With the first wave of free agency having come and gone, the Atlanta Falcons were refreshingly aggressive (or much too risky, depending on who you talk to) in their pursuits of guys like Dante Fowler Jr. and Todd Gurley.
The team doesn’t have much cap space at all to continue fishing for big fish, but they could maneuver the rest of the market and continue to add to its roster. Defense seems the most pressing at the moment, with a lot of the offense looking pretty set already.
Are there guys out there who would make sense on the defensive side of the ball?
DE Michael Bennett
Bennett has been a presumptive Falcon ever since Dan Quinn was hired in Atlanta. That was five years ago, after all, and the veteran pass rusher has played for Seattle, Philadelphia, New England and Dallas in that span, not Atlanta. There’s been plenty of rumored interest that hasn’t amounted to anything.
Bennett is 34 but still gives a team a high-motor, talented presence in its edge group. Last year, he had 6.5 sacks split between the Patriots and Cowboys and posted a respectable 65.7 overall rating on Pro Football Focus.
He’s not quite the same rusher he was at Seattle’s peak, but with Fowler in tow, he wouldn’t have to be the top option anymore. If Adrian Clayborn isn’t to return (something we’d certainly welcome), Bennett could play the same role in a scheme he’s more than familiar with with a coach in Quinn he’s spoken highly of in the past.
Signing a veteran rusher like Bennett could complete the team’s revamped exterior pass rush and allow them to focus on the defensive tackle group in the draft.
If not Bennett: Clayborn has always played well in Atlanta, and we’d be just as happy with his return as we would having Bennett in town.
Jabaal Sheard terrorized the Falcons in the game that shall go unmentioned. Only 30, he had 5.5 sacks for the Colts last season.
Ezekiel Ansah has always struggled to live up to his first-round draft status, but he wouldn’t be a bad situational rusher for any team at this point in his career.
Veteran rusher Cameron Wake would be like Dwight Freeney 2.0, and 2019 Raiders DE Benson Mayowa is surprisingly unsigned after a 7-sack season, as is Eagles DE Vinny Curry, who had 5 sacks and a really nice 77.9 PFF rating.
CB Darqueze Dennard
The Falcons could be salivating at the option to sign Dennard.
A Dry Branch, Ga., native, Dennard was set to jump from the Cincinnati Bengals to the Jacksonville Jaguars on a deal that would average a very affordable $4.5 million a year. But the two came to a fracture Thursday, leaving the corner once again a free agent.
Dennard isn’t an elite corner, but he’s a very solid one. He played high school ball in Jeffersonville, Ga., so could he be the next free agent this offseason to return to the Peach State? His 72.2 PFF grade suggests he’d be an established presence at what might be the most vulnerable position right now on the Falcons’ roster after the release of Desmond Trufant.
The Falcons could still draft a corner high (even in the first round) if this happens; with the NFC South’s receiver group looking quite formidable for the fall, you’d be wise to have as many good cornerbacks as you can. Dennard being free again could be a nice coup for a team like the Falcons. That deal he brokered in Jacksonville is very affordable for the team.
If not Dennard: Eagles corner Ronald Darby is still available, and has starting experience and good play behind him.
How about an established veteran like Prince Amukamara or Jonathan Joseph? Amukarama is only 31 and has proved to be a sound, durable starter over his career. Joseph is up there at 36, but could be a stop-gap CB1 for 2020 if the team wants to invest elsewhere in the draft.
OLB Nigel Bradham
Bradham is a former Eagles player who was released this offseason and was part of its Super Bowl defense in 2018. He’s perhaps the best remaining outside linebacker who could fill in for De’Vondre Campbell.
Bradham is a plug-and-play option for the team, and it would keep them from relying on a rookie to hold down either the strongside or weakside, depending on where Foyesade Oluokun would slot in for this scenario.
If not Bradham: Giants linebacker Alec Olgetree has reps playing outside and be the second former Georgia Bulldog to return to the state this offseason. Former Seahawks Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith has experience under Quinn and had a solid year with Jacksonville and Dallas last season with a 66 PFF score.
DT Timmy Jernigan
If Jernigan’s health were more consistent, he probably wouldn’t still be on this list.
He’s missed a handful of games in the last two seasons with the Eagles, but plays pretty well whenever he’s on the field. He’s only 27, and with Grady Jarrett the top defensive tackle in Atlanta and Tyeler Davison on the roster, he doesn’t have to play a bulk of snaps.
Jernigan has the ability to generate pressure in the middle, and the Falcons need more of that. A signing like Jernigan could take a little heat off the team if they didn’t address defensive tackle in the first two rounds of the draft (in this situation, they’d likely add to the secondary and linebacker group). You’d have to bank on his health, but this could be another wise risk for the Falcons.
If not Jernigan: If Shelby Harris’ market doesn’t generate a big payday, the Falcons, of course, would be wise to see if he’s affordable. He’s very good and would make for a heck of a tandem with Jarrett. But his price is still likely a bit prohibitive.
Veteran DT Mike Daniels would be a really interesting veteran presence; he’s still got gas in the tank. Corey Liuget has struggled with injuries the last few seasons but could be worth a flyer deal. Christian Covington had a nice year in Dallas last year (65.7 on PFF) and is only 26, and was a Falcoholic pre-draft crush once upon a time.
As you can see, there are actually a promising group of options available for the Falcons to choose from to tighten their roster and not have quite as many holes to fill before the 2020 NFL Draft in April.
Are there any names you’d like to add to this list? Let us know below.