The Falcons are in a desperate spot at EDGE heading into free agency and the 2020 NFL Draft. Armed with just $4.3M in cap space and 4 picks in the top-100, Atlanta must find a way to bolster a group that generated just 17.0 sacks in 2019. The team has already announced they’re letting Vic Beasley walk—which is smart—and Adrian Clayborn is also a free agent. Those two players combined for 12 of the 17 sacks produced by the EDGE group last season.
Heading into 2020, the Falcons have just Takkarist McKinley (3.5 sacks), John Cominsky (0.5 sacks), and UDFA Austin Larkin under contract. Atlanta needs major reinforcements, and needs them immediately. Luckily, there are some intriguing EDGE prospects at the top of the draft and some productive free agents who could be available to Atlanta. The Falcons aren’t likely to have much cap space, but a new CBA and some cuts could provide them with just enough breathing room to make something happen. That begs the question: which free agent EDGE players can the Falcons realistically pursue in 2020?
First off, let’s get these names out of the way. These players have all been reported as potential franchise tag targets:
- Yannick Ngakoue (Jacksonville Jaguars)
- Shaq Barrett (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
- Bud Dupree (Pittsburgh Steelers)
- Matt Judon (Baltimore Ravens)
Additionally, Arik Armstead of the San Francisco 49ers is reportedly in extension talks. So that takes five of the biggest names off the board immediately. The biggest name left out there is Falcon-favorite Jadeveon Clowney, but you can forget about him. Clowney is going to top $20M/year on the open market, which Atlanta simply can’t afford.
However, the Falcons may be able to afford some of the other names on the list. Here are some the players I think could be realistic targets for Atlanta in 2020 free agency.
Dante Fowler Jr.
2019 Stats: 58 total tackles, 16 TFL, 11.5 sacks, 19 QB hurries, 16 QB hits, 2 FF, 6 PD
Approximate Value: $15M/yr
Despite Fowler never reaching the heights of his draft stock or having explosive breakout seasons like many of the EDGE players rumored to be getting the franchise tag this offseason, he did put together a very strong 2019 season for the Rams. His 11.5 sacks would have led the Falcons (by a lot), as would his TFL numbers. The issue is his expected salary: Fowler is probably going to be the #2 EDGE on the market behind Clowney after the dust clears with tags/re-signings. Atlanta could possibly swing his $15M/yr price tag—assuming the CBA gets done before free agency and the team makes some cuts—but a dearth of options on the market could easily inflate that number.
Fowler doesn’t come without significant risk, however. His 2019 season is an anomaly: in his other 4 seasons, Fowler never eclipsed 8.0 sacks or 7 TFL. So, was 2019 a sign of things to come, or fool’s gold? That’ll be up to Quinn and Dimitroff to decide. Something working in their favor is Fowler’s relationship with DQ—there was a report that Fowler had interest in playing for the Falcons.
2019 Stats: 41 total tackles, 11 TFL, 8.0 sacks, 13 QB hurries, 24 QB hits, 2 PD, 1 INT
Approximate Value: $12M/yr
Everson Griffen has be an effective pass rusher for the Vikings for as long as I can remember, and he had another good season in 2019. Griffen had a choice to either play for the Vikings, or waive his contract and hit free agency in 2020. He chose the latter, electing to chase one final payday with a new team. At age 32, Griffen is likely to begin his decline in the next two seasons. That could depress his value and make him a relative bargain for a 3-year contract, which the Falcons might be very interested in. He could be the ideal bridge-starter for Atlanta as they bring in and develop a rookie in the 2020 NFL Draft.
2019 Stats: 34 total tackles, 13.0 TFL, 11.5 sacks, 12 QB hurries, 22 QB hits, 2 FF, 3 PD
Approximate Value: $12M/yr
Robert Quinn has bounced around a little since his prime years with the Rams, but he remains a good pass rusher. He had his strongest season since 2014 with Dallas, nearly doubling his sack total from 2018. At 29 years old, Quinn still has plenty left in the tank, but consistency has been an issue for him throughout his career. He’s one of the more expensive options on the list, but Quinn could immediately provide some pass rushing juice to the Falcons if they can secure his services.
2019 Stats: 27 total tackles, 9.0 TFL, 8.5 sacks, 9 QB hurries, 16 QB hits, 2 FF
Approximate Value: $11M/yr
Despite an injury-shortened 2019 season, Jason Pierre-Paul still managed a productive campaign with 8.5 sacks and 9.0 TFL in just 10 games. He’s clearly still got it as a pass rusher, and at 31 years old he’s likely to have 2-3 good years left before a significant decline sets in. The big concerns are the injuries—he lost fingers in an infamous July 4th accident, and was in danger of missing the 2019 season after a neck injury suffered in a car crash. He’s come back from both and remained productive, but that’s a big part of the reason—combined with his age—that his price will be lower. The Falcons could very well be interested in a 3-year deal with JPP if the numbers are right.
2019 Stats: 34 total tackles, 6.0 TFL, 9.5 sacks, 8 QB hurries, 14 QB hits, 2 FF
Approximate Value: $10M/yr
Mario Addison has been a productive pass rusher for the Panthers since really hitting his stride in the 2016 season. Since then, he’s put up at least 9.0 sacks every year, and has missed very few games due to injury. Addison is now 32 and looking for a payday on the open market, where a team will hope to get another 2 productive years from him. I think Addison might make the most sense—financially and otherwise—for the Falcons. He can provide a reliable pass rushing presence across from Takk McKinley and/or a rookie, and serve as veteran leadership. His price tag also isn’t likely to break the bank.
2019 Stats: 72 total tackles, 13.0 TFL, 10.0 sacks, 16 QB hurries, 27 QB hits
Approximate Value: $10M/yr
Markus Golden is a great run defending EDGE who has occasional flashes of brilliance as a pass rusher. He wins with his effort and strength, and despite lacking plus athleticism, he finds ways to get the job done. However, this method has been exceptionally inconsistent for Golden: since his breakout 2016 season (12.5 sacks, 16.0 TFL), Golden had an injury-shortened 2017 (0 sacks) and an ineffective 2018 (2.5 sacks). Golden is just 29 years old and has proven he can be productive on all three downs when healthy. His inconsistency and injury struggles will depress his value somewhat, but Golden could be an intriguing addition for the Falcons if his price stays relatively low.
2019 Stats: 32 total tackles, 13.0 TFL, 6.5 sacks, 12 QB hurries, 18 QB hits, 1 FF, 2 PD
Approximate Value: $8M/yr
I fondly remember Falcons fans being obsessed with drafting Shaq Lawson in 2016, only to see Atlanta pass on him for Keanu Neal. In hindsight, that was definitely the right move, as Lawson was incredibly disappointing for the Bills. He finally had a solid season in 2019, putting up 6.5 sacks and 13.0 TFL. That wasn’t enough for the Bills to have much interest in re-signing him, but he’ll have a market due to his age (25) and uptick in production. I personally don’t believe he’s worth $8M/yr, but pass rushers always tend to get paid on the open market. Unless it’s a 1-year prove-it deal, I’d stay away from Lawson.
2019 Stats: 32 total tackles, 6.0 TFL, 5.5 sacks, 4 QB hurries, 11 QB hits, 1 FF, 3 PD
Approximate Value: $3M/yr
If the Falcons are looking to add depth at EDGE without breaking the bank, Emmanuel Ogbah could be a solid option. He’s a bigger defensive end who can play the run at the 5T, but he also offers some pass rushing juice. He’s had some injuries in his career, but he’s just 26 years old and shouldn’t demand a ton on the market. If the Falcons miss out on adding a big-name free agent, they’ll still need to address the dearth of options behind Takk and John Cominsky. Ogbah could fit the bill.
What are your thoughts on these potential free agent additions for the Falcons? If it were up to you, which one(s) would you add, and would you pair them with anyone in the draft?