The future of the Atlanta Falcons is very unclear, as are their plans for March in free agency.
The team has been in a salary cap bind, but they’ve recently freed up money with Matt Ryan and Grady Jarrett’s restructured contracts and have good opportunity to clear other contracts on the roster to open up more space.
Don’t count out the Falcons trying to get some money off the cap. Devonta Freeman, Desmond Trufant, Alex Mack, Ty Sambrailo, James Carpenter, Allen Bailey and Luke Stocker are all cut or contract restructure candidates just based on high cap hits alone.
So even though the team doesn’t have the money to be a spender right now, they very likely will free up the space to go after a piece or two. Though, also consider some of that money will hopefully go to re-signing Austin Hooper and other impact guys like Adrian Clayborn.
It’s always fun to get a wish list going for March, of course. Pro Football Focus has unveiled its best 50 non-quarterback free agents, and there are a handful of intriguing options for the Falcons to consider.
You know the needs. The team will have voids on the defensive line and perhaps at linebacker, and though Jamon Brown’s contract hints he may have the inside track at left guard, the team could choose to invest in a competition there. Other spots could be filled as needed.
So who on the list intrigues us?
Let’s start off by surmising guys like DL Chris Jones, DE Jadeveon Clowney, DE Yannick Ngakoue, DE Shaquil Barrett and DE Arik Armstead aren’t likely additions. Their best bet is to stay with their current organizations, and even if they become available, the Falcons won’t have the money to pay either of them without big moves to get there.
We’ll also guess guard Brandon Scherff is going to get a massive deal, perhaps making him one of the highest-paid guards in the league. Of course, if Atlanta landed any of these players, it’d bode extremely well for them, but salary demands make this a bit of a pipe dream. DT Javon Hargrave and DT D.J. Reader also will probably be cost prohibitive and aren’t likely to leave their respective clubs.
We’ll also exclude Jarran Reed from this discussion. His six-game suspension in 2019 makes him passing the Falcons’ character filter very unlikely, and with everyone in the organization on thin ice right now, they’ll likely be more careful than normal on aspects like that.
Let’s look at the likelier candidates.
46. DL Robert Quinn
Quinn is a veteran pass rusher who had a bit of a career renaissance with the Cowboys with 12 sacks and 24 quarterback hits. PFF notes he’s been out of scheme in the past, having to stand up as a linebacker. If he were four years younger, he’d be poised for a massive payday. He’s played for nearly a decade and will be 30 when the season starts. That’s not to say he’ll be affordable, and that’s not to say he’ll be able to sustain his 2019 success (12 sacks is his career best). But the Falcons need a reliable rusher, and Quinn could give that to them without completely breaking the bank. Spotrac feels he could get $11.8 million annual.
43. LB Jamie Collins
Collins resurrected his career in New England after falling off the board with Cleveland last season, and you’d think he’d want to stick around there to keep it going under Bill Belichick. But the Patriots are notorious for letting good talent out of their building after a certain point, and Collins is a player they saw as expendable when they traded him to the Browns in 2016. If he gets loose, Atlanta should make a call. The team has been trying to bolster its linebacking corps for a while now, and Collins could slot in at the weak side and let Foye Oluokun maybe play De’Vondre Campbell’s spot if the latter leaves. PFF notes Collins’ potential ebbs and flows between elite and disappointing, which could drive his price down. Spotrac thinks he’ll average $8.8 million on a new deal.
42. DL Shelby Harris
Harris is an analytical favorite and a stalwart interior presence. He bounced around the league before really finding his footing in Denver. With six sacks and six hits as a defensive tackle, his interior pressure skills are pretty strong. The Broncos probably aren’t going to be eager to let him leave, but if he breaks loose, the Falcons should make a call to see his price. Though, Spotrac estimates he could make $11.7 million annual salary, which is a lot and not a likely investment for this particular team. So maybe this is a bit of a stretch, but you never know when contracts get going who eventually makes what. Unlike Reader, who is for sure going to make this price from the Texans or someone else, Harris could wind up making a little less since he’s not quite a household name.
37. DL Mike Daniels
Here’s a quite intriguing option. Daniels was a terror in Green Bay before missing some time in 2018 and being a surprise cut before the 2019 season. In Detroit, he only played in nine games and registered 10 tackles and a sole sack. He may be looking for a fresh start and a one-year prove-it contract that could be well within Atlanta’s price range (maybe even $4-6 million with incentives). PFF notes his age being another contributing factor to him not being paid like a top defensive tackle. He’ll be 31 when the season starts. With Grady Jarrett fully “the guy” at the position, he could be an excellent counterpunch.
35. DL Michael Pierce
Pierce is likely going to be out in Baltimore as they have other guys to retain on their talented roster (DE Matt Judon is up for a contract), and he didn’t quite, in PFF’s eyes, match his standout 2018 campaign. The Falcons need a true nose tackle, as Allen Strk noted this week, and Pierce could provide stability there. He may also be one of the sincere bargains in this year’s free agency run.
33. LB Kyle Van Noy
Van Noy feels like one of those guys who New England will actually try to hold onto, but his play with the Patriots could help him make a lot more elsewhere. PFF notes he’s been a completely different player since his time with the Lions and provides versatility in coverage and as a pass rusher. He’s about to turn 29 and will probably get rewarded handsomely by whichever team signs him. If the Falcons want a proven chess piece to help both the pass rush and help if Campbell walks, Van Noy could be an option. They’d just have to invest in the potential.
26. DL Leonard Williams
Williams will have his share of suitors this offseason if the Giants don’t use the franchise tag on him. PFF is right to point out that the potential he had pre-draft never came through, but he’s still a reliable interior presence. With 16 quarterback hits last season, he knows how to affect the line of scrimmage. His age will certainly make him appealing, as will the idea that teams could tap into more of his potential. Atlanta has already paid one young defensive tackle; would they be willing to do another? Spotrac estimates a manageable $8.2 million a year for Williams’ services.
16. G Joe Thuney
The Falcons would have to clear out cap space on the offensive line and be willing to pay Brown a starting salary to be a luxurious backup for this to happen, but Thuney is a very good, young guard who might not make Scherff money. PFF had him as a top five guard for their system this past year, and the Patriots don’t always break the bank for offensive linemen. He’d be a plug-and-play left guard and a sound investment, but he’s still one of the best guards on the market and will command a respectable salary.
If the Falcons could pull off a Daniels, Pierce or even a Collins this March, it’d be a nice step toward improving the talent on the defensive line. All three players, if health holds, would be improvements. If the Falcons wring out the cap space and really want to go shopping, maybe they land a Van Noy or a Quinn. Maybe they get one of the big fish with money we can’t even comprehend right now. Who’s to say?
All we know is there are options, and opportunities for the team to complete those when free agency opens.