The Atlanta Falcons lost out on OLB Pernell McPhee, which is a bummer and a half, with a side of slumped shoulders. He’s off to the nation’s capitol to play for the Washington 8-8s, which is certainly his right, but it does leave Atlanta with a bit of a hole in the pass rush.
Now, again, it’s not that big of a hole, considering they’ve got the 2016 sack leader Vic Beasley (who will surely rebound after an injury-tinged, duty-confusing 2017), and Takkarist McKinley leading the charge. Having both of those guys healthy and more tenured is going to be a major gain for Atlanta’s defensive front, with the hole left by Dontari Poe all-but-assured to be filled in either the first or second round of the NFL draft.
But, with Adrian Clayborn gone, there is a question of depth, and versatility. Beasley and McKinley have had their issues with injuries so far, and if one of those guys went down, the team really only has Brooks Reed around as a vaunted edge presence. Derrick Shelby doesn’t add enough to the pass rush, so they’re going to need an additional edge for depth, and just to give their companion rusher a break with snaps every now and again. Really, they’re, right now, looking for their next Takk/Clayborn hybrid — the guy who can spell the starter and maybe kick inside to play some interior rusher.
The Falcons have been linked, and unlinked, to DE Robert Ayers, and we’ve talked about what he could bring to the table before. But, there are other names out there that would probably be cost-effective additions, whether that be now, or sometime in April/after the draft. They’ve reportedly also shown interest in Steelers OLB Arthur Moats, who we’ve touched on and would be solid depth as a rusher. They might be waiting on the Ryan deal to go through before they process a deal of this size. So, who might those faces be?
DE Kony Ealy (New York Jets)
Ealy feels like the obvious choice out of everyone that’s available at the moment. A Super Bowl standout with the Panthers who couldn’t cut it with the literal New England Patriots, Ealy had a down year with the New York Jets in 2017. But, he’s proven he’s a solid rotational edge in the past, and did perform well on the game’s biggest stage two years ago. After a tough 2017, Ealy could bounce back under the tutelage of Dan Quinn and his staff. He’s got potential to play inside like Clayborn did. He’s only 26, and has room to grow. On the right deal, it’d be a nice depth move at this point in the cycle.
DE David Bass (New York Jets)
I’m unsure why, but I’ve been a big David Bass fan since he came out of college (Missouri Western State’s finest). Bass actually had 3.5 sacks for the Jets last year after joining the team late into September after bouncing around the league for a bit, his best total since 2014. At 27, he’s another ex-Jet with room to grow, and Atlanta would be a good spot for him. Quinn just has a way with edge guys. Plus, it’d have Bass complete my trifecta with random players I’ve been interested in over the last five years joining the Falcons (Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Terrence Magee). Bring him home, TD!
DE Ryan Davis (Buffalo Bills)
Davis got cut by the Bills just recently as Sean McDermott continues to make the defense in his vision. He spent a few seasons with the Jags and did alright there under Gus Bradley, but had a down year with the Cowboys in 2016 due to injury. He rebounded on Buffalo’s upstart 2017 defense with three sacks and 26 tackles. He’s approaching 30, and is a rotational player by trade, but since he knows the Seattle scheme, and has proven production, you could do a lot worse.
OLB Elvis Dumervil (San Francisco 49ers)
Dumervil is still going strong into his twilight, having notched 6.5 sacks for the 49ers last season. Could he be the next Bay Area resident to jump over to the ATL? Bringing in Dumervil would be kind of similar to the Dwight Freeney signing in 2016. He’s a stalwart veteran at the position who could help Vic and Takk continue to grow as rushers, and provide help in a rotating role. He’s only 34, so not quite on the other side of his career, but if the Falcons want depth and veteran leadership, this is a good guy to have around for it.
OLB Erik Walden (Tennessee Titans)
Walden is a fascinating case. He had 11 sacks for the Colts in 2016, but struggled to find a deal after, eventually landing with the Titans, for whom he had four sacks in 2017. He’s a talented, violent rusher, though the dip in production with Tennessee makes you wonder if, at 32, he’s bound for rotational snaps from here on out. Since all of these contracts are likely one-year agreements, Walden would be an intriguing addition. If the Falcons could get anything close to that 2016 campaign out of him, it’d be a steal.
DE Dwight Freeney (Detroit Lions)
Look, you guys know how I feel about Dwight Freeney coming back to Atlanta. He’s old, and could retire by the time this is published. He also only played for November and December last season, and was released by the Seahawks just a couple of games into his deal before rejoining old Colts coach Jim Caldwell in Detroit. But, if Atlanta just need a rotational guy to take some pressure off Takk, and Freeney’s still got it and wants to play, then why not? He’s a familiar face who has no problem being a leader and would likely welcome a even-more reduced role at this point of his career. Since we’re talking depth here, Freeney’s been as sure as you can get for veteran rushers. Though, Atlanta opting not to bring him back in 2017 might be the book closed on this. You never know, though.
Anyone we’re forgetting?