The Atlanta Falcons have been extremely active in the weeks leading up to free agency, cutting ties with players we expected to see gone and ones we thought would certainly be in Atlanta for 2019. With free agency fast approaching, it’s an ideal time to take stock of what we’ve seen to this point and see what holes have opened up on the roster.
So, you know, let’s do so now.
DE Brooks Reed
CB Robert Alford
CB Brian Poole
K Matt Bryant
The Falcons turned an already thin defensive end corps into a frightful mess, with just Vic Beasley (whose $12.8 million salary is guaranteed only for injury) and Takkarist McKinley (a long-term building block) left on the roster. They did make a move to ameloriate that, as we’ll get to, but this is a team that needs to add 2-3 quality defensive ends just to be solid going into the year. That’s not an ideal situation.
They also ensured that cornerback is going to look significantly different next year. Robert Alford and Brian Poole were both effectively starters in 2019, pulling down huge numbers of snaps as the team’s #2 and nickel cornerback, and the Falcons intend to replace them with high-upside but unproven options. Damontae Kazee will man the nickel and was a ballhawk at safety last year with plenty of college experience at cornerback, but we still don’t know how he’ll fare there in the NFL. Isaiah Oliver will replace Alford and could be an immediate upgrade with his length, athleticism, and skill, but that’s far from a guarantee too. Atlanta’s now got to roll the dice a bit and re-build depth in the secondary, which may prove to be shrewd but feels a bit unnecessary, especially in the case of Poole.
Finally, they cut ties with Matt Bryant, their kicker since 2009. The move is entirely defensible in a cold, rational world, given Bryant’s age and cap charge, but hurts as a fan and puts the Falcons in the position of relying on a relatively unproven kicker in Giorgio Tavecchio. Bit of a brave new world for these Falcons.
DE Steven Means
LB Bruce Carter
Means is a rock solid signing. In his limited chances in 2018, Means showed out well as a run stopper, showed a little bit as a pass rusher, and is the ideal low cost replacement for Derrick Shelby, who lost many games to injury over the last few seasons. He gives the Falcons a very solid reserve at a position where they sorely need them, but the team could still use a top-flight starter opposite McKinley unless they’ve unlocked Beasley’s secret potential.
Carter is just a solid addition to linebacker, as he’s quality against the run and a capable enough special teamer to be Atlanta’s fifth or sixth linebacker, depending on what they do in the draft. It’s a fine signing but one that doesn’t move the needle.
Where the Falcons stand
Atlanta’s got to get a new contract done with Grady Jarrett, work on Julio Jones’ deal, and figure out what they’re doing with Beasley besides paying him $12.8 million in a year in which he’s either going to be worth far less than that or playing up to his considerable potential and shooting for the moon heading into 2020.
Beyond that, they now have small but important holes for reserves at cornerback and safety, a need to upgrade the offensive line, and very real weaknesses at defensive end. If the Falcons are intending to be fairly quiet in free agency, as they’ve suggested, I hope they’re scouting the NCAA’s finest vigorously in the here and now.