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Will the Falcons bring back Kenjon Barner?

The returner played a pivotal role this year, but there’s no guarantee the team isn’t looking at a young player.

Atlanta Falcons v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

The Falcons have a serious list of free agents this year, with major priorities like Austin Hooper, De’Vondre Campbell, and Adrian Clayborn to deal with. Because of that, I wouldn’t say Kenjon Barner is going to be the team’s most pressing signing.

That said, he clearly has value for this Falcons team. Will Atlanta bring him back?

His value

Barner’s work as a returner in 2019 was largely a positive. He fumbled four times last season, which was concerning, but did manage to recover three of his own along the way. Outside of that, he was a good (and occasionally great) option for the Falcons, stabilizing the returner gigs in a way the Falcons haven’t managed since Devin Hester.

That has real value, especially because Barner is also a fine occasional change of pace back in addition. That’s especially true when you consider...

The money

...which is quite reasonable for Barner. He came to Atlanta last year on an $895,000 deal and wouldn’t be likely to get much over a million this time around unless someone’s ready and willing to bid up on the Falcons. I’m not so sure that’ll happen.

He’s valuable enough for the salary and then some, in other words. The case for keeping Barner is pretty straightforward.

The options

There are two options.

The first is re-signing Barner. The Falcons won’t be exactly loaded up with cap space, but spending around $1 million on Barner is still very much within scope for the team. Ben Kotwica clearly liked him enough to bring him on, give him the returner job with a light competition, and keep him there all year, and he was rewarded with a fine season. It’s likely that Atlanta will make every effort to bring him back.

The other option, though, is moving on and allowing one or two young guys to take over the returner jobs. Olamide Zaccheaus, Russell Gage, and Christian Blake could all be options, and the Falcons could draft a player with a history of quality return work in college, like Wyoming’s Austin Conway or Boise State’s Avery Williams, given their love of special teamers. There’s no shortage of interesting options there, but few proven ones, and this team is coming into 2020 in even greater need of contending than they were last year.

I’d be surprised if Barner didn’t come back.