Before we get to our big Falcons free agency prediction piece this year, we’d like to have a new general manager and coaching staff to understand their potential priorities. In the meantime, then, we’re going to look at players who ought to be back in Atlanta regardless of who joins in those roles, starting with the offense.
The simple truth is that the Falcons don’t have as many slam dunk re-signings on offense as they do on defense and special teams, and frankly they don’t have all that many on defense either. On this side of the ball, they have their starting quarterback and a promising backup—yes, we’ll see what happens in the draft—plus plenty of talent at wide receiver, a clear cut starting tight end, and locked-in starters at both tackle positions and right guard. Many of their backup options hitting free agency either are not necessarily worth re-signing or are players the team can live without.
These players won’t break the team if they’re allowed to leave, but here are three names I hope to see on Atlanta again in 2021.
RB Brian Hill
Hill is not necessarily an essential player, particularly if Atlanta elects to do the wise thing and draft their next feature back. He is, however, a useful player who I’d like to see back on the roster in 2021.
Hill was effective when the blocking was effective, a solid receiver when called upon, and doesn’t embarrass himself when he’s called upon to block. Hill also happens to be a quality special teamer who, a bogus penalty aside, had a few highlight-worthy tackles. With Qadree Ollison’s future with the team anything but certain and Ito Smith looking like the only proven player on the depth chart at the moment, it’d be nice if Atlanta could get Hill back to help out on offense and special teams.
TE Jaeden Graham
Everything I said about Hill above applies to Graham, with perhaps less urgency. The Falcon are down to just Hayden Hurst, however, and Graham would be a welcome re-signing.
When he’s been called upon to contribute, Graham has shown well as a receiver. He’s also managed a couple of nice blocks along the way, but again, his role has been quite limited to this point. With Hurst under contract and the Falcons likely searching for more help this offesason, Graham makes a lot of sense as a third tight end who can compete for the backup job if Atlanta doesn’t want to pour significant money or resources into the position. As an added bonus, Graham is an exclusive rights free agent, meaning he won’t take up much cap space for a team facing a crunch.
Yes, I know Luke Stocker is a true Falcons legend. No, I don’t think he stays with Dirk Koetter gone.
OL Matt Gono
In my humble opinion, easily the most indispensable man on this short list. Gono has shown well as a tackle when he’s played, especially in two starts this past season, and has cross-trained at guard and can play there in a pinch. The next regime may view him as a potential starter, a swing tackle, or just a useful deep reserve with versatility, but he needs to return to a team with little offensive line depth to speak of.
I’ll continue to stump for him to get his fair shake at the left guard job, but there’s little question his performance to this point suggests a bright future as the swing tackle. Teams pay a lot of money for those—we all remember Ty Sambrailo—but Atlanta is fortunate enough to get a deal because Gono is a restricted free agent.
Later this week, we’ll talk essential signings for defense and special teams, which will heavily feature Younghoe Koo. Spoiler alert, I know.