As free agency slowly approaches, teams will start weighing their options in preparation for one of the most hectic times of the year. Every front office considers what is best for their team in the long haul. Which veterans are still going to be assets going forward? How can they pinpoint who is expendable on their current roster? What are the potential avenues towards creating more cap space to be aggressive in free agency?
These are questions that must be answered. Despite not having any glaring holes on their roster, the Falcons will look to be somewhat active in free agency. Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff won’t be content following a disappointing end to the season. There are many things you can take away from Dimitroff’s tenure as general manager. His knack for making one significant move following a winning season is one of the more memorable themes.
Trading for Tony Gonzalez in 2009 showed their intentions in helping Matt Ryan. An all-out approach to draft Julio Jones in 2011 revealed their necessity for an explosive playmaker. While signing Steven Jackson and Osi Umenyiora didn’t translate into great success in 2013, Dimitroff’s aggressiveness was demonstrated again. What appeared to be a quiet free agency period last year ended with a bang by signing Dontari Poe to a one-year bargain deal. That proved to be a shrewd move, as Poe added much-needed quality size up front.
For Atlanta to make another off-season splash, some roster cleaning will be required. Questions are looming over Matt Ryan’s imminent extension. The futures of Jake Matthews and Tevin Coleman will be discussed soon enough. That leaves them assessing which veterans are either too expensive or could be replaced by a younger cheaper option. Three players fall into that category for the Falcons. Here are the likeliest candidates to be released within the next few weeks.
2018 Base Salary: $4,500,000 via Spotrac
The sturdy defensive end transformed into a dependable player over the last two seasons. Quinn didn’t know how to use him in his first season. After being their most expensive free agency signing in 2015, it was troubling to see Reed not find his niche. He barley played during the final month of the season. Moving between strong-side linebacker and defensive end left Reed as a miscast. Quinn realized it was time to use him as a full-time defensive end.
After eventually moving on from Kroy Biermann, the coaching staff inserted Reed into the base package. He proved to be an immediate upgrade at the LEO position. There were no concerns about Reed’s ability to set the edge. How he was going to generate pressure raised questions. The former Texan managed to turn some heads with his productivity. A bizarre yet effective spin move made left tackles look silly at times. It was clear Dwight Freeney had a strong influence on him. That was on display during his monster performance against Seattle in the 2017 divisional playoffs.
Despite developing into a pleasant surprise, Reed could be released. He is turning 31 years old this week. There are two years remaining on his contract. As the price continues to rise, the front office may view him as too expensive. It’s clear that he can be replaced by a younger talent in his role. For all of Reed’s success, he is still limited as an edge rusher. Quinn has been adamant about adding new talent on the defensive line every off-season. That usually means a few veterans are released or not re-signed. It happened with Freeney, Tyson Jackson, and Jonathan Babineaux last year. Reed seems prime to suffer a similar fate.
2018 Base Salary: $7,000,000 via Spotrac
Similar to Reed, Levitre showed major improvement after a shaky first season. He committed eleven penalties in 2015, which was tied for tenth in the league. What made matters worse was how Levitre played so undisciplined. He was flagged for more false starts and personal fouls (six) than holding penalties (five). How can a veteran guard make countless inexcusable errors? Even though Levitre performed adequately, it wasn’t good enough for a player with his price tag.
Levitre fared much better over the past year-and-half before partially tearing his triceps against Minnesota. After playing at a high level in Buffalo’s zone blocking scheme, it made sense for Atlanta to give him a chance. Trading a sixth round pick for above average guard play ended up being another coup for Dimitroff. Levitre was excellent in Kyle Shanahan’s system. Using him on pull blocks created big runs for Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. His solid play continued in 2017, which was massive considering Wes Schweitzer’s struggles and Ryan Schraeder missing two games.
It’s rare to question a player’s future, when it doesn’t involve their overall play. Levitre has clearly reestablished himself as one of the better guards in the league. Watching Ben Garland look hopeless against Kawann Short and Aaron Donald made viewers realize the value of solid guard play. Levitre should be the default starter based on performance. He provides stability at a vital position. Due to earning premium money for a guard and turning 32 years old in May, the front office may opt to move on. It would be a risky decision based on how overwhelmed the interior line looked in the playoffs. Schweitzer’s disappointing first season could boost Levitre’s chances of staying one more season as well. The possibility of having question marks at both guard positions isn’t something a championship-caliber team should want going into a pivotal season.
2018 Base Salary: $2,750,000 via Spotrac
If the Falcons decide to cut Reed and Levitre, they would save $10.6 million going into 2018. That would be extremely beneficial, especially when trying to structure Ryan’s upcoming contract. Quinn may decide Reed or Levitre is too valuable, which could put pressure on the Falcons to release another player. Matt Schaub and Levine Toilolo are the next realistic choices. Based on how much the coaching staff values Toilolo as a blocker, Schaub appears to be the only other option.
Schaub is one of the more expensive backup quarterbacks in the league. Let’s take into account that he turns 37 years old in June. There have been rumblings about the Falcons being interested in Trevor Siemian. The 26-year old quarterback is desperately looking for a change of scenery following two difficult seasons in Denver. His experience with new quarterbacks coach Gregg Knapp makes Atlanta an ideal destination. Trading a seventh round pick for Siemian would allow them to release Schaub and create more cap room. It also gives them an immediate upgrade behind Ryan as well. After trading for Ty Sambrailo last summer, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Atlanta and Denver do business again.