The Ravens are a really good football team, which is why hiring one of their top scouts to be your team’s assistant director of college scouting is a smart move on paper. The hiring of Dwaune Jones in that role for Atlanta also means we could see some Ravens he scouted or at least is very familiar with winding up with the Falcons.
That would be a welcome thing, for reasons that will become clear once you see the list I’ve compiled below of some of the most appealing free agent options. Baltimore has not one, not two, not three, but four capable defensive ends/outside linebackers coming up for free agency, and I doubt they’ll be able to re-sign all of them. Atlanta should make it a priority to nab at least one to bolster a pass rush that could be charitably described as barren on paper.
So who might the Falcons add with Dwaune Jones and longtime Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees in Atlanta? Let’s look.
I have no idea how the Falcons would free up enough cap space to reasonably take on Judon. I just know I want him in Atlanta.
A reliable pass rusher who has never had fewer than 4 sacks in a season, Judon is coming off a 6 sack campaign where he had 32 total pressures per Pro Football Reference. He’ll be turning 30 this year but remains an effective player who would fit nicely on this team as a veteran, well-rounded player. It would help that he’s familiar with Dean Pees and vice versa, as Judon’s 4 sack rookie campaign and 8 sack 2017 season happened when Pees was his defensive coordinator.
The question for Judon will be contractual in nature, given that he won’t be cheap and the Falcons are already shelling out the big bucks for Dante Fowler Jr. Judon is also not a truly elite pass rusher, just a very good one, so there will likely be a price point at which the Falcons are no longer interested.
Speaking of pricey free agent options, Ngakoue comes in second on our list because he’s going to be absurdly expensive. Where Judon has consistently been a good pass rusher, Ngakoue has consistently produced like a great one, with at least 8 sacks in every NFL season to this point. He’ll be just 26 years old this offseason, where Judon is going on 30.
If the Falcons could get really creative with the cap, they of course would love to have someone this talented. It is worth noting that Judon actually had more pressures last year than Ngakoue, though, so if the Ravens are hellbent on keeping Ngakoue it might open up an opportunity for the Falcons to sign Judon or the next guy on our list.
If you can’t get Judon or Ngakoue, you can still potentially help your pass rush. Dean Pees would likely love to add Bowser if Arthur Blank’s checkbook isn’t in another castle, as the speedy linebacker has consistently produced even though he’s never been a starter in Baltimore.
Bowser is coming off a season where he picked three passes, managed two sacks, and put up 22 pressures, which would have been third on the team for Atlanta. Bowser had a 3 sack year in his 2017 rookie campaign with Pees as the defensive coordinator, as well, which means there’s an existing connection. Bowser won’t be 26 years old until May, will be less expensive than the two guys ahead of him on this list, and would offer legitimate upside to this defense. I would say that the intersection of cost, production, and age make him my top target on this list for Atlanta.
Finally, somehow, there’s another capable pass rusher on the Baltimore free agency list. McPhee is a player who has found himself linked to Atlanta multiple times in the past but never actually landed with our favorite team. He overlapped with Pees in Baltimore before leaving to spend time in Chicago and Washington and is familiar to the new defensive coordinator, who knows the value he brings as a run defender and pass rusher.
McPhee will be 32 this season but has shown he can still be a valuable player, managing 3 sacks and 19 pressures this past season. If the Falcons are looking for affordable, short-term players who can boost their rotation at defensive end and outside linebacker, McPhee is a strong fit.
The Falcons will probably not want to just hand the center job to Matt Hennessy. The 2020 third round pick has plenty of promise but was just so-so when pressed into action last season, and getting some veteran competition in the door would help them push Hennessy and give them an option if he falters.
Skura could be that guy. He struggled this past year with bad snaps and poor play, but also pushed hard to come back after tearing his left knee’s ACL, MCL and PCL in November 2019. That remarkable recovery also likely compromised his play, and if he’s fully healthy he’d be a capable stopgap at worst for Atlanta.
The Gus Bus is a restricted free agent, meaning if the Ravens are serious about keeping him around and tender him at the 2nd round level or higher, the Falcons will immediately lose interest.
If they tender him at the original round level, however, the Falcons wouldn’t have to surrender any compensation because Edwards is an undrafted free agent. Edwards has averaged 5+ yards per carry in every season of his career thus far, will only be 26 years old this season, and is a physical runner who hasn’t had over 150 carries in any of his seasons thus far. He’d be a fantastic addition to this backfield, so we’ll have to hope against hope that the Ravens decide not to slap that second round tender on him.
Ingram would be a fallback if the team is interested in a veteran, physical back. It should go without saying that my preference is not to sign a 32 year old back with nearly 1,600 career carries under his belt, but Ingram is still a capable player who would give Atlanta an effective lead back in a committee with Ito Smith, Qadree Ollison, and a rookie. It just can’t be more than a short term deal and Ingram can’t be the unquestioned starter, because not many backs hold up to a full workload at his age.
Finally, there’s Ward, a player I’ve stumped for the Falcons to add multiple times in the past with no success. He’s coming off a career-best 3 sacks but is most effective as a run stopper, making him a useful fit for a very depleted defensive end rotation. He’ll be just 27 years old this season and will be an affordable addition, so I hope the Falcons take a swing.