Alright, so it’d mid-March, and we haven’t heard a whole lot from our fearless Falcons in a bit. You’re getting bored, I’m getting bored, Freddie Falcon’s getting bored.
We’re also getting restless, with every Sheldon Richardson that goes to the Vikings, and every Ndamukong Suh that visits the Rams, and every anything good happening to those dastardly Saints. The line’s gone quiet in Falcontown, and it’s making all of us, I don’t know, antsy.
Well, fear not. Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff aren’t enjoying coconut milk under the sunny island sky; they’re hard at work behind the scenes, trying to figure out how to better themselves as a franchise and keep pace with the fellow titans of the NFC (of which they are definitely one of — they’re the only team in the conference to make the playoffs the last tow years, lest you forget).
If you spend your race worrying about the guys next to you, you won’t win. Quinn and TD are pros at this, and they’ve got something working to improve the team in 2018.
But, hey, they’ve already made a handful of promising moves we’re not giving proper spotlight at it is. Bringing in QBs coach Greg Knapp, adding Bernie Parmalae to coach the running backs and signing Brandon Fusco to play right guard will do more than you think to help the offense.
Knapp will help Steve Sarkisian better plan for the NFL, and will aid Ryan as he enters the back half of his career, as he did with Peyton Manning in Denver. Like Matt Schaub helped bridge some of the confusion between Kyle Shanahan’s scheme and Ryan in 2016, Knapp could bridge Sark’s play calling potential to a better-organized/better-schemed game plan. He could also help Ryan get acclimated to anything new Sark is doing. Parmalee replaced a guy who’d never coached running backs in the NFL, and has years of experience at the job. That’ll do more than you think. Fusco’s not a Pro Bowler, but he’s at the worst around what Chris Chester was when he got here in 2015, and will have more immediate impact in quality play than Wes Schweitzer did when he was at guard. Playing between Alex Mack and Ryan Schraeder will help him reach his threshold, and will help the OL better function.
So, those are three key additions that’ll show up in September, believe me.
But, what about the, y’know, other stuff?
Well, again, *there is a plan.* What might that plan look like? Speculation below.
Extend Matt Ryan
We’ve heard that Matt Ryan’s extension might hit as soon as this week, but you know how those things can go. Ryan’s agent, Tom Condon, is notorious for playing hard ball, which makes him both great at his job, and awful for folks wanting immediacy in the negotiation conversation. He figures to become the highest-paid player at the position if all cracks that way, and Ryan’s worth every penny. If it weren’t for extraneous factors beyond his control, he’d be a Super Bowl-winning quarterback (okay, sorry, but it had to be said). That’ll set Atlanta up for the future at the most important position on the field, and will relieve a bit of cap space for 2018. That’ll give Atlanta some dough to flex at the depth on their roster for the next few weeks...if the deal is done in the next few weeks, that is.
Finish Getting Veteran Help for the Offense
You have to think that the Falcons would want to continue to get, well, a bit more seasoned on offense to shave off some of the disorganization that plagued the unit last year (as much as a top-ten offense can be plagued, to be honest).
A solid starting fullback would be helpful, though the cupboard is a bit bare for free agents at the moment, and suggesting the possibility of drafting a fullback will catch you some serious heat on social media. FB Zach Line is the best option available at the moment — a highly-graded 27-year-old Saints veteran who helped pave the way for that dynamic Alvin Kamara & Mark Ingram attack last season. Nabbing him to the light side of the Force for a multi-year deal would be the best-case scenario at the moment. If not him, the team should seriously consider bringing Derrick Coleman back, who wasn’t awful last season, and could improve with another season in the system. If not either...get ready to go UDFA hunting for the next great Falcons fullback.
We’ve discussed the veteran running backs out there, and I imagine they’ll add one if they reached out to Danny Woodhead. They appear to want better pass-blocking, with Devonta Freeman taking a lump here and there at critical times with that recently. Shane Vereen makes a lot of sense, and I really wouldn’t be all that surprised to see him be the guy they add when it’s all said and done.
Adding a veteran to the tight end group also would make a lot of sense, on and off the field. Now that Levine Toilolo is gone, the room might need a veteran to help Austin Hooper and Eric Saubert grow along. If Antonio Gates is through with the Chargers, he’d be a very Dwight Freeney-esque addition. He only had 316 yards and three touchdowns last season, but that’s really all Atlanta would need from the TE2 if Hooper can improve. He’s remarkably durable for his age, and he’d help Hooper and Saubert along as they mature into better players. On a one-year deal with a Super Bowl contender, Gates could do a lot of good for the Falcons, if only to give Ryan a veteran safety valve to rely on.
Fill in Some Depth Elsewhere
We won’t get quite to the NFL draft, but I’ll spoiler warn for you and say that’s where Atlanta will replace Dontari Poe and Adrian Clayborn. Falcoholic draft guru Kevin Knight had two defensive lineman coming off the board in succession of each other in his latest mock draft, and that’d make a lot of sense. You can also figure the team to add another piece somewhere, perhaps again on the DL, or perhaps in the linebacking core or secondary.
For now, expect the team to add one or two depth pieces on defense, perhaps at LB and at DT.
I’ll play make believe and throw out two ideas. I’d love to see what Quinn and his staff could do with former Tennessee DT Karl Klug, who’s a scrappy, versatile reserve. He tore his Achilles in 2016 before having a down year in 2017 and being released earlier this month, not perceived to be a fit in the new Titans defensive scheme. But, if he can get healthy, that might be an exciting addition for depth purposes to play behind Grady and a first round rookie. He’s got a fight to his game that screams Dan Quinn.
If the Falcons make that Mychal Kendricks trade, Duke Riley will shift to be a valuable depth linebacker, but I’d love to see the Falcons steal LB Michael Mauti away from the Saints and pull the reverse-Nate Stupar. Mauti’s a really good special teamer, and would give the team some needed depth inside. If LaRoy Reynolds can still come back, make that happen. But, if the team wants to change out that spot, Mauti wouldn’t be a bad get on the cheap. He’s a high-character guy who could fill in if need be and contribute on special teams. Like Nate Stupar. Still not over that.
So, if you want an idea of what’s coming in the days and weeks ahead leading to the draft, think about this. Be happy the Falcons are in a good spot, and stop worrying that the picture isn’t quite clear yet. It never is until it counts.