You might guess that one of the best teams in football would have a few players the Falcons might be interested in signing this coming offseason, and you would be correct.
The problem is that there aren’t actually that many. That’s a problem both because teams can’t poach some of the pieces that have helped make this 49ers team successful, and because it means San Francisco is likely to be very good again a year from now.
Here’s a few names to consider, do be sure to add your picks.
DL Arik Armstead
He’ll be 27 next year and currently has 10 sacks on the season, making him one of the more attractive free agents about to hit the open market. The question with Armstead besides cost, which figures to be a significant factor for Atlanta next year, is whether 2019 represents a breakout season or the rough equivalent of Vic Beasley’s 2016.
That’s because Armstead’s 10 sacks this season are more than he had combined coming into the year. He had nine in four years before this, and while he’s a stone solid run defender and a versatile player, you’re not going to pony up huge money to get a guy who is only a passable pass rusher.
That doubt could create an opportunity to save a little cash, but the Falcons would be adding Armstead in hopes of replacing a couple of guys who are leaving on this defensive line, because he’s durable enough to play a lot of snaps and this year suggests he can be great. He wouldn’t be my first choice as likely the only free agent splash of the offseason, but if the team doesn’t think they can line up one of the draft’s elite DLs, he’s a compelling fallback option.
RB Matt Breida
Breida is certainly at least partially a product of Kyle Shanahan’s back-friendly offense. He’s outperformed Tevin Coleman to an extent that I think makes it clear that he’s good on his own, however.
The upcoming RFA was an undrafted free agent, and with Coleman and Raheem Mostert in the fold, the 49ers may not offer him more than an original round tender. If that’s the case, the Falcons should be all over adding the speedy, shifty back to their rotation as a potential lead option for 2020, especially if they’re going to move on from Devonta Freeman as expected in the offseason.
Adding Breida for a reasonable contract would prevent the Falcons from spending yet another draft pick on a back in a year where they need to focus heavily on the defense and the offensive line again. It would also give them, potentially, a strong four man grouping with Breida, Brian Hill and Ito Smith competing as early down options and Qadree Ollison around as a bludgeon.
S Jimmie Ward
Ward is a very solid safety in the midst of a very solid year. He’s played 73% of the defensive snaps and 26% of the special teams snaps, has experience at both free safety and strong safety and has extensive playing time at cornerback in his recent history, and is a quality tackler. He’d be a great signing for a Falcons team that may well need safety help in 2020.
Consider this: Keanu Neal is coming off his second straight major injury, making it unclear whether the Falcons will be able to count on him returning to form and starting next season. Sharrod Neasman is a special teamer the Falcons seem unwilling to play on defense and is heading for free agency, as is Kemal Ishmael. Chris Cooper is the only other safety hanging around, and he’s been on the practice squad all year. You don’t know if you can count on him, either.
Damontae Kazee and Ricardo Allen are likely locked in as the starters, but the team badly needs a reliable third safety who can play as much as he’s needed and take over in case of injury. Ward fits the bill as an unlikely-to-be-cost-prohibitive option with versatility and special teams value, and signing him would ensure that if Neal simply can’t give you much in 2020, you’re covered. I’m not suggesting the Falcons should pass up drafting a safety, but at least for one year, having Ward on hand would be a big deal.