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A closer look at who the Falcons have under contract heading into 2020

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Atlanta doesn’t have too many glaring holes on first glance, but their cap situation will likely demand they open some up ahead of free agency and the draft.

Atlanta Falcons v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

With the season winding down and the interminable offseason once again ahead of us, it’s an excellent time to start considering what the Falcons are going to need to do to this roster in order to contend over the next couple of years.

Before we take the deep dives into positions, needs, and what’s in this upcoming draft class and free agency group, let’s start by taking a closer look at who the Falcons are actually going to have under contract when the new league year rolls around.

Offense

QB Matt Ryan
QB Matt Schaub (team option)
QB Kurt Benkert

RB Devonta Freeman
RB Ito Smith
RB Qadree Ollison

WR Julio Jones
WR Calvin Ridley
WR Russell Gage
WR Christian Blake
WR Olamide Zaccheaus
WR Brandon Powell

TE Luke Stocker
TE Jaeden Graham
TE Alex Gray

LT Jake Matthews
RT Kaleb McGary
T/G Matt Gono
T Ty Sambrailo

G Chris Lindstrom
G James Carpenter
G Jamon Brown

C Alex Mack

Top Needs

  1. Tight End
  2. Guard
  3. Running Back
  4. Wide Receiver
  5. Center

There are holes here, but perhaps not as many as you’d be inclined to think at first.

The Falcons can’t move on from Freeman without adding another back, they really need to believe in Gage as their third receiver to stand pat there, and they need more depth on the interior, if not another starter with Carpenter and Brown scuffling so badly this year. Cutting Alex Mack, despite the huge cap savings they’d get, would only serve to open up another hole. The biggest problem is that the Falcons either need to lock up Hooper or go get another talented tight end, because despite Jaeden Graham’s evident promise, that is a weak group on paper without him.

You still have Ryan, Julio, Ridley, and at least three either very good or very promising starters along the offensive line, which is enough of a base to at least get things started. I’ll be interested to see what Gage, Ollison, Ito, Blake, and Zaccheaus can offer with another year under their belts—one of those back stepping up in a major way would be particularly crucial—and perhaps Gono can surprise and become a starter at one of the guard spots.

That is banking on a fair number of ifs, however, and if the Falcons can’t get a deal done with Hooper their weaponry on this side of the ball looks considerably less impressive. The good news is that most of their other needs can likely be filled with solid veterans or draft picks, and a better coordinator would do a lot to lift this entire group up.

Defense

DE Takk McKinley
DE Allen Bailey
DE Austin Larkin
DE Jacob Tuioti-Mariner
DE/DT John Cominsky

DT Grady Jarrett
DT Deadrin Senat

LB Deion Jones
LB Foye Oluokun
LB Richie Brown

CB Desmond Trufant
CB Isaiah Oliver
CB Kendall Sheffield
CB Jordan Miller

S/CB Damontae Kazee
S Ricardo Allen
S Keanu Neal
S Jamal Carter
LB/S Ahmad Thomas

Top Needs

  1. Linebacker
  2. Defensive End
  3. Safety
  4. Defensive Tackle
  5. Cornerback

The cupboard is also not bare on this side of the ball, but the Falcons are probably justifiably going to focus a lot of attention on it.

Along the defensive line, only Grady Jarrett is an elite starter, and only Takk McKinley and Allen Bailey figure to be guaranteed major roles, assuming Bailey sticks around. There’s a lot of young, interesting talent under contract at very team-friendly prices here, however. Tuioti-Mariner is a promising run stopper, Senat would appear to be one if he could ever get playing time, and Cominsky was drafted with the expectation that he might turn into an athletic terror on the interior down the line. I’d like to see this team bring back Adrian Clayborn and Tyeler Davison if the budget allows, but if they do that and draft an end early I actually think they’re in good shape.

Linebacker looms as perhaps the largest need. Deion Jones is a great player having a good year and Foye Oluokun has done nothing but play well given the opportunity, but there’s nothing else here. Richie Brown and Ahmad Thomas are young guys who will compete for reserve roles, but unless the team is ready to hand the keys to Oluokun, they need another starter. If they are ready to do that, they need depth. Expect linebacker to be a fairly major area of focus for 2020 barring a De’Vondre Campbell return.

Cornerback is pretty set if Desmond Trufant is sticking around, as Oliver and Sheffield are stepping into major roles with increasing success. Jordan Miller is genuinely promising and Blidi Wreh-Wilson is exactly the kind of ultra-reliable, affordable reserve this Falcons team is going to need to target this offseason, and those five guys are good enough to get you by and then some. If Trufant isn’t back, though, the Falcons could invest an early round draft choice at corner to try to get another top-flight starter and give themselves three capable options for at least the next handful of seasons.

Safety isn’t that big of a question mark if you’re just glancing at the names, but the situation there demands attention. Neal is coming off his second major injury in two years and may or may not be ready to step in, start, and play at a high level in 2020, unfortunately. Allen and Kazee are a good duo and Carter’s at least a physical reserve, but with the uncertainty around Neal they need depth at minimum heading into the year. All their third safety plans for 2019 fell through thanks to injury, and they’ll want to be as well-positioned to weather that next year as possible.

Special Teams

LS Josh Harris


In addition to the obvious needs at kicker and punter, where no one is currently under contract, the Falcons will head into the offseason without Sharrod Neasman and Kemal Ishmael under contract, and those are their two most reliable and oft-used special teamers of the last two seasons by a country mile. It’s fair to say this unit may be heading for a fairly significant makeover, especially if they don’t elect to retain Younghoe Koo (though they likely will).


Overall, the Falcons have a fairly decent group on paper. If they were heading into the offseason with a ton of cap space, you’d feel pretty great about where they’re standing, but unfortunately that’s not the reality. Given that Atlanta will need to cut multiple players just to get under the cap, they’re going to open up some fairly significant holes that aren’t on this list today, necessitating some savvy signings and (hopefully) savvy draft picks to fill them.

Given that, it’s impossible to be overly enthused about the state of the roster heading into 2020. This is a team that once again will have to rely heavily on its handful of stars and relatively unproven young players, and we have to hope it’ll work out better next year than it has this year.