The start of NFL free agency is fast approaching, and the Falcons still have very little in terms of cap space to get anything done. That’s likely to change—soon—as the team seems to be waiting for the approval of the new CBA to make moves. We still don’t know if the new deal will pass or fail, but the Falcons will have to start making cuts over the weekend either way.
Today we take a look at the defensive tackles available in free agency. This group has been a strength for the Falcons as of late, mostly due to the presence of Grady Jarrett. The team has had their fair share of quality role players too, like Tyeler Davison and Jack Crawford. However, the team only has Jarrett, 2018 third-round pick Deadrin Senat (who was largely relegated to the bench in 2019), and UDFA Jacob Tuioti-Mariner under contract for 2020. Some additions will have to be made to the group, either in free agency or the upcoming draft.
Let’s take a look at some of the available players in 2020 free agency, starting with the big names who the Falcons almost certainly can’t afford.
Too expensive: Javon Hargrave, D.J. Reader, Leonard Williams, Jarran Reed, Jordan Phillips, Shelby Harris, Derek Wolfe
The good news is that the DT market is absolutely stacked this offseason, the bad news is that the Falcons don’t really have the cap space to be major players for any of the most productive options. All of these guys are likely to demand at least $10M/yr on the open market. With the Falcons likely more focused on bringing in an EDGE with their available money, that’s simply too much to swing unless the team is prepared to make major cuts and/or trades.
Potential re-signings: Tyeler Davison, Jack Crawford
The two obvious choices to bolster the DT rotation would be Tyeler Davison and Jack Crawford, who both spent 2019 with the team. Davison is a strong run defender who played well in Atlanta over the past season, and his price tag is likely to be low ($1-2M). That alone could be the biggest factor in Davison returning. Crawford has been with the Falcons for several seasons, including a productive 6.0-sack campaign in 2018. However, Crawford’s snaps were cut back significantly over the last season compared to previous years, and it’s unclear if the team is willing to pay the $3-4M/yr it would take to re-sign him.
2019 Stats: 37 total tackles, 7.0 TFL, 5.0 sacks, 10 QB hurries, 13 QB hits, 2 PD
Approximate Salary: $8M/yr
A player Falcons fans hoped would end up in Atlanta in 2019, Gerald McCoy went to the Panthers instead for the surprisingly low price of $8M. We know McCoy is a very good pass rusher and quality run defender on the interior, though he’s starting to get up there in age (32). His 1-year gamble with the Panthers probably didn’t go as well as he hoped, so his price tag could remain in the $8M/yr range—particularly with the abundance of options on the market. If the Falcons are looking to spend at DT, McCoy would be the best overall option to help the interior pass rush.
2019 Stats: 22 total tackles, 7.0 TFL, 4.0 sacks, 1 QB hurry, 6 QB hits
Approximate Salary: $8M/yr
Could a reunion with Dontari Poe happen for the Falcons? It’s possible—the Panthers are reportedly not planning to pick up Poe’s 2020 option. We’ve already seen how Poe’s unique blend of size, strength, and athleticism can completely change the defensive front in Atlanta. It doesn’t always result in a ton of stats for him, but Poe’s presence demands attention from opponents. He’s likely to be one of the more expensive options for the Falcons, but Poe’s history here makes this a logical fit.
2019 Stats: 10 total tackles, 2.0 TFL, 1.0 sacks, 1 QB hurry, 2 QB hits
Approximate Salary: $7M/yr
Once a rising star at the position, Mike Daniels has seen his career slow down considerably after two injury-shortened seasons. After being let go in Green Bay, Daniels took a 1-year deal in Detroit. He only managed 9 games, and had pedestrian production along the way. Daniels will be 31 in 2020 and coming off two disappointing seasons, but we’ve seen him look like a dominant interior player when healthy. He could be an intriguing “buy-low” candidate on a 1-year deal if the Falcons are looking to take a swing on an impact starter who won’t break the bank.
2019 Stats: 61 total tackles, 2.0 TFL, 3.0 sacks, 3 QB hurries, 6 QB hits, 1 FF
Approximate Salary: $5M/yr
If the Falcons are looking to add size and youth to the interior of the defensive line, Danny Shelton could be an interesting option. A past first-round pick of the Browns, Shelton spent the past two seasons in New England as an anchor in the middle of their defense. He’s a massive NT at 6’2, 345, but like Dontari Poe is an impressive athlete too. Shelton is a standout run defender, but he put together a solid season as a pass rusher in 2019. Shelton could be a smart, economical choice to add size and versatility to the defensive line.
2019 Stats: 32 total tackles, 7.0 TFL, 6.0 sacks, 2 QB hurries, 8 QB hits, 3 FF
Approximate Salary: $5M/yr
A former first-round pick of the Panthers, Vernon Butler has had a disappointing career thus far. Carolina declined Butler’s fifth-year option after he was largely ineffective to start his career. However, Butler managed to put together a strong 2019 season as both a pass rusher and run defender. He’s a risky free agent, as he has only one good season of production (which happened to come in a contract year). There’s also the chance that Butler has finally figured it out. In a loaded DT class and with his risky profile, Butler is a high risk/high reward player—but his price tag should be reasonable, and he could end up being a bargain.
2019 Stats: 40 total tackles, 3.0 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 2 QB hurries, 2 QB hits, 3 PD, 1 FF
Approximate Salary: $4M/yr
A player who never quite lived up to his second-round draft hype, A’Shawn Robinson has spent his entire career with the Detroit Lions. A standout run defender in college, Detroit hoped to be able to coach him up as a pass rusher. While that never materialized, Robinson is still exceptional against the run. He’s an excellent tackler and has an uncanny ability to disengage from blocks and make stops, as his high tackle numbers from the DT position can attest. While he’s never been an especially productive pass rusher, Robinson can push the pocket with his strength and bull rush. He’d be more expensive than Tyeler Davison, but Robinson is an elite run defender and offers a little more as a pass rusher, too.
What are your thoughts on the DTs available in free agency? Who are some of the players you’d target to fill out the Falcons’ depth chart?