This offseason is a critical one for the Falcons. They’ll get back three of their best defenders heading into next season, plus one of their starting guards, and should have enough cap space to play with to make substantive improvements to the roster. They can free up millions more by cutting ties with players like Robert Alford, Ryan Schraeder and Vic Beasley who have been disappointing this year, if they want to go that route.
That leaves us plenty to look forward to, if you’re a roster move enthusiast, but might leave you wondering what the Falcons should and could do over their final five games. Here’s an accounting of the moves the Falcons could consider making as they look ahead to their future instead of trying to pursue a playoff berth that essentially no longer exists.
Feature Ito Smith
The Falcons won’t stop using Tevin Coleman, but Devonta Freeman’s contract essentially makes him uncuttable heading into 2019 and Coleman is a free agent. As a complementary piece in this offense, Coleman is a terrific weapon, but unless the line is cooperating and Coleman can get into space, he’s not a consistent weapon. He has shown in 2018 that he’s also not a feature back.
Ito Smith isn’t likely to be that, either, but he deserves a longer look. Especially if Coleman is gone, Ito is going to be the #2 back, and with competent blocking he’s shown flashes of being a terrific, well-rounded back. His opportunities have been few and far between of late, but you might as well get him more snaps and more touches and see what he does with it. If Coleman doesn’t come back and Freeman isn’t 100% to begin the season, you may need to lean on Smith, and I’d rather give him as much experience as possible before then. Just swap Coleman and Smith’s snap counts on a weekly basis and you’ve probably done enough.
Heck, give Brian Hill some carries, while you’re at it.
Give Marvin Hall the punt returner gig
I can’t say for certain that Justin Hardy won’t be back in 2019, given that he’s still a very useful blocker and those kinds of receivers have their role in this offense. But I can say that Marvin Hall has done a bit more with his snaps on offense, at least as a receiver, and he’s proven to be a much better kick returner than Hardy is a punt returner. I say give Hall a real shot at both jobs, see how he does fielding punts full-time, and decide if he’s your #5 receiver and returner of the future. Given that Hardy is averaging under 5 yards per punt return, there’s very little reason not to make that change.
Boost Eric Saubert’s snaps
This is a minor footnote, because Logan Paulsen has done fine work as a blocker, but Saubert’s averaging something like two snaps per game on offense after getting a little hype from the coaching staff in preseason. He’s an interesting athlete and Paulsen’s a free agent in 2019, so it’d be nice to know if he could be more than just a special teamer before then.
Shuffle the offensive line
Out of everything the Falcons could do, this is the one they’re likeliest to do. Dan Quinn has said the Falcons will consider giving Zane Beadles and Ty Sambrailo time as starters, presumably in place of Ben Garland and Ryan Schraeder. That’s fine as far as it goes, and I suppose it gives the Falcons an opportunity to figure out if Sambrailo and Beadles are worth keeping around heading into 2019.
I’d rather see a look at Matt Gono, who probably tops out as a swing tackle next year but has been in mothballs all season and is young, but we’re not going to get it. About the only thing the Falcons can really get out of playing the veterans is a sense of just how bad Schraeder in particular has been, which may make an offseason decision or two for them.
Never make Deadrin Senat an inactive again
Maybe there’s something with Senat we simply don’t know about, but Dan Quinn’s stated reason for making the rookie inactive was pretty lousy. Terrell McClain is a one year rental and has been mostly decent, but Senat was taken in the third round with the expectation that he could be a significant piece of this defensive tackle rotation sooner rather than later. With no playoff berth to chase, he needs to be on the field and getting experience, because the Falcons need to figure out how significant their need at defensive tackle is heading into 2019 with just Grady Jarrett, Senat and Jack Crawford likely to be on the roster.
Get Isaiah Oliver on the field, too
I don’t know that the Falcons will actually cut ties with Alford, who has been a key starter at cornerback basically since he was drafted back in 2013. I do know that he hasn’t played well this year and the Falcons can get out of his contract, and they have Brian Poole as a restricted free agent heading into 2019. The possibility that they’ll remake the cornerback corps a bit looms large, but regardless of what they do, Isaiah Oliver will have a role to play.
It’s no great exaggeration to say that Oliver is the future at cornerback, given that everyone else but Poole is either 30 or closing in on it. He struggled in preseason and to start the year but has been pretty solid since, and has the length and athletic ability the Falcons clearly are looking for at the position. If he’s not the #2 cornerback in 2019, or at least starting outside in nickel looks with either Desmond Trufant or Alford in the slot, then something has gone wrong. The Falcons should give him every opportunity in the next five games to play and play well.
What else are you hoping the Falcons might shake up?