With rumored conflicts with owner Dan Snyder in the background, director of player personnel Kyle Smith somewhat surprisingly was let go by the Washington Football Team this offseason. He had a landing spot even before that move was announced, however, as the Falcons scooped him up to join new general manager Terry Fontenot’s front office.
Smith is an experienced personnel executive who spent most of his decade-long tenure in Washington focused on the draft, which means there are some free agents he’s familiar with either because they joined the team while he was in the front office or he may have actually had a significant role in drafting them. It’s not a long list—I don’t think this team will touch Reuben Foster and Brandon Scherff is going to be wildly out of their price range if he even makes it to free agency—but there are some useful players here I’d expect to be in play in free agency for Atlanta. Let’s talk about them below.
In a couple of days, we’ll check in on some looming Ravens free agents that new assistant director of college scouting Dwaune Jones might pound the table for, as well.
OLB Ryan Anderson
The Falcons need more pass rushers. They’re starved for talent at defensive end/outside linebacker, depending on the front being deployed, and are going to have to count on Dante Fowler Jr. to do a lot of work if they don’t make a ton of upgrades to the roster.
Anderson is a player who might make sense, then. He’s coming off a season where he did not start a single game and had a quiet season statistically, which means he likely will not break the bank. In 2019, however, Anderson started four games, had 4 sacks, and managed 19 pressures, a number that would’ve been good for third on the team in both 2019 and 2020. He’ll only be 27 years old in 2021 and would therefore slot in nicely as a useful, durable reserve with some proven pass rushing ability, exactly the kind of affordable defender Atlanta’s going to need to focus on this offseason.
OLB Ryan Kerrigan
This is the same story as Anderson, but with the plus of an established track record as a terrific pass rusher and the downside of more money and age.
Kerrigan has had a storied career for Washington, one that probably doesn’t get enough attention given how bad and dysfunctional the franchise has been throughout his career. Since joining the team in 2011, he has 95.5 sacks, and has consistently been an above average pass rusher even in down years. The past two seasons he’s put up 5.5 sacks each year, though his pressure total dropped off a cliff in 2020 to 13 from 25 the year before. He’s still a useful player and a clear upgrade for Atlanta, but he’ll be 33 when the season starts and you have to balance the fact that he is genuinely declining with the contract he might command based on his reputation and production in the recent past.
If anyone’s going to push for Kerrigan, though, it’ll be Smith.
CB Ronald Darby
The money could make this one a bit of a stretch, but it will be worth Atlanta’s time to sniff around. Darby’s just 27 years old but has hopped around the NFL, and Falcons fans might remember him best for getting torched by the Falcons in 2019, just 10 months removed from major surgery.
Last year on a one year, $3 million pact, Darby turned in a strong season for an improving Washington defense, improving significantly in coverage over 2019 and managing 16 pass deflections. He’ll be hitting the market looking for a new deal, and with a healthy, 16 start season under his belt, Darby’s going to land somewhere and improve a secondary as a starter.
The Falcons would likely be best served by letting Isaiah Oliver settle into the same nickel role he showed improvement in during the second half of the 2020 season, utilizing Kendall Sheffield as depth, and getting another strong starter opposite A.J. Terrell. If the money works, Darby would be an excellent fit.
CB Fabian Moreau
One of several players who appeared to fall out of favor with the new coaching staff, Moreau joined Anderson in going from part-time starter to reserve in 2020. He still managed to put together a solid little season in a limited role and played 41% of the special teams snaps, showing his value as a reserve and special teamer. The Falcons have questions with their cornerback depth and could choose to pick the former Washington 3rd rounder up to address the position. We’d all prefer Darby, but again, cap space may be a limiting factor for Atlanta in 2021.
TE Jeremy Sprinkle
Smith will be very familiar with Sprinkle, who was picked up in the 5th round of the 2017 draft. Primarily a blocking tight end, Sprinkle turned in a solid year in 2019 as a bigger piece of the passing game, reeling in 26 catches for 241 yards and a touchdown. The Falcons will almost certainly bring back Jaeden Graham but could use an obligatory blocking tight end with some athleticism, and Smith’s familiarity with Sprinkle could mean he replaces Luke Stocker in that capacity.
OT David Sharpe
The Falcons need more competition at tackle, and Sharpe has four starts under his belt over the past two seasons between the Raiders and Football Team. He’s not been excellent to this point, but is still relatively young and would be an affordable addition for a team that is absolutely going to be bargain shopping.
Who else would you take from Washington?