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What does the Terrell McClain signing mean for the Falcons?

The surprisingly large contract suggests McClain will have a real role.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Washington Redskins Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

We asked the Atlanta Falcons to go out and address the defensive tackle position, and to their credit, they’ve done so. They just didn’t do so in a way we expected them to.

They kicked things off at the end of April by drafting Deadrin Senat in the third round, with the promising and bulky rookie looking like a strong bet to be the long-term starter next to Grady Jarrett. For year one, though, it looks like he’ll be just another piece of the rotation the team brings along, because then Atlanta went out and got Terrell McClain.

To be clear, McClain is more of a threat to Senat’s snaps than Jack Crawford’s, at least initially. Down year notwithstanding, McClain has shown aptitude as a run stopper in his career and should be an early down option for Atlanta, likely next to the (justifiably) snap-eating Grady Jarrett. Crawford, if fully healthy, should be in on passing downs, leaving Senat to pick up the scraps in his rookie season. Unless Senat is killer right off the bat, this probably isn’t a bad thing. It is worth noting, as well, that McClain faltered a year ago in a 3-4 scheme, and he’ll be in a four man front in Atlanta.

McClain offers a little as a pass rusher—his 6.5 sacks don’t suggest it, but he can occasionally get pressure—so he could be a three down option at times, especially if Crawford falters. Atlanta’s probably better off if that doesn’t happen, but one never knows.

Whether he plays 20 snaps per game or 30 (or more, but that seems unlikely), McClain’s signing means the Falcons have effectively completed building their rotation on the interior of their defensive line. They don’t have Dontari Poe anymore, but it’s fair to argue the group they have now is deeper than it was a year ago, and that will hopefully help them weather the big man’s loss. If McClain has a quality bounceback season, this is going to be an intimidating defensive line.