a rookie. We talked about the team’s free agents last week, and I honestly do not see any tough decisions to make.

The Unsigned

The Falcons need to make a decision on these players:

  • Dontari Poe
  • Taylor Gabriel
  • Adrian Clayborn
  • Matt Bryant
  • Ben Garland
  • Kemal Ishmael
  • Courtney Upshaw
  • Andre Roberts
  • Derrick Coleman
  • Blidi Wreh-Wilson
  • Austin Pasztor
  • Jordan Tripp
  • Ahtyba Rubin
  • Nick Williams
  • Sean Weatherspoon
  • Leon McFadden

For the sake of simplicity, Poe is the biggest question mark here. I am not sure what his asking price will be, but I do not think he made a big enough plays to warrant the deal he wants. He is unquestionably a good player, but my concern is paying him like a top lineman. I am guessing the Falcons would rather add a rookie instead of worrying about paying Poe and Grady Jarrett at the same time. Jarrett will end up paid like a top lineman, so the Falcons realistically have to make a tough choice. I would expect Adrian Clayborn, Matt Bryant, and Ben Garland back in some capacity, and perhaps Kemal Ishmael for his special teams prowess.

The Potential Cuts

The Falcons have an estimated $17 million in cap space, which will quickly dwindle after signing their rookie class and adding a few decent players in free agency. They could push to a healthier $30 million with a few cuts and not even have to resort to a post-June 1st cut. I think the following guys may end up gone, or asked to take a pay cut to remain with the team.

  • Derrick Shelby ($3.25 million in cap savings if cut)
  • Brooks Reed ($3.56 million in cap savings if cut)
  • Matt Schaub ($3.25 million in cap savings if cut)
  • Levine Toilolo ($2.5 million in cap savings if cut)

The Expected Needs

I think it is clear the Falcons will need to add a starting-level guard, defensive tackle, wide receiver, and tight end this offseason. Even if the Falcons manage to keep Poe, they still need another body in that rotation. The offense desperately needs a steadier presence at guard, a faster wide receiver, and a competent tight end to pair with Austin Hooper. I could see guard going either way: the Falcons giving Sean Harlow and Wes Schweitzer a chance to earn the starting position. That feels like a risky proposition with the offensive core getting long in the tooth, but would not be the worst backup plan. Lastly, Atlanta needs a dangerous return specialist. They will need a few depth players here and there, but otherwise I see those five spots as the top priority of the offseason.

Available Unrestricted Free Agents

Here’s where things get interesting and give you a potential road map for the Falcons.

Defensive tackles are a mixed bag. The top “name” is Sheldon Richardson, a great but inconsistent player that may end up on his third team in as many seasons. In fact, Pro Football Focus has 31 year-old Mitch Unrein as the slightly better player. Their next best players are backups DaQuan Jones, Xavier Williams, and Justin Ellis. If the Seahawks let Richardson go, I’m certain Quinn would call Pete Carroll to find out why.

Wide receivers include Jarvis Landry (reportedly asking for Davante Adams money), Josh Gordon (who is in between suspensions), Allen Robinson (coming off injury), Sammy Watkins (in between injuries), and Terrelle Pryor (who failed pretty hard in Washington). Some of these would be premier players two years ago, but it is more of an illustration of how quickly things can fall apart for a young pass catcher. There is a lot of risk and reward here, and the Falcons would hopefully add some speed and size . If the Falcons swing for a cheap deal with Josh Gordon, they would have to protect themselves with a rookie wide receiver in case of suspension.

Tight end has been a disaster since Tony Gonzalez left. In free agency, there should be some reasonably priced players that can take the weight off of Austin Hooper. This free agent class has some big names like Jimmy Graham and Tyler Eifert, but there are two better options for the Falcons: Trey Burton and (pause for dramatic effect) Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Burton, 26, has been the backup tight end in Philadelphia, but has shined when given a chance. Why am I even mentioning Seferian-Jenkins? He’s a very athletic player with dominant potential, was one of Steve Sarkisian’s top players at Washington, and is still only 25.

Cameron Brate could make some sense as well. He would be an easy improvement on Atlanta’s weak depth chart. We could even see more three-tight end sets!

Offensive guard should be a huge need. Wes Schweitzer was inconsistent and Andy Levitre finished the season on injured reserve. It may make sense to add another guard this offseason, and move Schweitzer to Levitre’s spot in 2019. Who is the top guard available? Impressive Carolina Panthers guard Andrew Norwell, still only 26. He’s one of the best in the league, and Atlanta could steal him away from a division rival.

Atlanta could take a shot on Justin Pugh, the New York Giants guard that was pushed to play tackle.

Free Agency Results

The Falcons would do well to come away with two starters in free agency. The focus in free agency should be starters, as a rookie wide receiver or tight end might be two to three years away from being a real contributor. Some positions have a very long developmental curve, and the team should be mindful of that when approaching the offseason.

The Falcons can easily clear up enough cap space to add both Norwell and Seferian-Jenkins, and even toss a prove-it deal at a wide receiver if they feel so inclined. They would need to address wide receiver again in the draft, but could afford to wait until day three. There’s simply no defensive tackle or wide receiver that fits well enough to start.

Draft Options

Defensive tackle quickly becomes the team’s top need after addressing guard. The Falcons would be well set to address the position in round one and not have to worry about paying another tackle for five years. It’s early in the offseason, but Da’Rob Payne from Alabama, Taven Bryan from Florida, and Vita Vea from Washington make sense.

That opens the team up to move to best player available after round one, allowing them to additionally move up or down as their draft board shakes out. The team should be able to grab a WR/KR, a corner back, an offensive lineman, a developmental defensive end, and even a developmental quarterback. If they can go best player available after round one, that will dramatically improve their depth.

Offseason Results

The lack of impressive defensive tackle options pushes the Falcons to addressing their other big roster hole in free agency: guard. If they are able to land Norwell, Atlanta would have one of the league’s best offensive lines. There are multiple tight end options that should be reasonably priced. With Austin Hooper’s presumed development, Atlanta could have two very competent tight ends. It looks like there should be a few wide receivers with elite potential the Falcons could land for peanuts, but that’s far from a must.

Atlanta should be able to grab one of the draft’s top defensive tackles, and give Dan Quinn another defensive player to coach up. The Falcons then have the luxury of taking the best players on their board through the rest of the draft. The roster is good enough and the team has enough cap space to improve the starters and add some talented depth this offseason.


As always, head to the comments in single file to leave your complaints.