Part of the Falcons’ grand offseason strategy was scooping up a bunch of affordable veterans who either spent time on the team in 2019 or filled positions of need. Not all of those guys will be back in 2020—even the ones with nominally two year deals—but the following players have a strong opportunity to carve out a role this year, re-join the team and perhaps stick around even beyond next year.
TE Luke Stocker
Stocker’s familiarity with Dirk Koetter and Mike Mularkey makes him a pretty solid fit, but beyond that he checks a lot of boxes for Atlanta. He’s a reasonably effective pass catcher, a versatile player who can mix in at fullback in a pinch and play special teams, and a quality blocker. With Logan Paulsen under contract for just one more year, Eric Saubert entering the final year of his deal in 2020, and the new coaches and their enduring love for quality tight ends, Stocker feels like a strong bet to return after this year.
DE Steven Means
Means is good, which I think we’ve been guilty of overlooking this offseason. He was a rock solid run defender and an occasionally useful pass rusher a year ago, and he has the bulk to rotate inside when called upon to do so. Defensive ends under contract next year? Exactly one, with Takk McKinley holding down the fort as Vic Beasley, Adrian Clayborn, and Means are projected to hit free agency. The team could address the position with a draft pick—something I’m still a bit surprised they didn’t do this year—but a valuable, affordable rotational player like Means should be a priority early in the offseason regardless.
DT Tyeler Davison
Jordan Schultz, who was on the Davison signing early, noted that the Falcons and Davison might be interested in hammering out a long-term accord down the line. Davison’s fairly young, has a history of playing well as a run defender, and the Falcons are facing an offseason where Grady Jarrett could be coming off the franchise tag, Jack Crawford is a free agent, and there’s no much in the cupboard besides Deadrin Senat. Don’t be at all surprised if the team tries to get something done before the season’s over if Davison plays well.
LB Kemal Ishmael
Ishmael is the consummate Falcons special teamer, and last year he played 75% of the team’s special...teams...snaps. That sentence went off the rails.
The biggest reason to believe that Ish will return is that he always seems to, as a valuable last line of defense at linebacker and safety and an incredibly valuable member of the special teams unit. Even under Ben Kotwica, that’s likely to endear him to the team, and I imagine he’ll be back in 2020.
S Chris Cooper
Perhaps making sense of the safety depth chart this early in the year makes no sense at all, given that you have two starters coming off of injury, a team that went out and signed three veterans to compete for backup roles, and the fact that we have not yet seen the team put Damontae Kazee on the field as a cornerback, even though they’ve said they’re going to.
Even so, one of my early bets for a multi-year stint is Cooper, the former Chief who was one of the more unorthodox signings of the offseason. He’s just 25 and possesses the requisite athletic profile to play safety for Quinn, has been talked about as a potential reserve nickel cornerback option, and will be fighting off three other players (Afolabi Laguda, J.J. Wilcox, Sharrod Neasman) who are all either under contract just for this year or essentially have a team option for 2019. So long as the Falcons don’t throw us a curveball with Kazee playing CB, Cooper feels like the short-term backup to Ricardo Allen, with either Laguda or a draft pick snagging the spot behind Neal, given the team’s seeming ambivalence toward Neasman.
Anyone else you’d add to this list?