With free agency arriving today, the Falcons have been largely quiet, outside of re-signing a few key free agents and being linked to some free agent tight ends. The division largely followed suit, with the Saints and Buccaneers staying quiet outside of their own free agents, and the Panthers making the sole divisional splash of the day.
The rest of the league was a little more noisy. Contenders like the Patriots stayed quiet, but the Chiefs, Vikings, and Jaguars were among the playoff-caliber teams making splashes (or lining up splashes, since nothing’s official yet) that they hope will bear fruit. As always, the signings that look great now may look very different later, but there’s little question that there are teams out there trying to aggressively improve.
The Falcons won’t be among them, per se, because they’re counting on the draft and in-house improvement to make a huge difference, especially with limited cap space. But I would expect them to land a veteran defensive lineman or two and a tight end, though they’re not likely to be scintillating names. I’m hopeful it will happen sooner rather than later, so we get a glimpse into the team’s plans.
Here’s a look at what happened for the Falcons and around the NFL yesterday.
What the Falcons did
- Re-signed Austin Pasztor and Leon McFadden. This almost felt like a thumb in the eye of Falcons fans clamoring for a sign that the Falcons were up to something, and frankly both are curious re-signings. Pasztor is a decent reserve lineman but seems unlikely to beat out Ty Sambrailo (and unlikely to be higher than fifth on the guard depth chart, if it comes to that), but this is a team that likes to have some kind of veteran depth on the line. Maybe he’ll stick around.
McFadden was even weirder. Here’s a cornerback without much of a history of production who bounced around the NFL before landing with the Falcons and not playing at all in 2017. Chances are the Falcons are bringing him in to compete for the fifth cornerback job because they like what they saw from him in practice, but he’s guaranteed nothing.
What happened around the NFL
- The Packers re-loaded in a big, show-stopping way that is uncharacteristic for Green Bay, landing Jimmy Graham on a big, multi-year deal and adding Muhammad Wilkerson on a one year, $5-$8 million pact that reminds one of Dontari Poe’s deal with the Falcons in 2017. This is a team with a ton of holes, especially compared to teams like Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Minnesota, but they do have Aaron Rodgers and they added some intriguing pieces that should make them dangerous again in 2018.
- The Jaguars landed top guard Andrew Norwell for an annual average of $13.3 million, a bonkers number for a guard. They’re locked into a bad quarterback this season, which may ultimately limit their upside, but their supporting cast looks great and their offensive line is top-shelf. Norwell’s price tag explains why the Falcons never even sniffed around him, and it may explain why the team was so keen to keep Ben Garland around. That guard market looks poised to explode.
- Sammy Watkins was arguably the best wide receiver on the open market, and Allen Robinson was arguably the second best. Both have new homes, with Watkins heading to Kansas City and Robinson reportedly going to Chicago. The Bears also will reportedly sign Taylor Gabriel, giving Mitch Trubisky some new weapons to work with.
- With the Broncos seeing the writing on the wall for Kirk Cousins, they moved to get Case Keenum locked up. Denver’s arrow is pointing way down after Elway has repeatedly tried to make it work with lousy QBs, and while Keenum is a definite upgrade, I’m not sure he’s going to be able to take this team back to relevance in a division with an improving Chiefs squad, a quietly strong Chargers team, and Jon Gruden’s Raiders.
- Speaking of Kirk Cousins, he’s headed to Minnesota on a fully guaranteed three year deal, the first of its kind for a quarterback that I’m aware of. Minny’s a tough football team and figures to be a huge problem again in 2018, but I am not 100% sure Kirk Cousins is a vast improvement over hair-on-fire Case Keenum. I guess we’ll find out.
What happened around the NFC South
- The Saints got a deal done with Drew Brees, but seemingly struck out on Jimmy Graham and Malcolm Butler. They figure to be in the running for a tight end now—if the Falcons don’t sign Austin Seferian-Jenkins, he’s a strong bet—but New Orleans has been just about as quiet as Atlanta thus far.
- Carolina, meanwhile, is doing some work. They made what I view as their first unqualified good move of the offseason when they added former Washington cornerback Bashaud Breeland on a three year, $24 million deal. Breeland isn’t going to strike fear into the hearts of this Atlanta receiving corps, but he’s a good, fairly young, and experienced cornerback the team badly needed after shipping away Daryl Worley to Philadelphia. Carolina’s looking a bit like a wild card right now, but they’re not a team to be taken lightly.
- Tampa Bay locked up their own, as they’ve done busily all offseason. It’s interesting to see by far the worst team in the NFC South so hellbent on retaining their talent, but the Bucs do have many quality pieces and subscribe to the same team-building philosophy of most of the rest of the division. There’s a reason the NFC South rarely craters, and it’s because they tend to prioritize keeping their best players around and building at least reasonably wisely. We’ll see if that trend continues when free agency actually opens.