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The Falcons are trying a different approach by signing veteran depth before the draft

Most NFL teams add veteran depth post-draft to address roster holes that weren’t adequately filled by rookies. The Falcons have taken a different approach in 2019, adding affordable free agents prior to the draft. Here’s why that’s significant.

Atlanta Falcons v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

We are officially within spitting distance of the 2019 NFL Draft, with only a few days to go until the Falcons make their first round selection (or, possibly, selections). The internet is abuzz with rumors and speculation galore, but thankfully we don’t have to wait too much longer to find out which rookies will wind up in Atlanta for the 2019 season and beyond.

One source of speculation, however, is worth addressing with an article. I’m sure fans have noticed that the Falcons have signed a significant number of veteran free agents in the weeks before the draft. This has led to some...interesting takes. Some are pretty reasonable, others are a little more far-fetched. Obviously we won’t know for certain until draft day, but in the meantime, let’s take a closer look at the Falcons recent free agent signings and what they mean for the 2019 draft.

First off, let’s take a look at the veterans that Atlanta added in free agency during the month of April:

  • C/G Adam Gettis
  • DT Tyeler Davison
  • DT Ra’Shede Hageman
  • EDGE Adrian Clayborn
  • EDGE Chris Odom
  • LB Kemal Ishmael
  • OT John Wetzel
  • S Chris Cooper
  • S Afolabi Laguda
  • S J.J. Wilcox

There are a couple things that stand out about this group. First, none of these players are likely to be starters. Second, outside of Adrian Clayborn, these players all signed for at or near the veteran minimum—meaning there is essentially no financial liability for the Falcons. Third, these are all players at positions that Atlanta was likely to target at some point in the draft—for the most part, these veterans fill roles that could’ve potentially gone to Day 3 rookies.

In my eyes, these signings—outside of Clayborn and perhaps Davison—are all essentially camp competition. None of these veterans should be viewed as a “lock” to make the roster, because they aren’t. However, many fans are treating these signings as a signal that the Falcons intend to significantly alter their draft plans. For instance, the signings of Hageman and Davison have led many to believe that the team is no longer interested in a top DT prospect, such as Ed Oliver.

The truth is that Atlanta is simply doing things a little differently in 2019. Most NFL teams add a cluster of veteran free agents and UDFAs immediately after the draft. The UDFAs are pretty random—after all, it’s up to the players to decide where to go. The veterans, however, are often added to fill holes on the roster that weren’t adequately addressed by rookies. Instead of waiting until after the draft, the Falcons instead opted to sign a bunch of veteran competition in advance.

That timing might actually be smart for the Falcons. Having their “choice” veterans already under contract prior to the draft gives them flexibility and insurance should their ideal draft strategy fail to materialize. It probably makes it easier for Atlanta to trade-up, should they so desire. This also allows the Falcons to focus entirely on UDFAs after the draft, instead of scrambling to pick up free agents during the post-draft frenzy.

There is also virtually no reason not to add these veterans prior to the draft as opposed to afterwards. Outside of Clayborn, these players are all signed for the veteran minimum. If the Falcons do wind up with rookies that take the roster spots of these veterans, there is virtually no financial risk. If Atlanta was to wait until after the draft, however, they could risk losing these free agents to other needy teams.

So, my recommendation would be to treat these signings the same way you would treat post-draft FA additions: as camp competition that shouldn’t be considered a roster lock. As such, don’t expect these signings to significantly influence the Falcons’ early round selections. Ra’shede Hageman and Tyeler Davison certainly aren’t going to stand in the way of the Falcons selecting Ed Oliver, for example. These veterans are valuable insurance and roster depth, which gives the team additional flexibility.

What are your thoughts on the Falcons’ recent string of free agent additions? How do you view the strategy of targeting veterans prior to the draft, as opposed to afterwards? Where do you think the Falcons might go with their first round selection in the 2019 NFL Draft?