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With free agency looming, we don’t know Atlanta’s plans for the defensive line

We’ll know soon enough, but the uncertainty is one of the few major worries we have for Atlanta right now.

Atlanta Falcons v New Orleans Saint Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Let’s get an obvious statement out of the way: The defensive line you see today is not the one the Falcons will field in August, and certainly not in September. The Falcons will add bodies at minimum to ensure they have depth, and because this is a Dan Quinn defense, chances are they’ll make major investments of draft capital and potentially money to ensure this is a top notch line.

Still, uncertainty is not something any fan loves grappling with, and the situation along the defensive line is anything but certain at the moment. It warrants a closer look after the Michael Bennett trade to the Eagles, in particular.

To put it a different way, the Falcons could very well lose Dontari Poe, Adrian Clayborn, Courtney Upshaw, Ahtyba Rubin and Derrick Shelby from their defensive line. That’s five players, two who played starter’s snaps and three who had small but important roles as part of a rotation. Certainly if Jack Crawford is healthy and Takk McKinley is going to take on a much more prominent role, you can survive some of those losses, but not all of them. The Falcons will, if Clayborn does walk, lose two starting caliber players from a group that was very good in 2017.

This is critical because of the implications associated with getting this wrong. Thomas Dimitroff confidently said earlier this offseason that the Falcons don’t really have any holes, and he was right at that moment. With the knowledge that the line is being so thinned out by attrition, however, it’s suddenly a very real hole, with one starting defensive tackle spot unfilled and the depth all along the line potentially significantly weakened.

That’s why it’s important to know what the team’s plan is for the defensive line—they surely have one—and we simply do not just yet. We now know the Falcons are not going to land Michael Bennett, who is headed to the Eagles, which means they could be looking for a trade for Vinny Curry (unlikely, I’d wager) or simply to bolster the line with a combination of draft picks and reasonably priced free agents. That plan, you’ll recall, has worked well in the Dan Quinn era thus far, with Vic Beasley, Grady Jarrett, and Takkarist McKinley coming out of the draft and Adrian Clayborn, Brooks Reed, Derrick Shelby, and Courtney Upshaw providing quality snaps at reasonable cap hits over the last few seasons. Replicating that is tricky—you have to nail those picks and get free agents who stay healthy and fit well—but it has borne fruit for them thus far.

These next several weeks will be tense ones, though, until we see who the Falcons re-sign, add, and draft. I’m hopeful they’ll come out of this offseason with an even better grouping than they had in 2017, but it remains to be seen.