There are moments in the average NFL game when your reserve offensive linemen, fullbacks, kickers, and punters can make a big impact. That’s not to downplay the importance of those positions—especially kicker—but they are not the every down players on the average roster.
With the CBA up in the air—though hopefully by the time you’re reading this we have the results of the player vote, one way or the other—the Falcons have hardly been in a position to make big moves. With very little cap space until they make cuts, it’s not like Atlanta was going to be making a serious run at re-signing Austin Hooper before free agency, even if most of us wished they had found a way. With so much uncertainty, the Falcons have chosen to focus on taking care of what they can take care of.
So far, the Falcons have managed the following moves:
- Re-signed FB Keith Smith
- Re-signed DE Steven Means
- Re-signed (after cutting) OL John Wetzel
- Re-signed K Younghoe Koo
- Re-signed P Ryan Allen
- Signed P Sam Irwin-Hill
There’s not an eye-popping name on this list, and the team’s biggest free agents from Hooper to De’Vondre Campbell remain unsigned and likely will remain so. For all the eye rolling that prompts—and I was doing it myself yesterday, given that the Falcons can’t get the most out of any fullback with the way Dirk Koetter has chosen to handle this team’s ground game—it’s sensible enough.
The Falcons will need all of these guys, with the exception of whoever loses the battle between Irwin-Hill and Allen. They’ll need reliable, affordable veterans at these positions to contend in 2020, something the team is extremely keen to do after two 7-9 seasons. The real question is what’s going to happen now that they’ve taken care of these items, when free agency officially opens and the long-speculated-about cuts come to pass, giving the team at least a little spending money under the cap to go address priorities. The moves they have made are solid, but there’s such a long road ahead and so many other, more critical things going on in the larger world to freak out about that Falcons fatigue feels like a real thing already.
The truth is that the retention of the staff came as a surprise to most of us and has colored the offseason thus far, and the likely loss of Hooper and Campbell has been a bitter pill to swallow. The Falcons will have the draft capital to bring in a strong class, but if all goes well and we’re seeing free agency start as scheduled this week, the team has a series of quick decisions to make on current contracts and a defense in need of an influx of useful players, if not a handful of great ones.
The calculus hasn’t changed, in other words. The Falcons are off to a fine start in bringing back genuinely useful contributors, but those players are not going to make a winning team out of a team that was listless much of last season. What’s next is going to make all the difference, for better or for worse.