Imagine you only had enough money to re-sign three Falcons free agents, which is probably not all that far away from being true at the moment. Who would you take?
We posed that question to The Falcoholic’s staff and came back with the following answers. Let us know how closely they map to your Falcons free agent priorities.
Younghoe Koo, Keanu Neal, Matt Gono
The Falcons don’t have a ton of indispensable free agents, which is good because they also don’t have a lot of money to re-sign them. We all likely have different opinions on the must re-signs—and limiting it to three means I can’t stump for Steven Means or Jacob Tuitoi-Mariner as I’d like to—but it’s critical that Atlanta put that money toward players who are good enough to play significant roles for the 2021 team.
That leaves these three. Koo is a must after he put together one of the best seasons in franchise history, often driving home field goals after a touchdown-averse offense stalled out in the red zone. He’s an exclusive rights free agent, which makes this the biggest no-brainer of the offseason.
Neal might be a little more controversial because there’s sharp disagreement about just how well he’ll fit into Dean Pees’ defense. What I do know is that Neal is a terrific, still young safety and the Falcons are depleted at the position, and his physicality and athleticism make him an asset that this Atlanta team will be able to use. If he won’t break the bank and Pees doesn’t outright want to remake the safety position entirely, he needs to be back.
Finally, there’s Gono, who has shown himself to be a capable tackle and at least a decent reserve guard. This team lacks offensive line depth and has no clear candidate for swing tackle, but Gono is a restricted free agent, offers positional versatility, and could capably step in if Jake Matthews or Kaleb McGary got hurt. That carries a lot of value. - Dave Choate
Koo, Darqueze Dennard, and that’s it
Yet another offseason and the Falcons don’t have many names they have to keep. Even last year seemed bigger with Austin Hooper and De’Vondre Campbell leaving in free agency, neither player so much as offered a deal so the Falcons could foolishly overspend on a risky pass-rusher.
Neal returned, stayed healthy, and finished extremely strong in 2020. I would love to keep him. The bigger question is if the Falcons can afford to pay him what he is worth, and if Dan Pees is going to be so reliant on safety. Gono is another player I would like to keep. However, can the Falcons afford to pay a backup tackle? This should be a spot the Falcons look at the draft to replace. I’d rather spend that money on Alex Mack, however, he definitely deserves a shot at the Super Bowl.
I think the Falcons will be forced to stick with bringing back cheaper players if only to limit roster holes they can address in the draft. Koo should be cheaper, Dennard is a nice nickel who should return on a one-year deal, and everyone else is either easily replaceable or a luxury the team can’t afford. - Matt Chambers
Koo, Damontae Kazee and Jacob Tuioti-Mariner
Keeping Younghoe Koo around is a no-brainer given his outstanding 2020 season and his youth. The Falcons have been fortunate to have a good run of kickers on the team, and he appears to be the next in line.
As for Kazee, he should be a priority because 1) he’ll likely be cheap and 2) the team is likely to move on from Ricardo Allen and they need someone with experience at free safety. Due to his season ending achilles injury, he’s probably not going to break the bank and he is quality depth at minimum. It should be easy to keep him on board for at least one more year to help stabilize a safety depth chart that could be overhauled in the near future.
Tuioti-Mariner showed he can be a decent rotational player and the team has been developing him for a few years. As an Exclusive Rights Free Agent, he can also be retained for another year at a very low price tag. This will give the Falcons a familiar, valuable rotational defensive end at a low cost. With their cap concerns, a move like this should be a priority and easy to justify. - David Walker
Keanu Neal, Younghoe Koo, Darqueze Dennard
Yes, the Falcons have some work to do when it comes to free agency, regardless if it’s their own or potentially bringing in veterans. But the work is manageable. When it comes to replenishing their roster with their own, I believe it is imperative for the team to keep a couple of veterans in the secondary. Neal suffered back-to-back season ending injuries in 2018 and 2019 and the 2020 season had great importance for him. All he did was place third on the team in total tackles and tied for first in tackles for loss. His return stabilizes the back end a bit and keeps an enforcer on the field.
Dennard was, early in the season, the team’s best corner and saw A LOT of time on the boundary at corner instead of the slot. Another key veteran in place in a very young secondary. Koo was beyond solid throughout the season and led the league in total field goals made. One less burden to worry about in the midst of a transitional season. - Eric Robinson
Who would you choose?