When looking at needs for the Atlanta Falcons in free agency, everything starts in the trenches. Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff will have their eyes on players who can solidify the offensive and defensive lines throughout both the free agency period and the draft.
If they decide to turn to free agency in an attempt to strengthen the defensive line, then one of the big names that will certainly come up is defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson.
Richardson was the 13th overall pick in the 2013 draft by the New York Jets. He was immediately dominant upon his arrival in the NFL, winning the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year award, and proving to be a force on New York’s defensive front
Despite his success on the field, however, Richardson was shopped and subsequently traded to the Seattle Seahawks before the 2017 season, for WR Jermaine Kearse and a second-round pick. He’s had numerous off the field incidents which resulted in various fines and suspensions, and this no doubt played a part in the Jets looking to move him.
At age 27, Richardson is in the middle of his prime and coming off of his rookie contract, which just paid him $8.06 million in 2017. Let’s see if the Falcons should kick the tires on the University of Missouri product this spring.
The Case For Signing Richardson
Sheldon Richardson on the field has proven to be an impact player. He has always been very agile for a big man and is aided by a quick first step which gives opposing guards trouble when trying to keep up with him. He’s also very athletic and has a relentless motor.
Richardson has always been good at generating pressure on the quarterback. PFF ranked him as the 13th most productive defensive lineman in the league in pass-rush productivity (minimum 250 pass-rush snaps) this past season. He has 19 career sacks, including an eight-sack season to his name, demonstrating his pass-rushing prowess.
Despite the fact that he had just the one sack this past season (that sack coming against the Atlanta Falcons in week 11), he still managed to generate 36 total QB pressures, which was ninth most among defensive tackles in 2017.
Richardson has also validated that he can be a good run stopper, even though he’s more lauded for his pass rush skills. His 22 run stops this past season ranked 17th in the league among defensive tackles. This includes two dominant games against the San Francisco 49ers and Atlanta Falcons, against whom he had five run stops each.
Overall, Richardson is someone who can comfortably play all three downs, and is familiar with Dan Quinn’s defensive scheme, having played in Seattle this past season. He would prove to be formidable next to Grady Jarrett in Atlanta’s 4-3 defense, and would absolutely solidify the interior of the Falcons’ defensive line.
The Case Against Signing Richardson
Sheldon Richardson carries with him some baggage that will make some teams hesitate in taking a look at him this spring. He was suspended for the first four games of the 2015 season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. This will surely generate a red flag for this Falcons regime which has already had to deal with the headaches brought on by former second round pick Jalen Collins through the league’s substance abuse program.
Less than a month after that suspension was handed down, Richardson was detained by authorities in Missouri and charged with resisting arrest as well as several traffic violations after he was caught driving 143 miles per hour. This resulted in a one-game suspension in the 2016 season.
Richardson wasn’t always dominant on the field either, this past season. While he put up some good numbers for Seattle, the fifth year man out of Missouri wasn’t always consistent and had some games where he was just not heard from (Seattle’s 42-7 blowout loss to the Los Angeles Rams in week 15 was a prime example of this).
This brings me to the biggest case against going after Richardson this offseason: Money. I wouldn’t be surprised if Sheldon Richardson sparks a bidding war for his services, which could drive his price into the $10+ million annually range. This is a hefty price to pay for someone who has been rendered completely ineffective in games recently, and the Falcons don’t currently have much more than $10 million in available cap space.
The Seattle Seahawks probably won’t be too keen on letting Richardson go after sacrificing a second-round pick for his services just a year ago, either. The Falcons could find re-signing Dontari Poe to be a more viable option, as that wouldn’t involve having to poach Richardson from the Seahawks, who are reportedly looking to bring him back according to Pro Football Talk.
The Verdict: No to Signing Sheldon Richardson
Signing Sheldon Richardson would be a splashy move which would result in some excitement and headlines, but it wouldn’t necessarily be a very smart signing because of the financial aspect. If the Falcons could sign Richardson to an affordable salary then I would be all for it, but it seems unlikely that the big defensive tackle will fall within a comfortable price range for Atlanta this spring.
Looking toward the draft to solidify the defensive line, as opposed to spending big money on Richardson in free agency, would be the savvy move to make for Thomas Dimitroff and Dan Quinn, as this draft class will be loaded with interior defensive lineman.