There are few places that take a deeper dive into the NFL than Pro Football Focus. There’s also few places I routinely criticize more than PFF for some absurd grades, but a lot of what they suggest is very notable. They give the Atlanta Falcons a few moves and a few potential players for this offseason, and their needs stack up pretty closely to where we see them.
Who do the Falcons need to resign?
Ricardo Allen, S, 81.4 overall grade
Entering the offseason as a restricted free agent, Allen is expected to stay put in Atlanta barring an unforeseen fallout. Just 26 years old, Allen has put together two consecutive seasons of strong play in 2016 and 2017 after joining the Falcons as a fifth-rounder out of Purdue in 2014. Playing over 2,400 defensive snaps in the two-year span, Allen earned 81.7 and 81.4 overall grades, respectively, as the Falcons’ primary free safety alongside Keanu Neal. While small in stature (5-foot-9, 185 pounds), Allen excelled in coverage, leading all qualifying NFL safeties in coverage snaps played per reception allowed (71.0), yards allowed per coverage snap (0.18) and coverage snaps played per target (39.4).
My favorite memory of the 2014 draft class is Ricardo Allen is probably the best overall player the Falcons brought in. And Mike Smith cut him. Oh man, 2014 was such a disaster.
We are big fans of Allen. Being a late rounder under Mike Smith is usually a kiss of death, but Allen has battled back into one of the league’s best young safeties. There’s no question he is going to get paid, but I don’t think it is clear that will be in Atlanta. There’s a logjam of very talented, young players up for new deals in the next two years. Allen is the only one with a potential and realistic replacement. As soon as you start adding up all the new contracts, you realize why Arthur Blank was asking Matt Ryan for a team-friendly deal.
Who is Atlanta’s dream signing?
Andrew Norwell, G, Carolina Panthers
PFF’s All-Pro left guard this past season, Norwell has quietly become one of the few premier guards in this league, notching 82.0-plus overall grades in all four years of his career and capping his strong start off with a career-high 88.8 overall grade in his contract year.
With Andy Levitre battling injury throughout the tail-end of the season, Falcons guards Ben Garland and Wes Schweitzer finished the season as the team’s two starters at guard. The youthful duo’s lack of experience was on full display, as both finished with sub-45.0 overall grades on the season. It’s unlikely either of the two is in the conversation as long-term solutions, and Levitre will be entering his 10th season in 2018 if he chooses to keep his cleats off the rack. As such, signing a 26-year-old guard in his prime like Norwell fits the bill for Dimitroff & Co.
I’ve had Norwell at the top of my free agency wish list for about a month. Defensive tackles in free agency are pretty weak, and I’d rather give Quinn a chance to coach up some young guys. Just looking at Takkarist McKinley, Grady Jarrett, and occasionally Vic Beasley, he’s been very successful with young talent.
At guard, Norwell could step in immediately. I think the Falcons could keep Levitre, and let the duo of Schweitzer and Sean Harlow battle for Levitre’s spot next year. That’s not to say it won’t be cheap: early rumors suggest the New York Giants plan to make him the league’s highest paid guard.
That could break down a number of ways, either most guaranteed, most overall, or highest average, but I’ll assume the Falcons would need to give him $12 million per year. These usually get back-loaded a bit, but the Falcons would need to cut some overpriced veterans they can replace in the draft. Yes, I’m looking at you Brooks Reed, Derrick Shelby, Levine Toilolo, and Matt Schaub.
Who else does PFF like for the Falcons? They like former Titans guard Josh Kline as a cheaper Norwell alternative. Next, PFF likes a cheaper wide receiver like Terrelle Pryor. I mentioned Pryor and a number of other wide receivers the Falcons could rely on as a WR2/WR3 that can provide more consistency than Taylor Gabriel. There are a number of risky wide receivers available this offseason. Some will get paid, and some will play on prove-it deals. The Falcons can wait and get someone cheaper a week or two into free agency.
I will hand it to PFF for putting together a solid offseason plan. I’d like to see Atlanta address tight end in free agency as well. The offense could be dangerous with Hooper and another pass catching option. That would allow the team to focus on defensive line help throughout the draft.