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Falcons reportedly sign veteran safety Erik Harris

Atlanta’s rebuilding their safety group this offseason, and they start with a former Raider.

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Las Vegas Raiders Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Falcons have only two safeties under contract at the moment, so they figured to use free agency to add potential starters and depth to the position. They’re getting started with former Raiders, Saints, and CFL safety Erik Harris.

That report comes from plugged-in Raiders beat writer Vic Tafur, and we’ll see how quickly we get the team announcement and the terms.

Harris, 30, joins with a decent shot at starting this year, given the state of the position group and his track record. He was a 12 game starter for the Raiders last year at free safety, allowing 58% of the 31 targets sent his way to be completed for 418 yards and 2 touchdowns, managing 5 pass deflections, a forced fumble, and one pressure. For the sake of comparison, Ricardo Allen allowed about 57% of his 23 targets to be completed for 278 yards and 3 touchdowns, managing 25 tackles and 5 pass deflections. The biggest gap between the two is missed tackles, where Harris had an uncharacteristically bad year (he missed nearly 18% of his tackles and he averages around 8%) and Allen had a characteristically solid one (just under 4%). Harris is, in other words, fine, but not a good bet to be a significant or even small upgrade on Allen.

The deal suggests he’ll be a reserve, as our own Eric Robinson suggested to me earlier today. It’s a very affordable, short-term deal for a player who started 12 games a year ago.

The drivers here are likely affordability, a little versatility and competence. Harris is a factor on special teams, having played 50% of the snaps there last year, and has a track record of solid if unspectacular play at the position. Given that Atlanta is truly barren at safety, it’s possible he could line up at strong safety if the team likes his fit better there. He also played linebacker in the CFL before joining the Saints as a safety, so if Dean Pees is feeling frisky he could get a few snaps there. As Aaron Freeman notes, he’s known to Terry Fontenot, who would’ve had a hand in signing him to the Saints.

His 2019 season, where he picked off three passes and returned two for touchdowns and deflected 8 passes in 14 starts, suggests he can give you a little more than the Raiders saw last year, but generally speaking what you’re looking at is a short-term Allen replacement for a lot less money. That is, as we’ve suggested, likely to be the team’s M.O. throughout this offseason at positions of need, though my hope is that they’re not planning to do this at both safety spots given the likely impact on the defense.

Welcome Harris to Atlanta, and we’ll see whether he ends up starting or just being a useful reserve when the dust settles on this Falcons offseason.