I’ll be blunt: The Falcons did not boast quality special teams in 2017. Between Andre Roberts making poor decision on returns, largely mediocre blocking, and undisciplined penalties galore, Keith Armstrong had to be blowing a gasket on the sidelines repeatedly in 2018.
That makes it essential that the Falcons find some quality players to add to special teams this coming season, and retain the few quality talents they did have. That means a player like LaRoy Reynolds will justifiably get some attention from the team this offseason.
With useful players like Derrick Coleman and Terron Ward potentially leaving, the Falcons need to bank on improvement from the likes of Eric Saubert, Damontae Kazee, and so forth. They also need to retain guys like Reynolds (or replace them effectively), as Reynolds is an important backup and core special teamer. The question is, will they keep Reynolds around, or will they attempt to replace him with someone else?
Here’s the case for and against Reynolds.
You have to start with his special teams value. There was a noticeable dip in the teams performance when Reynolds was out, I’d say, that probably wasn’t entirely coincidental. Reynolds is a savvy player with good instincts, and he’s always been a sure tackler. More importantly, perhaps, he’s where he needs to be when he needs to be, and he’s rarely penalized on teams.
As a defender, Reynolds is fairly quick and definitely physical, showing the ability to be a sound tackler and a useful player against the run. He’s not stellar in coverage and isn’t going to give you much as a pass rusher, but as a fill-in player he’s useful for two downs, at least. He has been fine when called upon, and on most teams that’s all you’re asking for from your fourth or fifth linebacker.
The Falcons saw the perils of turning over a lot of their special teams unit in 2017. For the price, Reynolds gives you continuity and a reasonable level of play, and that’s nothing to sneeze at.
Also, he picked up two special teams fumbles in the postseason. Hero!
Is Reynolds irreplaceable? No. Can you get someone for the veteran minimum or a later round draft pick who might be able to deliver similar value? Absolutely. That complicates his status a bit.
As I mentioned above, Reynolds is a decent enough run defender as a linebacker and won’t kill you in any facet of the game if he has to play 10-20 snaps, but is obviously a significant downgrade from the team’s starters. The Falcons might want to look for a younger upgrade who may be able to grow into special teams value, especially with Duke Riley cashing in a largely disappointing and injury-riddled rookie season.
There’s also the small matter that Reynolds may not even be the best linebacker with special teams value who is hitting free agency this year for Atlanta. That’d be Kemal Ishmael, whose status we’ll cover soon. Ishmael is more of a natural playmaker than Reynolds, is a bigger hitter, and can play safety in a pinch, and he’s arguably about as useful on special teams as Reynolds. In an ideal world the Falcons would retain both, but I’m not sure we live in an ideal world with the Falcons facing an offseason of limited cap space.
The Verdict: Maybe
Ultimately, the Falcons have a lot of decisions to make here, and the fact that both Reynolds and Ishmael are coming up at the same time clouds his status. I think they’d like to see him back, but when you’re a 27-year-old reserve linebacker, very little is certain.
The big question is whether the Falcons will prioritize Ishmael over Reynolds or vice versa, because there’s a decent chance they won’t sign both.