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A complete list of 2019 Atlanta Falcons free agents

Plus a closer look at whether we think each one will stay or go in 2019.

Atlanta Falcons v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

We’re a couple of months away, sadly, but NFL free agency is the first truly big ticket item on the Falcons’ offseason calendar. They’ll hopefully be negotiating extensions with key players before then, which will provide us some flashes of light in the looming darkness, but free agency is going to be the big draw.

Today, I wanted to take a moment to run through the free agents this Falcons team will be considering this offseason, and whether they’re likely to stay or go. Our hit rate was pretty good last January, and this year’s crop doesn’t seem overly complex, with a handful of exceptions. Let’s get to it.

DT Grady Jarrett

The crown jewel of the free agent class for Atlanta, and the one they absolutely must get under contract. Whatever accolades you want to throw around for Jarrett are fair and warranted, whether you want to know that he was Pro Football Focus’s highest-rated Falcon for the 2018 season, that he just posted a career-high six sacks, or that he was perhaps the team’s best run defender despite missing a couple of games this year. Jarrett is terrific, young, and looking to cash in, as he should be.

The Falcons can’t botch this, because the alternatives are not good. Jack Crawford is a useful pass rusher coming off a great season, but he’s not the same caliber of player as Jarrett. Rookie Deadrin Senat flashed as a run stopper but not as a pass rusher, and we don’t know quite what the Falcons have in him just yet. The only other full-time defensive tackle currently under contract is Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, fresh off a practice squad season in Atlanta. The Falcons have a strong depth chart in need of one useful addition with Jarrett in Atlanta, and a poor one without him. He’s a necessary player.

Whether Jarrett is looking for an Aaron Donald-esque contract or not—and as a reminder, there’s no concrete indication he is--the Falcons have to do everything in their power to retain him. He’s their best defensive lineman unless Takk McKinley improves by leaps and bounds in the near future, and the one true building block on this line. The deal will get done, but reports of progress or lack thereof will likely cause us some heartburn between now and the start of free agency.

Will he return? Yes

G Andy Levitre

I’d like for this to be a slam dunk—Levitre is still the most talented guard on the roster—but chances are it won’t prove to be.

Levitre missed most of the 2018 season with an injury and missed the last three games (and most of the postseason) in 2017 after a run of healthy years stretching from 2009 to 2016. He put together a tremendous year in 2016 and was very good in 2017 before going down, but he’s played just 15 games over the last two seasons and will be 33 next year. The Falcons should be looking to remake their guard position a little bit with Wes Schweitzer just a decent option, Brandon Fusco looking mediocre before going down with injury, and all the unproven options behind them, but Levitre’s tempting because of the stability he offers if he is healthy.

I imagine this will ultimately come down to price. If the Falcons can, based on injury, get Levitre back for an incentives-laden contract with a base of $1-2 million, they’ll likely to do so and pencil him as the starter at left guard. If he’s looking for more than that, the Falcons will move on, as they probably should. Look for reports of Levitre’s health and price, and then we’ll have a better idea of how Atlanta proceeds.

Will he return? Maybe

DE/LB Bruce Irvin

Irvin was one of the team’s most effective pass rushers down the stretch, full stop. He put up 3.5 sacks over the team’s final four games and was seemingly thrilled to land in Atlanta after the Raiders cut ties with him. He’s a former Dan Quinn guy from the coach’s days in Seattle, he showed he still has something in the tank, and he can help out at defensive end and linebacker for a team that could obviously use the aid.

That makes him a bit of a no-brainer in my eyes. Irvin is not an elite option as a pass rusher, especially at this stage of his career, but he’s at least a useful rotational piece who is extremely familiar with Dan Quinn’s defense. If he’s as interested in staying in Atlanta as it seems like he will be, I imagine he and the Falcons will work out a short-term deal to keep him around.

Will he return? Yes

RB Tevin Coleman

There will be a lot of chagrin about this one, I’d expect, but I can’t see a way for the Falcons to re-sign Coleman if he’s looking for starting money on the open market. Frankly, I’d be stunned if he wasn’t.

Coleman was essentially the starter with Devonta Freeman out most of the year, and we saw the best and worst of his game as a result. He’s an extremely dangerous runner with effective blocking or a tiny little seam to run through, as he’s got tremendous speed. He’s a very good receiving back, too, with the ability to fight his way open and make big plays, and he does a good job securing the football. All of that will make him an attractive targets for teams in need of a 1A or 1B option at running back.

But the weaknesses are real, too. Coleman’s lack of balance was a punchline coming out of college and has not considerably improved, as contact or simply trying to escape contact can cause him to fall down. His yards per carry average is hugely inflated by a handful of big runs, as Coleman was stuffed and suffered runs with negative yardage at one of the highest rates in the entire NFL. And it’s telling that when the offensive line was struggling mightily, Coleman looked considerably worse on the ground than Ito Smith, a more physical and savvy runner.

All of that’s to say that while we’d all like to have Coleman back for what he offers this offense, they can’t pay two running backs starter’s salaries, and Coleman doesn’t offer the bell cow ability that a healthy Freeman does. With Free expected to be returning healthy in the offseason, Ito Smith looking like a long-term #2 option, and Brian Hill showing an ability to run physically and effectively late in the year, Coleman should and will seek his fortune elsewhere. We will miss him, though.

Will he return? No

QB Matt Schaub

I’d like to start this writeup off by noting that I do not particularly want the Falcons to re-sign Matt Schaub. From the sounds of it, he’s been a huge help for Matt Ryan, a useful locker room presence generally, and a guy who will make a fine coach in the near future. There are just no indications that he’d be able to play at even a reasonably high level if something happened to Ryan, and while Ice has been absurdly durable for many, many years, as the seasons drag on I’d like the Falcons to explore having a backup who could play if necessary.

Schaub’s contract over the last couple of years was also overly onerous for a veteran clipboard holder who never got to play, and I’m not convinced he’ll take significantly less to return in 2019. With Kurt Benkert hanging around and a deep-if-not-quality quarterback class in the draft, I’d prefer the Falcons went a different route. I fully expect them to try to ink Schaub to a one-year deal light in guaranteed money, however, so that’s the prediction I’ll go with.

Will he return? Yes

DT Terrell McClain

My antipathy toward McClain is not entirely fair, especially since I welcomed his signing earlier in the year. But the Falcons got some halfway decent run defense out of him, a single sack, and not much else this season, and I think he’s certainly done in Atlanta given that lack of production. McClain’s a perfectly fine back-of-the-rotation piece at this stage of his career, but the Falcons need more than that going forward.

Will he return? No

G Ben Garland

Garland’s been a fan favorite for a while now, and for good reason. The versatile guard and center played pretty well in relief in 2016 and 2017 and even logged time at defensive tackle, and he’s one of the NFL’s good guys. Unfortunately, 2018 didn’t bring the same level of success.

Garland stepped in at right guard when Brandon Fusco went down and did not acquit himself well this year, scuffling so mightily at times that the Falcons brought Zane Beadles in off the street and started him down the stretch. Garland will be 31 in 2019 and the Falcons have to be looking at some combination of Levitre (if re-signed, Fusco, Schweitzer, practice squadder Sean Harlow and recent guard conversion Matt Gono, to say nothing of potential draft picks for the guard position. Unless he’s going to come cheap again and primarily serve as Alex Mack’s backup at the pivot, I don’t think Garland fits in here, and I think he’ll wind up elsewhere.

Will he return? No

DE Derrick Shelby

Another no-brainer. Shelby looked like a savvy free agent signing and provided quality run stopping ability to the Falcons in 2017, but thanks to injury he’s played fewer than ten games in two of his three seasons in Atlanta. He also has offered very little as a pass rusher throughout his tenure in Atlanta, and Steven Means looks like he can approximate Shelby’s value at a lower price. The team would be smart to move on, and I expect them to.

Will he return? No

ST Justin Bethel

He’s a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency option at cornerback and an extremely useful special teamer, as he showed throughout 2018. Bethel can make tough tackles and has the speed to stop returns dead in their tracks, making him the kind of guy any special teams coordinator would love to have around. That said, he offers virtually nothing on defense—I still remember, hilariously, that some Falcons fans thought he would start when he was signed—and there’s no special teams coordinator in Atlanta currently to weigh in on his re-signing. Put this one down as a maybe, but I’m willing to bet the Falcons try to bring him back.

Will he return? Maybe

LS Jon Condo

Josh Harris should be healthy and just got a contract extension, so Jon Condo will not return. Cut and dry.

Will he return? No

TE Logan Paulsen

Paulsen continued a distinguished tradition of #2 tight ends doing enough to be popular in Atlanta, however little that is. Paulsen was a useful blocker throughout the year and reeled in 9 catches for 91 yards and a touchdown, showing up out of nowhere with an important reception from time to time. It goes without saying, though, that you can replace production like that.

With Eric Saubert coming on as a blocker in his own right later in the year and with interesting young practice squad options Alex Gray and Jaeden Graham lurking, I think there’s virtually no way Paulsen returns. There’s a deep class at tight end in this draft, too, if you think the Falcons should be or will be aiming higher.

Will he return? No

LB Kemal Ishmael

Each year, I wonder if Ishmael will return. He’s been a Falcon since 2011, providing special teams value and the occasional big play on defense that entire time, but his role on defense has dwindled and dwindled and dwindled until he’s basically become a 1-2 play per game player. His special teams value is real, but the Falcons have added useful special teams over the last couple of years and figure to be looking to add more talent to linebacker. Unfortunately, I think this is the year Ishmael heads elsewhere.

Will he return? No

T Ty Sambrailo

I never thought I’d be typing this, but Ty Sambrailo has earned his way back onto this football team. Some shaky snaps as a guard aside, Sambrailo made the most of his 2018 playing time and looked better at right tackle down the stretch than Ryan Schraeder had all year. Sambrailo’s still reasonably young, should be reasonably affordable, and makes sense as a veteran swing tackle if he’s capable of playing at his 2018 level with any sort of consistency. He could also compete for the starting right tackle job, depending on what the Flacons do with the position, but I’m trying not to think about that at the moment.

Will he return? Yes

S Jordan Richards

This one’s a bit of a tough one. On balance, I think Sharrod Neasman was the better safety in 2018 and a fine special teamer in his own right. Given that and given that he’s under contract at a very affordable $720,000 for 2019, you have to think Neasman slots in as the team’s fourth safety.

The one way I could see Richards return is if the team sheds a lot of core special teamers, opening the door for him to stay, or if they decide Damontae Kazee will be making some kind of a full-time transition to cornerback and they need a fourth safety. Otherwise, I think Richards playing better down the stretch will not be enough to keep him in Atlanta.

Will he return? No

LB Bruce Carter

He was a valuable special teamer and an occasionally useful contributor at linebacker when the Falcons were deeply unsettled there earlier in the year, but he couldn’t get on the field on defense once the team figured things out late. I doubt he’ll come back.

Will he return? No

G Zane Beadles

The Falcons looked sort of insane when they talked up Zane Beadles coming into the building, given how bad he’s been in recent years. But Beadles was a pleasant surprise, by and large, and did a solid job of holding down right guard with Brandon Fusco out. Given his positional versatility—Beadles has legitimately played tackle, guard and center in his NFL career—I think the Falcons will definitely bring him back as a reserve for 2019. Ideally, he still won’t have to play much.

Will he return? Yes

CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson

Wreh-Wilson hardly played in 2018, but when he did play he looked very good. That’s been the story of his tenure in Atlanta, with playing time unavailable but obvious scheme fit and coverage acumen when he’s on the field. I’d expect the Falcons to bring him back as an extremely reliable fourth or fifth cornerback option, and he’ll likely come cheap yet again.

Will he return? Yes

DE Steven Means

Especially with Brooks Reed no lock to return, Means feels like an easy call. When he was able to push his way onto the field late in the year, he showed a little acumen as a pass rusher, better-than-expected ability against the run, and a little positional versatility as he kicked inside on some snaps, including one where he picked up a sack for Atlanta. He should be affordable and offers more than enough to make sense as a back-of-the-rotation signing at defensive end for a Falcons team with an unsettled depth chart.

Will he return? Yes

WR Justin Hardy

The Falcons have Marvin Hall, Russell Gage, and a couple of semi-interesting practice squad types, but I imagine Hardy will still return on a short-term deal. His sure hands, usability in the red zone where he has nine touchdowns over the last three seasons, and best-on-the-roster blocking acumen at receiver make him useful even if he’s an ever-smaller part of the gameplan as an actual receiver. I think the Falcons will bring him back if he doesn’t get a better offer elsewhere.

Will he return? Yes

CB Brian Poole (RFA)

The Falcons will likely tender Poole at the original round level and see what comes of it. He’s great blitzing the quarterback and a physical tone setter at the cornerback position, even if his work in coverage swings between not so great and above average.

All of that’s to say that Poole is a useful player and a seeming Dan Quinn favorite, and unless another team snaps him up he should be in here in 2018. His role might depend on what the Falcons do with Robert Alford, but he’ll find his way onto the field.

Will he return? Yes

WR Marvin Hall (ERFA)

Hall’s an easy call. He showed at least decent chops as a kick returner in 2018, he’s a useful situational deep threat, and he’s young and extremely affordable. He’ll head into the 2019 season as the fifth or sixth wide receiver, depending on what the Falcons do with Hardy and Russell Gage, but he should be back and he’ll have his role, however small it may be.

Will he return? Yes

Ultimately, the Falcons could end up moving on from a handful of useful contributors, but I don’t expect any devastating losses. They should just be left to fill in a few gaps and make necessary improvements along both lines, in the secondary, and at positions like tight end. It should be a fruitful offseason, and I’ll be perfectly happy if everything shakes out this way.

How about you?