As free agency looms ever so nearer, it’s time we continue our look at who the Falcons could sign on a budget.
Defensive end is a trouble spot for the Falcons, if only because there’s not a soul on the roster that’s proven to be consistent at all points of the year.
Takkarist McKinley got off to a strong 2018 start before fading down the stretch with the rest of the defense, Vic Beasley tempers flashes of brilliance with his largely-anonymous body of non-2016 work, and Steven Means has only played so much even if he looked solid when in action. In other words, the team needs some help here, help with experience.
The free agent pool at edge is a bit divided between high-ticket guys and bargain signings, and you can guess with side of the pond the Falcons will be fishing in.
Note that the Falcons have a perfectly serviceable veteran in Bruce Irvin they could re-sign, one that had a good December with the team once he got settled. He’s the most likely to sign, and would be welcomed to have around in the building for an entire offseason.
The team could also consider bringing back Derrick Shelby, who always does his part against the run game but doesn’t offer much against the pass. After all his recent injuries, that feels unlikely.
- DE Vinny Curry
- DE Michael Johnson
- DE William Hayes
- DE John Simon
- DE Dion Jordan
- DE Markus Golden
- DE Benson Mayowa
Curry is a name that immediately pops out since he was with Dirk Koetter in Tampa Bay last season. A longtime Eagle who’s always been a good utility guy to have around on the defensive line, Curry isn’t a starter and doesn't put up starter numbers. But as a pass rusher who comes off the bench and perhaps plays in the team’s base package? He might be one of the better guys out there who maybe won’t cost a ton, though nobody in this market will come cheap.
The Falcons have been linked to former Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson twice in Thomas Dimitroff’s tenure, and one wonders if the team finally lands the former Georgia Tech standout on a cap-friendly deal. Last season, he had a half-sack, 33 tackles and a pick-six in a rotational role on the Bengals’ deep defensive line. With the regime change in Cincy, it’s not likely he returns. He’d be purely depth for the Falcons as he showed legitimate decline last season after declining some in recent years, but the team might greatly benefit from his veteran influence on the younger roster.
Ditto for Hayes on that last note. A stalwart rotational rusher his entire career, Hayes will be 34 when the season gets going and has missed a good chunk of games over the last two season. If he’s healthy, he’d be a good depth piece to add. He had two sacks in three games last season.
John Simon is a guy who will probably miss a few games a season, but packs a decent punch when he’s out there. He had two sacks for the Patriots last season and, again, depth is the focus here and Simon’s not going to command much.
Jordan is one of the most fascinating names in all of free agency. Once a top draft pick for the Dolphins, he struggled with suspensions after underwhelming on the field. The Seahawks took a flier on him in 2017 after he missed all of 2015 and 2016, and he payed off quickly with four sacks in five games. His 2018 wasn’t quite as successful, but he still had 17 tackles, 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble. Maybe there’s more potential there to tap into?
Golden might be a bit too expensive, as he had 12.5 sacks in 2016, but he’s struggled in the past two years with a 2017 ACL tear and a low production 2018. He’s only 27 and has a lot of potential, but Atlanta probably can only afford to gamble on one guy of that distinction for its pass rush.
Mayowa is a pass rusher who bounced around the league before finding a solid footing with the Cardinals in 2018. He had four sacks (his second-best for his career), 38 tackles and a forced fumble. He and Quinn crossed paths briefly in Seattle in 2013, and perhaps a reunion is in order?
Now, if the Falcons could somehow convince Cam Wake to take a team-friendly deal for a year, that’d be awesome, but it’s incredibly unlikely (watch for him to join the Patriots).
Re-signing Irvin or adding a veteran like Johnson or Mayowa feel like the surest bets, but you just hope Atlanta does something. Beasley, McKinley and Means can’t be the team’s grand plan for now outside of adding a rookie. They need one veteran depth piece to shore up the roster. Will that guy arrive this spring?