Going back to the 2013 NFL Draft, the Atlanta Falcons made a significant investment in their secondary. By selecting a pair of cornerbacks in the first and second round, the Falcons set out to establish having a duo of defenders for years to come, and it has largely worked out well for Atlanta.
Six seasons later, however, and the Falcons are at a particular crossroad. It is quite possible that the team may part ways with veteran cornerback Robert Alford. After six seasons on the job with 10 interceptions and 85 pass deflections and a memorable pick-six in Super Bowl LI, the Falcons have an option of cutting ties with Alford from his current contract and saving the team approximately $8.5 million dollars in each of the next two seasons.
Let’s say the team goes in this direction this offseason. I’m sure you’re asking yourself, “where will the team go from there?” Well, here is where I inject the little wisdom that I have and provide some insight.
Promoting Isaiah Oliver
Things did not off to a rousing start as expected for Oliver during his rookie season. Most of us remember his insertion into heavy snaps against the Cincinnati Bengals in week four and just so happened to be the culprit in the game-winning touchdown toss to Bengals receiver AJ Green.
But things started to turn around for Oliver as the season pressed on and the snaps increased. An encouraging experience against Steelers wide out Antonio Brown in which he yielded just two receptions for 17 yards on three targets showed a glimmer of hope. Towards the end of the 2018 season, Oliver began to significantly improve, including notching his first interception in the week 16 win over the Carolina Panthers. Upon the drafting of Oliver, it was to round out the cornerback grouping but it also help establish a future starter. That future may come sooner than we think depending on how the offseason shakes out in regards to Alford and his future.
Possible Free Agency Signing
Elevating Oliver to the starting cornerback spot opposite veteran Desmond Trufant could open up a void on the back end of the position on the team. Facing unrestricted free agency this offseason are veterans Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Justin Bethel. It is also undetermined what the team may do with defensive back Damontae Kazee, who will most likely relinquished his starting free safety role to the returning Ricardo Allen. If the team decides not to insert Kazee at corner, where he played during his collegiate career at San Diego State, there is a considerable pool of candidates in free agency to add to Oliver, Trufant and Brian Poole.
Names to be mindful of in free agency are Eric Rowe, Bashaud Breeland or Jason Verrett. While it is apparent that the team will likely not find a long-term starter at the cornerback position in free agency, with the anticipated cap space they may create this offseason, a veteran corner to help refine the position is a distinct possibility.
The 2019 NFL Draft
Personally, here is where I would like to see the team address the possible departure of Alford. There are a number of quality cornerbacks in this upcoming class that can be found later in the draft on Day 3. The Falcons may not necessarily need a corner that can start early on, but investing in a corner to develop with time is never a wrong answer. A few that comes to mind are Houston’s Isaiah Johnson, Kentucky’s Derrick Baity, or Central Michigan’s Sean Bunting. All three can be one of those middle round targets that will not have a load on their shoulder to sharpen their craft.