The Falcons are pretty strapped for cap space right now, but that is going to change soon. Due to the designation of Desmond Trufant as a “post-June 1st” cut, the team will be receiving a significant windfall of cap relief in early June. Atlanta will be getting back exactly $10.75M next month, with $4.4M in dead cap remaining on Trufant’s deal. This money is going to be used, in part, to pay for the draft class. Due to the top-51 rule, however, this will only cost the team about $2.5M against the cap. That should theoretically leave about $8.25M for the team to use for potential free agent additions.
If you missed any of the previous entries in this series, you can find them below:
Today’s group is EDGE, where the Falcons have already invested considerable resources in a massive contract to Dante Fowler Jr. and a trade for Charles Harris from Miami. The unit is still lacking a proven second and/or third option in the rotation, however, and could benefit from an established veteran. Below are some of the top players still available in free agency.
My favorite target for the Falcons remaining in free agency, ex-Vikings EDGE Everson Griffen has had a strong career as a consistently productive pass rusher. Griffen opted out of his contract in Minnesota in the hopes of getting a more lucrative (or perhaps more secure heading into his age 32 season) long-term deal after a very good 2019 season (8.0 sacks, 11.0 TFL, 24 QB hits, 35 pressures). Griffen will be looking for significant money (probably $8M/yr), but he’d instantly become the #2 pass rusher on the team and allow Takkarist McKinley to step into a more appropriate role as the third rusher. He’d take almost all of Atlanta’s remaining cap space, but he’d give the Falcons a truly dangerous EDGE tandem for the first time in...a really long time.
Another veteran option coming off a very strong 2019 season, Markus Golden has had an up-and-down NFL career. He burst onto the scene in 2016 with a 12.5-sack effort with the Cardinals, only to struggle with injuries and inconsistency over the next two years. He got another shot with the Giants last year and turned in an excellent performance: 10.0 sacks, 13.0 TFL, 27 QB hits, 44 pressures. Golden isn’t the most athletic or dynamic edge rusher, but he’s incredibly strong and gives incredible effort. He’s also just as good a run defender as a pass rusher. The Giants gave Golden the rare “UFA tender”, which means Atlanta would need to offer him more than $5.25M in 2020 to convince him to sign. His inconsistency is a bit of a worry, but Golden would be cheaper than Griffen (probably $6-7M/yr) and is much younger (just 29).
Playing outside of Green Bay for the first time in his career, veteran pass rusher Clay Matthews put together a quality season with the Rams in 2019. He piled up 8.0 sacks, 9.0 TFL, 11 QB hits, and 28 pressures in just 13 games with Los Angeles, before being cut for cap reasons in 2020. Matthews isn’t in his prime anymore at age 34, but he’s clearly still got something left in the tank. At this point in the offseason, Matthews could probably be had for around $6M on a one-year deal. In Atlanta, he’d likely be the second or third pass rusher in the rotation, but would provide the team with proven depth that they currently lack outside of Dante Fowler Jr.
A player the Falcons are rumored to have interest in, ex-Eagles pass rusher Vinny Curry is more of a rotational option than the others mentioned above. While never a particularly productive player in the sack department, Curry has been solid at providing pressures and QB hits, as well as playing the run. As opposed to the $6M+ required to sign Griffen or Golden, Curry would probably only cost around $2-3M to sign for the 2020 season. He wouldn’t be an upgrade over Takkarist McKinley, but Curry would be a decent third pass rusher and is a reliable depth piece.
There are actually a number of solid EDGE players available on the market, which is a bit unusual at this time of year. Outside of Clowney—who is apparently asking for $20M/yr and won’t be getting it from the Falcons—the rest of these players on the list are either coming off disappointing seasons or are nearing retirement age. Jabaal Sheard might be the most intriguing of the bunch, as he’s just 31 and coming off an injury-shortened 2019 which still saw him put up 4.5 sacks, 5.0 TFL, 9 QB hits, and 20 pressures. We all know Quinn’s history with Michael Bennett, who had a solid year with 6.5 sacks, 14.0 TFL, 15 QB hits, and 24 pressures in 2019. However, Quinn has had opportunities to add Bennett for very little and has so far chosen not to—and Bennett will also be 35 during the 2020 season.
What are your thoughts on the potential for the Falcons to add another EDGE in free agency? Do any of these names stand out to you, or are you more interested in another player?