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The Falcons are making bargain shopping a way of life in free agency

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So far, so good, but every year’s a new test.

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Falcons’ free agency plan resembles many of our grocery shopping plans, I suspect. It involves making a list, trying to avoid spending too much money, and occasionally breaking down in a moment of weakness and signing a big name free agent. We’ve all been there.

Since the 2016 season, when the Falcons splurged on Alex Mack and Mohamed Sanu, they’ve rarely invested big dollars or long-term deals in free agency. They’ve given reasonably chunky multi-year deals to the likes of Derrick Shelby and now Brandon Fusco, and they’ve invested in one year deals like the one Dontari Poe got a year ago, but those have largely been the exception. The Falcons, partly due to Dan Quinn’s philosophy and partly as a reaction to the disastrous 2014 free agent splurge that is still impacting this team’s cap in 2018, have largely chosen to dip their toes rather than plunge in.

This is not always the best approach—the Jaguars and Eagles proved last year that you can make significant upgrades by going hard in free agency—but it’s the right one for a team focused on long-term success, retaining its stars, and already possessing a franchise quarterback with his first contract firmly in the rear view. It’s also one that’s difficult to endure during that first head-spinning week of free agency, when lousy teams and great teams alike seem to be making the kinds of defining moves that will carry them to new heights the following season, regardless of whether that proves true or not.

But it’s a way of life for Atlanta, and it’s one that has borne fruit. It’s easy to forget this at times, but Dimitroff’s forays into free agency weren’t always productive, with the team swinging and missing at the likes of Steven Jackson, Osi Umenyiora, Tyson Jackson, Ray Edwards, Paul Soliai, and so forth in the later years of the Mike Smith era. They’ve done better, by and large, with the quieter signings, like Adrian Clayborn joining up in 2015 on what turned out to be a very team-friendly three year pact, something they’ll try to replicate with Pernell McPhee or another free agent defensive end in 2018. These kinds of deals don’t destroy your cap, and if you’re smart and a little lucky about who you choose, you land quality players who help your team win without making the kinds of splashes that cause you financial problems down the line.

As we outlined earlier in the week, the Falcons are keeping an eye on their own upcoming batch of free agents, which includes Grady Jarrett, Jake Matthews and Tevin Coleman in 2019 and Vic Beasley, Deion Jones, De’Vondre Campbell and Austin Hooper in 2020, which also demands they keep an eye on their long-term expenditures. That’s likely why they were comfortable cutting and then paying Derrick Shelby basically the same salary this year as they were planning to under his old deal, because they know he won’t carry the cap charge in 2019.

So remember this, because we’ll likely say it again next year: The Falcons don’t make a bunch of big moves in free agency, but they’re savvy about filling needs with veterans who come at a discount for one reason or another. So long as they continue to be fairly successful bringing in useful players at a discount, however slight, they should also remain a successful football team.