When it comes to filling team needs, we tend to focus on the season ahead, which is understandable. The Falcons undeniably need more help at defensive end, guard, and a handful of other positions where the holes are immediate and sizable.
We don’t tend to focus as much energy on looking a year out, but we probably should, given that the Falcons have three early round draft selections this season and some of the holes that are opening up in 2021 could be significant. Here are four positions where it likely makes sense for the Falcons to expend a pick or target a free agent on a multi-year deal as insurance.
Matt Ryan’s not going anywhere, but the backup situation becomes very interesting in 2021.
The Falcons could head into that offseason with only Ryan under contract, as Danny Etling is just on a reserve/futures contract and both Matt Schaub and Kurt Benkert are set to be unrestricted free agents. The hope is that either Etling or Benkert will step into the role this offseason, giving the Falcons a logical candidate to extend, but if they’re not optimistic about that outcome this might be the offseason to invest a late round pick in a player you can develop over the next four seasons. Matt Schaub, despite his seeming invincibility, presumably can’t play forever.
The Falcons may or may not bring back Austin Hooper. If they don’t, they have a major immediate need they’ll have to remedy through free agency, the draft, or both.
Even if Hooper returns, though, the Falcons have long-term needs at the position. Luke Stocker and Jaeden Graham are both free agents after the 2020 season, leaving Atlanta potentially with either just one or zero tight ends under contract. That won’t do.
As mentioned, it’s not necessarily the deepest class at the position, but Atlanta would probably be smart to at least rummage around in the priority free agent bin after the draft to see if they want to stash someone on the practice squad. If Hooper’s gone, they probably need to make a significant investment in the position for someone who will likely have a larger role in 2021 than 2020. Either way, don’t expect the offseason to go by without this team adding talent.
If the need at quarterback and tight end will hopefully be more dire at the reserve level than at starter, center could become a four alarm fire if Alex Mack leaves after 2020. Right now, the stalwart pivot is headed to free agency in 2021, and barring a contract re-structure he could well be going to a new team.
If the Falcons think there’s a strong chance they’re letting him walk after this season, the time to draft his replacement is probably right now, so the player in question can get a year either manning a guard spot or developing at the NFL level. It’s certainly possible to draft a center and have him kick butt right out of the gate—see the dratted Saints and Erik McCoy as an example—but much more often you wind up starting a player who struggles out of the gate, and the Falcons have had more than enough struggles along the offensive line over the years.
Right now, every safety of consequence on this roster is going to be a free agent in 2021. Keanu Neal, Ricardo Allen, Damontae Kazee, and Chris Cooper are all headed there after the 2020 season, and if you guessed that not all three will be back, you probably guessed correctly.
This is a vital position to address unless the Falcons expect to bring back at least two of these players—I wouldn’t rule that out, especially given that all of the players mentioned above except Cooper are proven, quality safeties—and they could use young depth regardless.