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Saints free agents Terry Fontenot might prioritize for the Falcons this offseason

Atlanta will need to make some savvy free agency moves once they clear their cap problems away, and they could look to New Orleans to do it.

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Last week, we took a closer look at some of the impending Titans free agents who might join the Falcons, given their ties to incoming offensive coordinator Arthur Smith and potentially members of his new staff. Today, we’re going to do that same exercise, but with the Saints and Terry Fontenot.

Why? Fontenot was known in New Orleans as a pro personnel guru in the Saints front office, someone who had a good feel for veterans worth adding to New Orleans. That critical eye and his familiarity with the players on the list below will likely combine to lead him to pound on the table at Flowery Branch for at least a couple of soon-to-be-former Saints, especially at positions of need.

New Orleans does not have a ton of huge, worthwhile names on the list—I wouldn’t touch Jared Cook at this stage of his career and with Hayden Hurst in the fold, for example—but here are some logical candidates to make the hop over from the crumbling, cap-devastated evil empire to the good guys.

DE Trey Hendrickson

It’s fun to dream, right?

Hendrickson was a part-time player throughout his first three seasons in New Orleans, picking up three starts in 2019 and managing 4.5 sacks. This year he became a full-time starter and his production picked up accordingly, with 32 pressures, 13.5 sacks, and a forced fumble. That production may not hold up in future seasons, but Hendrickson is clearly a talented player who could be an impactful addition to the Falcons defensive line.

The problem is likely to be price. The Saints will want to make a strong push to bring him back even given their cap woes, but there will be other teams more than willing to throw a massive contract at a 27-year-old pass rusher coming off a 13.5 sack season, and the Falcons may well find themselves outbid.

That said, a line with no proven high-end pass rushers outside of Grady Jarrett—I know what Dante Fowler Jr. did two years ago, but we’re gonna need to see him do it again—needs help. Hendrickson would certainly represent that, and Fontenot would probably like to have him in Atlanta.

DT Sheldon Rankins

Rankins is coming off back-to-back injury-marred campaigns, having played 22 of a possible 32 regular season games for the Saints over that span. In 2018 he posted 8 sacks and seemed well on his way to realizing his considerable potential, but he hasn’t been as spectacular the last two seasons.

That might represent a buy-low opportunity for the Falcons. Rankins has been a borderline elite run defender in the past and a capable pass rusher for at least stretches of his career, and he’ll only be 27 years old in 2020. If the Falcons do hire Dean Pees as defensive coordinator it might signal a shift to more traditional 3-4 fronts, and Rankins would be an experienced and capable anchor in the middle of the line, allowing Grady Jarrett, Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, and others to work as defensive ends. Even if that never comes to pass, Rankins would be an upgrade on Tyeler Davison and could form a tremendous inside group with Jarrett, Marlon Davidson, and John Cominsky. Ultimately, price will likely determine whether he has a shot of landing in Atlanta, but I’d love to see it.

S Marcus Williams

There are a lot of dots worth connecting here. A part-time starter for the past four years in New Orleans, Williams is probably most famous for getting his missed tackle on Stefon Diggs in the Minneapolis Miracle game, which will probably be enough to put many off of the signing. Outside of that brutal moment, Williams has been an aggressive, interesting safety who has 13 interceptions and 30 pass deflections in four seasons, a product of being a player who has terrific coverage instincts and is willing to contest catches. He’s a solid if not tremendous tackler and is solid in run support, but coverage is where he’s a definite asset.

The Falcons only have Ricardo Allen under contract at free safety, with Damontae Kazee hitting free agency and coming off a significant injury. Terry Fontenot will know Williams well, will be familiar with his strengths, and will absolutely arrive at the conclusion that Atlanta needs help at safety. If Aaron Glenn hops over from New Orleans to be the team’s new defensive coordinator—or heck, even if he doesn’t—Williams is a name to keep an eye on.

OL James Hurst

The Falcons will, one hopes, re-sign Matt Gono. Ty Sambrailo is an obvious swing tackle candidate even so given the fact that he’s familiar with head coach Arthur Smith. Hurst still may be on the team’s radar.

Hurst graded out well, per Pro Football Focus, in 5 games as a starter in New Orleans. He’s played both guard and tackle for the Ravens and Saints, starting 49 games over 7 seasons, and is versatile, experienced, and likely affordable enough to make sense for a team with no real signed offensive line depth to speak of and James Carpenter possibly lining up as a roster cut. It’s imperative that this team get linemen they trust to run the offense Arthur Smith wants to run, and I do think Hurst would be a quality addition.

RB Ty Montgomery

The Falcons are going to be looking for running backs. The widespread expectation is a short-term deal with a proven, physical back or a rookie, but it’s very possible that Ito Smith is the only safe back on the roster and the team wants depth, too.

In that case, Montgomery might be an option. The versatile back only has 66 carries and 26 receptions over the past three seasons, but earlier in his career he had a larger role in a thin Packers backfield and put up 177 carries, 849 yards, 7 touchdowns and 123 receptions over four seasons. He’s also an experienced (if not superlative) kick returner, meaning he could be in the mix for that role in Atlanta. If the team is serious about drafting a bruising back, having Ollison on hand to spell that player and having Ito and Montgomery as versatile change of pace options would be a solid move.

CBs Jonathan Bademosi & Justin Hardee

Bademosi isn’t the corner he once was and would be deep depth for the Falcons, but he remains a useful special teamer, as he has been pretty much his entire NFL career. This kind of signing won’t so much as raise an eyebrow in the fanbase, but this team needs to rebuild its depth and Bademosi seems like a logical signing to accomplish that.

Hardee would be an alternative. He’s been a true reserve the past four years in New Orleans and would likely slot in to the final cornerback slot on the depth chart, but he’s played at least 45% of the special teams snaps every season and is still pretty young.

Who would you sign? The full list of Saints free agents can be found on Spotrac.