The Atlanta Falcons fell short in 2017. There’s no way to splice the film or massage the results of the year to take away the sting of that, not when you have a championship-caliber roster that just went to the Super Bowl the year before. It was a disappointing year, despite the fact that it was a relative success when measured against the history of this franchise and the week-to-week outcomes.
The bitterness that is so keenly felt in this fanbase has come through in the wake of that season, and in a major way. Over the last couple of months, I’ve seen everything from earnest grumbling about the team’s retention of Steve Sarkisian to full-blown outcry over the Falcons not actively upgrading their roster, despite the fact that free agency hasn’t started yet. I want to stress that it’s more than understandable to feel that way, but it’s also a bit misguided.
Let’s take a deep breath together and look, in the cold light of day, at this Falcons roster. Here’s what Atlanta has:
- The 2016 NFL MVP and a consistent top 10 quarterback in Matt Ryan
- One of the three best running back tandems in football in Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman
- One of the three best receivers in football in Julio Jones
- A solid cast of supporting pass catchers, including Mohamed Sanu and Austin Hooper
- The best center in football, one of the best right tackles, and an above average left tackle and left guard
- Two talented first round picks at defensive end
- A top 15-20 defensive tackle in Grady Jarrett
- The best middle linebacker in football in Deion Jones, plus a very talented outside linebacker in De’Vondre Campbell
- Two top 30 cornerbacks in Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford
- One of the most promising, physical safeties in the game in Keanu Neal, plus strong safety net Ricardo Allen
- A top 10 kicker in Matt Bryant
- A very solid punter in Matt Bosher
- A coaching staff that has been to a Super Bowl and a Divisional Round in the last two years
I list this all out, however tedious it may be, so you can understand exactly how good the team’s position is. They have never before had such a talented roster from top-to-bottom, and while there are real holes here at receiver, guard, tight end, and especially along the defensive line, this still has the look of a playoff team without any improvements. They are not going into the season without making improvements, either.
There are question marks—a lot of them surround Steve Sarkisian, to be blunt—but this team was a bit of a mess in 2017 and still made it to the second round of the playoffs. There’s no need for Atlanta to be making transformative trades for this roster, and they don’t have the cap space to do so anyways. What the Falcons do need is a handful of additions and improvements, particularly along the lines, and better use of their current talent.
So you shouldn’t be surprised if the Falcons only make one smaller splash in free agency, or even zero. They know the strength of the roster and they’re not going to be goaded into panic, and while that doesn’t guarantee success in 2018, it does mean we don’t need to freak out if they don’t land that one big name we were hoping for. This is a team that doesn’t need a radical change to be great, and that’s something we should bear in mind throughout the rest of the offseason.
That said, if they want to go ahead and land Muhammad Wilkerson, I’m also not going to complain. It’s just not particularly likely to happen.