The Atlanta Falcons will head into 2019 with 2-3 starting caliber defensive tackles, an elite middle linebacker and at least one promising young option next to him, and a secondary that’s deep and talented. They will also head into the 2019 offseason with some major questions at the defensive end position.
As it stands today, the Falcons will have just three defensive ends under contract heading into next year. One is Takkarist McKinley, who will be heading into the third year of his rookie deal, has 5.5 sacks on the season, and still has loads of upside beyond what we’ve seen from him. The other two are Vic Beasley, who has a $12.8 million cap hit guaranteed only for injury and exactly one sack in 2018, and Brooks Reed, who by some metrics has been the team’s least effective pass rusher at the position and who could be cut to free up about $4.5 million in cap space.
In other words, the only sure thing is Takk. Derrick Shelby, Bruce Irvin and Steven Means will all be free agents, and while I think the team will have a very strong chance of re-signing both Shelby and Irvin if they want to, the position requires some strategic thinking and potentially draft capital to upgrade.
What should the Falcons do at defensive end?
This is not an easy question to answer, though there are some obvious calls. If Irvin’s pretty successful in Atlanta over the final eight games, I fully expect that he’ll be interested in returning and the Falcons will be interested in having him. They can get part of the way toward his contract by releasing or significantly re-structuring Brooks Reed, which honestly seems like a no-brainer at this point.
Bringing back Shelby also makes a lot of sense if they’re interested in having a pure run stopper at end, though his health issues both give me pause and should make him relatively cost-effective.
The biggest decision is Beasley. Since leading the NFL in sacks back in 2016, he has six combined sacks over 24 games and has had misadventures in coverage and against the run along the way. The Falcons will be dedicating a significant percentage of their cap space to Beasley in 2019, and while the team isn’t going to be keen to cut ties with a great guy who will still only be 27 years old next season, they need to consider the possibility if they can recoup some value. I don’t think there’s a soul in Atlanta who doesn’t want Beasley to transform into an elite pass rusher, but the Falcons have too many big contracts coming down the pike to pay him like one unless he’s shown anew that he can produce like one.
So how does the position shake out? It’s impossibly early for a real guess, but we know Takk will be here, I suspect the team will be inclined to keep Beasley unless they get a compelling offer, and I think they’ll make every effort to keep Irvin around. With that in mind, here’s my early guess at a depth chart:
- Takk McKinley
- Vic Beasley
- Bruce Irvin
- Derrick Shelby
Let’s get your best guess, and let’s hope the Falcons manage to re-build their defensive end rotation effectively this offseason.