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Are the Falcons clearing cap space to bolster the defensive line?

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Time to fire up the guessing engine.

Buffalo Bills v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Here is a short, if interesting, list of the ways the Falcons have sought to carve out some cap space this offseason.

  • Cutting Derrick Shelby
  • Cutting Levine Toilolo
  • Declining (in words, if not officially) to re-sign Taylor Gabriel, Dontari Poe, and Kemal Ishmael
  • Re-structuring Andy Levitre’s deal
  • Re-structuring Brooks Reeds’ deal

All told, the Falcons saved over $10 million in cap space by making these moves, and declining to re-sign Poe and Gabriel (and possibly Adrian Clayborn) means they won’t be chewing up that cap space on those players. Given that they’ve bled some genuine talent this offseason, what exactly is all that cap space going to go toward?

The timing of these moves, and this question, is hardly incidental. Free agency is right around the corner and Falcons fans are getting antsy as the Eagles land Michael Bennett and the Rams re-work their secondary on the fly, and everyone wants to know that this team has a plan and that’s it a good one. It’s fair to say that at this point, nobody’s expecting all of this cap room to go to a Jake Matthews extension and a Matt Ryan extension, especially since Ryan’s probably will lower his 2018 cap hit.

The inescapable conclusion is that the Falcons are cooking up something. It could very well be the typical Falcons free agency plan under Dan Quinn, featuring a bunch of mid-level signings designed to shore up positions of weakness. That could mean the Falcons scoop up the likes of Donte Moncrief at receiver and Alex Okafor at defensive end, capitalizing on a market that is still leery of guys with histories of injury and inconsistency. But it feels like it might be a little more than that.

The Falcons don’t have a visit scheduled with Muhammad Wilkerson just yet, as far as I’m aware, but it would not be at all shocking to see them make a strong play later on for Ndamukong Suh or Vinny Curry if either one makes it to the open market. Dan Quinn has always been a coach who believes in building the trenches first, and with the Falcons committing to keeping Andy Levitre and eyeing guards in the draft, the big improvements are likely to come on the other side of the football. Suh in particular and Curry to a lesser extent would chew up a ton of cap space, but the Falcons weren’t shy about doing exactly that with Poe a year ago, and I think it’s reasonable to assume that’s where they’ll look again.

Of course, I don’t know that, but the Falcons presumably aren’t parting ways with useful players because they like having extra money on hand for a rainy day. Once free agency opens, I’d expect the Falcons to be in play for some of the more interesting names on the market at defensive end, and I’d fully expect them to reel in useful players at fullback, along the defensive line, and perhaps at cornerback.

The only real question is whether they’ll try to land the name player who would provide a significant upgrade or not, and considering the team quietly improved a ton on defense thanks in large part to a better pass rush, I hope so.