Well, the title kind of explains itself, doesn’t it?
The Atlanta Falcons are about to enter the free agent cycle once more, and as much as it comes to the chagrin of folks who love fireworks in March, the Falcons, more than likely, aren’t going to light any off.
But, with the astronomical number of free agents to come (particularly on the bottom half of the roster), the Falcons aren’t going to be able to re-sign everyone, and that will probably call for a few new guys to jump aboard the U.S.S. Dirty Bird this spring.
So, who would those guys be?
All we can really go on right now are the obvious factors: connections to coaches, players and agents, and painfully-obvious fits. Other than that, you’re swimming upstream into rote speculation territory. That’s not to say there aren’t surprises here and there, or guys the team is just able to coax to the ATL, but, for now, all the responsible guessing you can do comes from trying to connect the dots.
We’ll refrain from mentioning any players that don’t have any obvious connections to the team. Sure, I like guys like Raiders DT Justin Ellis, Colts WR Donte Moncrief and Raiders DE Denico Autry as possible targets, but the ties don’t bind automatically.
So, here are a handful of possible Falcons targets with clear connections to the team. Keep in mind, this probably isn’t everyone the organizaiton connects to, but it’s somewhere to start, at the very least.
DE Terrence Fede (Dolphins)
You’re probably thinking, “wait a second, who is Terrence Fede?” Well, that’s what I thought when I was scrolling through DEC’s list of clients.
You’re probably thinking, “wait another second, what is DEC?”
Alright, a bit of background. DEC Management is a firm run by David Canter that the Falcons seem to have a pretty good relationship with, dating back to 2014 when they negotiated the Paul Soliai deal. And, even when those two sides couldn’t come to a restructure in 2016, that didn’t stop Atlanta from continuing to work with Canter on three separate deals from then on – all, funnily enough, along the defensive line (Derrick Shelby, Jack Crawford, Cliff Matthews mid-season).
So, it’s clear that the Falcons have struck a habit of working with Canter, with the clients either by chance or by habit being defensive lineman.
So, one wondered, does Cantor’s firm have any free agents coming down the pike? Would that free agent, by chance, be along the defensive line?
Well, what do you know, there is one! Dolphins DE Terrence Fede!
Fede was a hard depth guy in Miami, primarily contributing on special teams (of where he gained a solid reputation) and doing little things here and there in rotation (including the one time he blocked a punt to win a game).
You might recall this past fall a play in which a botched punt attempt by Matt Bosher led to favorable field position for the Dolphins (that led to the 17-17 tying field goal). Teammate Chase Allen credited Fede’s ability on special teams to why Josh Harris bungled the snap.
“Pretty much, Terrence Fede scares any long snapper in this league.”
Outside of special teams, he had 15 tackles and a fumble recovery, which would put him around the production of rotational defensive end Courtney Upshaw (though, Upshaw missed a handful of games with a knee injury last season, and Fede played in all 16).
Atlanta needs a player like Fede on the bottom half of its roster – the team is going to have a spot or two open at defensive end, and Fede could be a solid replacement for a guy like Upshaw, who could get more money and a bigger role elsewhere.
Fede feels like one of those guys who could come in and get better in a rotational role, and immediately contribute on special teams, where the Falcons need more impact players. Plus, the DEC connection makes this an intriguing matchup (Fede would be the third Dolphin DL guy to head to the Falcons if this were to happen, believe it or not).
He’s gone from rando to strong potential Falcons free agent acquisition in a matter of a couple of Google searches for me. He fills an obvious need on the roster, wouldn’t cost a lot and has the ties that indicate this could happen. He would not be the vaunted free agent acquisition some would hope for, but he’d make the team’s special teams’ game stronger, and would add valuable depth at edge (and could stand to improve there with good coaching).
LB Lerentee McCray (Jaguars)
The Falcons are going to have to find some veteran linebacker depth this March, particularly if LaRoy Reynolds, Kemal Ishmael and Sean Weatherspoon head elsewhere.
LB Lerentee McCray popped up on DEC’s website, and since that agent/team relationship is so healthy, you figure you check him out to see where he’s been, and what he does.
McCray has made his living as a depth linebacker and on special teams but saw the field for the Jacksonville Jaguars at times last season, notching 15 tackles and a sack. He’s known for adding a bit to the pass rush as a strongside rusher. He’s also got a ring from his time in Denver, so he knows what it takes to bring home the Lombardi.
McCray is pretty interesting for the Falcons, not only because of the agent connection and his obvious fit on the Falcons roster, but because Dan Quinn coached him in college.
McCray and Quinn ran into each other at Florida in 2011 and 2012, and then-Florida HC Will Muschamp spoke of McCray’s time as a Gator.
“Lerentee works extremely hard. He is a guy that is always in the weight room, always up with Dan [Quinn] wanting to watch extra film. He does the little things it takes to be successful. It’s very important to him. He’s a passionate guy. He plays hard, plays with great effort. A guy that gives everything he’s got, and it’s really, really important to him playing at Florida.”
So, the agent connection, need, and, perhaps most importantly, the Quinn connection, makes this an intriguing name to watch. McCray could contribute on special teams right away and filter in at linebacker if need be. He’d be a nice rotational piece to Quinn’s roster.
DT Dominique Easley (Rams)
It’s never been a matter of talent for DT Dominique Easley. The former first rounder has struggled with injuries throughout his career, stunting his tantalizing potential, but, when he’s on the field, he shows great promise as a pass-rushing defensive tackle.
After spending time behind Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers with the Los Angeles Rams in 2016, he suffered a season-ending ACL injury that sidelined him in 2017. Could he wish mount a comeback with his old Florida defensive coordinator, Dan Quinn?
The Falcons and Easley met in 2016 after he was released from New England, but ultimately didn’t come to a deal. Though, Quinn spoke highly of his former defensive tackle.
“Yeah, I know [Easley] terrifically and he is a fantastic competitor and, honestly, a guy that I have great history with,” Quinn said. “
The Falcons could use a player of Easley’s caliber on their defensive line rotation, particularly if he didn’t have to take significant snaps. His injury history is a bit concerning, but then again, limited snaps could help him realize his potential while staying healthy. He’s certainly a name to monitor.
LB Brock Coyle (49ers)
Well, the 49ers stole away a good one from us with OC Kyle Shanahan, so how’s about we return the favor (on a much-smaller scale)?
LB Brock Coyle, who Dan Quinn oversaw for a season in Seattle while he was DC there, did decent-enough work for the Niners last season in a starting role, notching 64 tackles, a half-sack, a deflected pass and a forced fumble in a reserve role on their defense. He could lobby those stats to a bigger role elsewhere (though he graded poorly with PFF), but right now, he looks like he could provide on-the-spot quality depth at linebacker for a team who needs it. Enter Atlanta.
Thomas Dimitroff has shown interest in Montana defenders in the past (LBs Kroy Biermann and Jordan Tripp, S Shann Schillinger), and Quinn saw him go from undrafted rookie in 2014 to manning a spot in the 53-man roster. He knows the system, and could give the team depth at MLB, particularly if LaRoy Reynolds head elsewhere. But, with starting reps under his belt, would he want to keep that up?
RB Rex Burkhead (Patriots)
You might remember running back Rex Burkhead visited with the Falcons last March before opting to take a deal with the New England Patriots. Would the Falcons be interested in another go-around to get him in red and black?
Burkhead is a threat with the ball in his hands, whether you hand it to him, or you throw it to him. He had eight touchdowns for New England last season (264 yards on the ground, 254 yards in the air), which will likely drive his price up from where it was last season. But, if Atlanta feels Tevin Coleman isn’t long for the roster, would they be willing to invest in making Burkhead a high-paid RB3 now to make him the de-facto RB2 down the road. For him to have visited last season must mean OC Steve Sarkisian likes him, and with that support, it’s not impossible to imagine Burkhead is on the team’s radar.
G Senio Kelemete (Saints)
Guard Senio Kelemete has been a stealthy bonus for the rival Saints over the last few years, providing excellent depth at a position they’ve seen no shortage of injuries at over the years. Though, with New Orleans set at guard, Kelemete could wish to finally get a swing at a starting guard job.
Would he want to reunite with his old college coach Steve Sarkisian? The two were together at Washington, where the former Huskies HC oversaw Kelemete’s move from defense to offense, a move that propelled the guard to a pro career. The Falcons have a need at guard this offseason if they do indeed decide to make a change at either spot, and if the team doesn’t wish to draft high at the position, they could bring in a guy like Kelemete to compete for the job. He’s not the first guy you think of when you think of potential guards, but the Sark connection makes him an intriguing name out there. Plus, him leaving New Orleans would make them a bit weaker at depth on the OL. Every bit counts!
TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins (Jets)
I’ll be brief here, because it’s not likely Austin Seferian-Jenkins is to leave the Jets, and if he does, it’s because of money, which is something Atlanta does not have in droves. Seferian-Jenkins did play for Steve Sarkisian at Washington, and if there’s a strong connection there from their college days, would he consider taking a lesser contract to regroup? It’s unlikely, as Seferian-Jenkins is a tantalizing young pass catcher coming off a three-touchdown, 357-yard season. If Atlanta really does want to upgrade the TE spot in any way, shape or form, the connection with Seferian-Jenkins is there. The question is, is the interest, and if so, is the money? The bigger question is, is there any way the Jets let him go?
CB Byron Maxwell/DeShawn Shead (Seahawks)
The Falcons need to address depth at cornerback, and though CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson played well in his limited time this season, he’s a free agent and no guarantee to return. If Wreh-Wilson gets away, the team could stand to add one of Dan Quinn’s old friends from Seattle.
Byron Maxwell was one of the vaunted members of the Legion of Boom who got a massive contract in Philadelphia after Seattle’s 2015 Super Bowl loss. Though, things in Philly never worked out, nor did things in Miami, who cut him midseason. Maxwell visited with Atlanta before taking an opportunity to rejoin the Seahawks after CB Richard Sherman went down for the season. Though, with Seattle reportedly eyeing a retooling of part of their defense, Maxwell isn’t likely to return. Could Atlanta be his future landing spot? If he’s willing to take a team-friendly deal and a depth role, he might be a target. He’d be excellent depth for the team at a spot on the roster that very badly needs it.
DeShawn Shead is a versatile secondary player who tore his ACL, believe it or not, during the Seahawks’ 2017 divisional game against Atlanta. He eventually earned starting duties as a Seahawk in 2016 but missed a good chuck of the 2017 season after his injury (he wasn’t activated from the PUP list until just before Christmas). With Shaquille Griffin entrenched in the CB2 spot, Shead could wish to go elsewhere and rebound his career. He could reunite with the defensive coach who drafted him in Quinn, if he’d be willing to take a depth role, or perhaps even challenge Brian Poole for the slot position.
Both Maxwell and Shead would upgrade the secondary depth on the team if Wreh-Wilson leaves. And, even if he stays, it’s still a position of need for one of those guys to contribute to.
RB Bishop Sankey (Vikings)
Bishop Sankey has struggled to live up to his 2014 second-round draft status. After a descent from his duties in Tennessee, he’s bounced around the league before finding a home in Minnesota – though, it’s a home that saw him tear his ACL last preseason and miss the entire 2017 campaign. For a guy on the roster bubble there, it was the misfortunes of misfortunes. Sankey and Steve Sarkisian were together at Washington, where the latter helped the former get prime draft footing. Would Sark want to see what his old Huskies running back can do? It’s not out of the realm of possibility, particularly on a one-year, prove-it deal to see if he can make the roster. Stranger comebacks happen all the time.
So, those are the connections we found. Are we missing any big names? Feel free to let us know.