It’s free agency month for the Atlanta Falcons, a first chance for the new guys on the block to show us what their vision is for the team. General manager Terry Fontenot spent years helping the cap-strapped New Orleans Saints make deal after deal in free agency, which makes you wonder if he’ll take the same approach in Atlanta.
While the team still is about $20 million over the cap, you should still expect the front office to get busy to help get this roster in competing shape sooner than later. Free agency, whether extensively pillaged or lightly threaded, is the start to that process.
NFL.com always has one of the best free agency lists where take the time to count out, in their opinion, the 101 most appealing candidates out there. While we don’t think the team will compete for the biggest fish on the list right now, there are names on there that make sense for the Falcons.
Let’s look at a few, shall we?
No. 27, TE Jonnu Smith
It’s entirely possible new Falcons head coach Arthur Smith might want to bring his Tennessee Titans touchdown machine Smith with him to Atlanta and field a formidable duo with Smith and Hayden Hurst. Smith will make a good salary on his next deal, and you can bet the Titans will do what they can to hold onto him.
The Falcons would be wise to invest at the position that plays such a huge role in what Smith does best, and signing Smith as its marquee free agent could free the team up in the draft to invest on the defense and at running back. The red zone production would skyrocket with a player like Smith for Matt Ryan to throw to on game day. It’s just a question of whether the contract would fit.
No. 31, DE Romeo Okwara
While there are some intriguing pass rushers on this list (Jadeveon Clowney, Bud Dupree, Carl Lawson, Matt Judon, Yannick Ngakoue), Okwara might be a nice blend of more affordable and even more potential. The list notes that he is coming off a breakout year in Detroit where he had 61 pressures, fifth-most in the league, per PFF.
Okwara is only 26 and won’t be the marquee name on this pass-rushing market. If the Falcons are willing to invest in his single-season production and his future, they could make him the lead option in their pass rush for 2021 and potentially beyond and part ways with Dante Fowler Jr. on a post-June 1 cut to help fit his deal under the cap going forward. Okwara could be a versatile piece for Dean Pees to unleash on opposing quarterbacks.
No. 33, S Marcus Maye
With Ricardo Allen officially released, the Falcons need a new free safety. Fontenot has struck gold in the past looking at New York Jets defenders like Saints linebacker Demario Davis; could he do it again with Maye?
Maye is a budding talent at the position who in a crowded safety market might not break the bank. The team could draft high to fill this vacancy on the roster just as easily as they could sign a stopgap veteran to a low deal. If they want veteran stability at the position, though, you could do much, much worse than signing Maye to a handsome deal.
No. 42, DE Justin Houston/No. 58 Denico Autry
If the Falcons want a defensive tonesetter who could also be a leader in the locker room, they could sign the former Georgia great Houston to help lead that internal change. He’s 32, but the Falcons need people who have proven experience trying to rush the passer.
If they could nab Houston on a two-year deal, maybe the Statesboro native would be interested in playing his later career years close to home? He’s still got enough juice to help.
Another Colt who might be more affordable would be Autry, who has been a gem for Indy since being signed away from then-Oakland. He could play either defensive end spot in Peas’ fronts.
No. 52, DE Melvin Ingram
The Falcons need to sign a veteran pass rusher in free agency, if that wasn’t obvious by the rest of the names on this list. Ingram, a South Carolina grad, could play in the 3-4 and 4-3 looks Peas wants to run and could be a steal at the right price if he wants to head back down South (he’s originally from North Carolina).
Versatility is going to be paramount for any pass rusher signed by the Falcons going ahead.
No. 65, NT DaQuan Jones
If there’s a player on this list that has a pretty darn good chance of landing in Atlanta, it’s Jones. The Titans nose tackle would give Atlanta exactly who it needs to anchor the 3-4 fronts that Peas is going to bring, having had two years of experience in his scheme in Tennessee. Jones seemed excited about Peas getting the Atlanta gig, so could we see a reunion? He and Arthur Smith go back, too, to note.
It’s a signing with obvious ties to the new regime and one we could very reasonably see happening at the right price. Jones would be a great addition who would have an impact immediately.
No. 75, DT Sheldon Rankins
Would Fontenot want to give the 2016 Saints first-round draft pick an opportunity for a fresh start? He’s had his ups and downs in New Orleans, but his pluses might be something to make the Falcons keep him in-division. If he’s healthy, he is an impact player.
He’d be an excellent running mate with Grady Jarrett in this defense on the inside if the team wants to add to a strength, with the pressure off Marlon Davidson to deliver huge production in his second year. He might come at a more affordable price, too, than some of his peers.
No. 77, TE Gerald Everett
If Jonnu Smith is too expensive for the Falcons, Everett would be a solid consolation prize. He might find more to do in Arthur Smith’s tight end-happy offense and return home to Atlanta — he went to high school in Decatur. He could find more of a role in the red zone with the Falcons than he was in Los Angeles and come at a better price than Jonnu Smith’s contract would.
Who would you take from this list?