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What the Mohamed Sanu trade means for the Falcons

Trading the veteran hurts the offense in the short term, but there are players who stand to benefit.

NFL: Pro Football Hall of Fame Game-Atlanta Falcons vs Denver Broncos Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Falcons figured to try to trade Mohamed Sanu, given that they seemed unlikely to keep him in 2020 with their cap crunch, but the timing and the return were both major surprises to me. If you’re just catching up, the Falcons traded Sanu to the Patriots for a 2nd rounder this morning, and that kind of move reverberates through the entire organization.

Here are some disorganized notes—I haven’t had any coffee yet, after all—on what this means for a handful of Falcons and the team itself.

Russell Gage: A larger opportunity

The biggest beneficiary of this trade—though he may not view it that way immediately, given how apparently beloved Sanu was among the receiver corps—is definitely Gage. The former sixth rounder was drafted for his special teams prowess in 2018, but over the summer and during his rare appearances thus far in the 2019 season, he’s shown improved route running, truly impressive speed and leaping ability, and a knack for making tough catches. That’s more than enough to warrant giving Gage a legitimate shot over the final nine games to prove he can be a prominent piece of the offense.

He should slot right in as the third receiver on gameday, though he’s obviously going to be splitting snaps with veteran Justin Hardy, whose value as a blocker, red zone option, and third down chain-mover is not in dispute. With more snaps and more targets, I’m hoping we’ll see Gage blossom, which would allow the team to put off adding another receiver until a little later in the 2020 draft so they can prioritze defense.

Austin Hooper: Even more targets

Hooper is in the midst of a breakout season, and it’s fair to wonder if Sanu’s 2020 cap hit will be used in service of a new deal for the steady tight end. In the short-term, at least, Hooper is even more likely to get the kinds of targets that Sanu commanded over the middle and on third downs, given his reliable hands, physicality, and crisp route running.

Hooper is now, at worst, the third option in this passing game for the foreseeable future, and he’s probably heading for an absolutely massive season. I wonder if the Falcons can make enough moves to get a deal done with him now, before free agency jacks that price up even further.

The Falcons: More ammunition for a 2020 rebuild

The team made this move knowing full well that Sanu was unlikely to return next year, given their cap crunch. They got a late 2nd (functionally a 3rd, but hey) in return for their veteran third receiver who was likely to be gone in 2020 despite being an awful team clearly looking to offload players, which is a genuinely impressive return.

The Falcons need more picks, so while it sucks to lose a great locker room presence and very useful receiver, this increases the chances of a rebound in the short-term. The Falcons have a lot of essential pieces already locked up, even if some of those (like Matt Ryan, who isn’t getting younger and Keanu Neal, who is coming off his second straight major injury) come with some question marks. Having at least three picks in the first two rounds—don’t rule out the Falcons trying for another—gives you the pieces you need to replace guys like Sanu, Vic Beasley, and likely De’Vondre Campbell, which a new coach is going to want to do. With the Falcons dead in the water this year, all efforts need to bend toward reversing their fortunes in 2020, and this is a smart step.

Olamide Zaccheaus: Hooray, being active!

I’m sure he feels like it’s about time.