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The case for and against the Falcons bringing back Adrian Clayborn

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Atlanta’s got a tough decision to make with a productive, important defensive end.

New Orleans Saints v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

For Dontari Poe and Taylor Gabriel, the chances of re-signing in Atlanta are impacted greatly by cost and fit, respectively. As we’ve written, Poe is bound to be expensive enough that he may well price himself out of Atlanta’s range, while the Falcons need to figure out whether they’re willing and able to use Gabriel more effectively before they re-sign him.

Things are a little easier with Adrian Clayborn. The veteran defensive end had one of the greatest defensive games in Falcons franchise history against the Cowboys, putting up six sacks and destroying Dallas’s chances of winning the football game. He also finished the year with a career-high 9.5 sacks, but teams are well aware how many of those came in a single game. Clayborn will be 30 in July and has a history as a productive defensive end who can play on the interior of your line, but he has also had three seasons majorly impacted by injury.

That’s all a long-winded way of saying that Clayborn shouldn’t break the bank, and can probably be had on another two year deal between $3-4 million per season. Whether the Falcons will or won’t commit to that is the subject of today’s writeup, so let’s get to the case for and against.

For

Clayborn has shown his value in spades over the last three seasons. In 2015, he spent time rotating between defensive tackle and defensive end and provided solid defense at both spots. In 2016 and 2017, he was one of the team’s most effective pass rushers, a solid run defender, and a player who consistently lead the defensive end rotation in snaps each week. He was, in short, very valuable.

Aside from the specter of injury—and it’s worth noting that Clayborn has only missed a handful of games over three seasons in Atlanta—there’s no reason to believe those skills are just going to drop off at age 30. Clayborn is a physical player with size and good instincts, and short of him losing the strength and size, he’s going to be a problem for at least the next handful of seasons.

Especially with the Falcons mulling Brooks Reed’s status this offseason and the ever-present need for pass rushing, Clayborn would make a lot of sense for Atlanta again if he’s affordable. He’d take a backseat to Vic Beasley and Takk McKinley this year, in all likelihood, but Clayborn would remain an incredibly valuable piece of the rotation, and would be able to help out at defensive tackle if the team was in a pinch.

In short, Clayborn is a versatile, quality player familiar with the defense and unlikely to command big money. That makes him an attractive piece for a Dan Quinn defense that loves to rotate along the defensive line.

Against

This is really just a question of the resources you’re committing to your roster. Derrick Shelby and Brooks Reed offer a bit more against the run than Clayborn, I’d say, and Takk and Beasley are better pass rushers with more upside. If the Falcons were to make no changes to that rotation, and they have Jack Crawford coming back and a couple of interesting players on the practice squad, you can argue that Clayborn is a luxury.

There’s also the remote chance that his 9.5 sack season will mean he commands bigger money than I’d expect on the open market, in which case he’s almost certainly gone.

The Verdict: Yes

There are certainly scenarios in which Clayborn could head elsewhere, as I’ve outlined above. He just still makes a ton of sense for this football team, is a strong culture and scheme fit, and is coming off a season where he reinforced his value for Atlanta. It may not get done right away, but I expect the Falcons to shuffle their resources a little bit at defensive end this offseason and bring Clayborn back. He’ll be the team’s #3 defensive end if he returns, for all intents and purposes.