The offseason began this morning, with the Buccaneers thumping the Chiefs in the Super Bowl. Teams can’t apply franchise tags for another two weeks and the new league year doesn’t kick off until March 17, but there’s a lot of important work ahead for the Falcons and the 2020 season is officially dead and buried. The future awaits.
It’s an uncertain future, albeit one that feels more promising than it has in years. There’s a new front office led by Terry Fontenot and a new coaching staff led by Arthur Smith in place with a mandate to remake—but not blow up—a roster that hasn’t really been up to the task for a few years now. The task ahead is genuinely difficult and the NFC doesn’t promise to be easier next year—if anything, the NFC East perhaps not being a complete tire fire will make the road more difficult—but the hope is that this team will no longer be bogged down by the desire to chase the ghosts of their last Super Bowl appearance.
The first priority for Atlanta will be figuring out who should still be here. As we saw in our complete list of free agents, there aren’t many essential names hitting the market, but Atlanta would be smart to bring back the handful of valuable, affordable pieces they would otherwise lose, like Steven Means, Jaeden Graham, Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, and Matt Gono. They’ll then need to figure out who they’ll be drafting in late April and early May, a job already underway with the Senior Bowl wrapped up.
Simultaneously, the team has to figure out its current cap crunch and push forward so they can be players in free agency once the new league year starts on March 17. Fontenot comes from a New Orleans front office that was not bashful about running way over the cap at any given moment and getting back under thanks to creative contract structuring and the occasional tough decision, and Atlanta will likely emulate that to some extent to push forward with Matt Ryan and Julio Jones on the roster. They still need to be cap compliant by March 17, though, which means players who are solid but have more expensive contracts might find themselves out the door well before that deadline.
Finally, when they do have a little cap space to work with, free agency awaits. We’ve been rounding up some potential names for Atlanta to consider that overlap with their new head coach, general manager, director of player personnel and offensive coordinator, among others, but you should expect that Atlanta will be making a real push for new additions the new brain trust is comfortable with. This not a team expected to operate as though it’s in a complete rebuilding mode, and so they won’t be shy about spending the money they do free up to try to contend in an NFC South where the Panthers and Saints have cloudy short-term futures.
The offseason is, for all its dull moments, one of the best parts of the year because what’s ahead is unknown and could be great. We’ll find out if the new regime is up to the task of transforming a listless Falcons squad soon enough, and I’m looking forward to understanding where this team is headed.