The Falcons were not killed by depth issues alone the past two seasons, but certainly the lack of compelling Plan Bs ended up having an impact on their seasons. Think relying heavily on Jordan Richards at safety in 2018, or the offensive line carousel in 2019, and you’ll probably painfully remember exactly what I mean.
That’s hat makes the Falcons 2020 offseason so striking. With jobs on the line in 2020 and the cap inevitably being dynamited in 2021, the team went ahead and landed a couple of big names in Dante Fowler Jr. and Todd Gurley, and made a semi-splashy trade for Hayden Hurst. The work they’ve done to build the team’s depth isn’t as heralded, perhaps, but it will likely prove crucially important in whatever version of the NFL season we get.
In the spring and early summer, the Falcons went out and signed offensive line depth with Justin McCray, cornerback depth with Josh Hawkins, traded for veteran pass rusher/hopefully not a continued bust Charles Harris, and linebackers/special teamers Edmond Robinson and LaRoy Reynolds. More recently, they’ve taken a hard look at their team in the first couple of weeks of training camp and signed safety J.J. Wilcox, cornerback Darqueze Dennard, and tight end Luke Stocker. The draft brought in some potential key reserves, too, but it’s been interesting to watch the Falcons stockpile veteran additions to a team expected to lean heavily on a few stars and quite a bit of young talent in 2020.
I would argue this is reinforcement of the idea that the team knows it has to contend in 2020 and is trying to lean into that under unique and frustrating circumstances. We all know that COVID-19 makes it quite possible that teams will have to dip deeper into their depth chart at times this year than they otherwise might, and that means guys like Harris, Wilcox, and Stocker may be called upon to play more prominent roles or even start at times. Atlanta would very obviously rather have proven veteran options—even if they’re not necessarily superlative options—than rely on unproven players.
Now, does the depth building mean the Falcons are stronger contenders than they would have been had they signed Everson Griffen, who recently went to the Cowboys for a contract Atlanta might have been able to fit on the books at least for this year? Not necessarily. With jobs supposedly on the line, Matt Ryan and Julio Jones another year older, and the likelihood that teams across the NFL are going to have to cut significant talent and salary next season, it’s little surprise they’re not leaving a lot to chance.