There is absolutely nothing wrong with shaking things up in today’s NFL game. The game itself is all about making timely, proper adjustments in order to keep yourself in the championship conversation on a consistent basis. I have repeated on numerous occasions in previous articles how the combination of head coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff are staring at a very cloudy future. Because of that, they needed to make some significant moves this offseason.
So far, they have. Whether we agree with them fully or not, there should be a sense of admiration that the team decided to get a little aggressive in free agency in attempts to get the team over the hump. It is only right that we highlight the three biggest acquisitions thus far this offseason and give the pluses and minuses of each move.
TE Hayden Hurst (acquired via trade with the Baltimore Ravens)
There is still some untapped potential when it comes to Hurst and his talents. The Falcons sent a 2020 second-round and fifth-round pick to the Ravens for Hurst and a fourth rounder from the same draft. There is plenty to like about Hurst as a pass-catching tight end. He is a 6’5”, 260 pound athletic tight end with quality speed and very solid after-the-catch ability.
Hurst also comes with very reliable, sticky hands and is not an easy target to tackle, always looking for extra yardage after contact. Hurst is very capable of being a reliable starter at tight end with Pro Bowl potential, and he’ll have his targets here.
For a former 2018 first round pick, his production does not match his draft placement. In two seasons with the Ravens, Hurst only managed 43 receptions on just 62 targets. In that same time span, Hurst only scored on three occasions. Hurst was part of a run-oriented scheme in Baltimore but Hurst also fell a bit on the depth chart and was as low as a third stringer during last season.
It’s possible that Hurst was just a poor fit for a scheme that did not utilize his assets. The pessimistic side of that is this: maybe it was a sign of things to come for Hurst, and the rest of his career will see him top out as a useful backup. The unknown element is tough here.
EDGE Dante Fowler Jr. (Deal: 3-years, $45 million)
In the event of allowing Vic Beasley Jr. depart in free agency, the Falcons were in need of upgrading their edge rushers. Even though Beasley was not necessarily a reliable pass rusher, the team was below average in that department last season.
Enter Fowler, who is coming off a career-high 11.5 sacks this past season as well as career-highs in tackles for loss (16) and quarterback hits (16). There is no doubting the athleticism of Fowler and his explosiveness is what his scheme calls for in Atlanta. Not to mention, the past connection between Fowler and Quinn bodes well going forward as Quinn loves familiarity in his locker room.
It is still tough to gauge Fowler and his talents. The level of inconsistency over the first three seasons of his career was unquestionably alarming. To be fair, Fowler did tear his ACL before his rookie season and he did bounce back during his sophomore year.
Fowler still does not completely solve the equation that is getting after the quarterbacks consistently on the Falcons defense. If the Falcons decision makers believe that Fowler is all the team needs to produce, they may be in for a rude awakening.
RB Todd Gurley (Deal: 1-year, $6 million)
From a public relations standpoint, the acquisition of Gurley got the Falcons buzzing once again across the state of Georgia and for a good part of the NFL landscape itself. For many, it felt like a breath of fresh air to see a former Georgia Bulldog back in the state of Georgia to play professional football.
Gurley has been able to score just about whenever he wants to with 54 total touchdowns over the past three seasons combined. Just in terms of talent, Gurley is sure to be an upgrade over last year’s starter Devonta Freeman. At just 25 years of age, the Falcons are getting a young, prime talent that is just two seasons removed from being the league’s Offensive Player of the Year.
If Gurley can manage to stay relatively healthy, this can possibly be the best run game that quarterback Matt Ryan has ever relied on. It’ll at least be up there with the best Michael Turner years and the super-efficient 2016 season.
The huge elephant in the room is the great concern over Gurley and his knees. If you have not heard for some odd reason, Gurley has been reported to have arthritis in his left knee, which dates back to his torn ACL while at the University of Georgia.
Here’s the thing, folks. I’m not a physician nor do I attempt to be later in life. What I do know is that arthritis never truly heals. It can’t be surgically repair. At best, it can be “managed”. Which is what the Los Angeles Rams attempted to do in the 2018 playoffs and throughout the 2019 season. During that process, Gurley looked at times like a shell of himself. On paper, this looks like a match made in heaven. In reality, Gurley’s knee concerns are legitimate and the expectations surrounding him deserves to be managed as well.