With Atlanta Falcons 2021 free agency quieter than a chew toy with a busted squeaker, many fans are wondering how on Earth the team will be majorly competitive this fall without any sort of early aggression in March.
Well, there are several ways, of course. There are still a bunch of talented players out there that will make more sense for the Falcons’ financial situation to sign later in the process. Some of the best signings come in that time frame, after all.
There’s still the draft in April that’s vitally important to the future of the team, which is a great way for the team to organically add talent to the roster. There are new coaches that can provide fresh perspective, and time all the way to September to make moves to enhance the final 53-man roster, too. So, don’t be upset if this week’s moves haven’t really moved the needle much for the team. There is still so much castle left to build.
One thing that’s easy to forget, though, is what happens if the new coaching staff can get more out of the guys on the roster already. To be honest, until the team has more cash to spend in free agency, it’s going to be paramount for the Falcons to make the money already on the cap make an impact this fall and beyond.
In the last regime, underachieving players became an obvious side effect of what seemed like an underperforming coaching staff. The defense, right now, has guys like Grady Jarrett and Foye Oluokun who really shined in 2020 despite the defense never really being more than fine. Younger players like A.J. Terrell, Mykal Walker and Jacob Tuioti-Mariner showed some real promise, but most everyone still on the roster arguably could’ve done more, including some of the team’s best players like Matt Ryan and Deion Jones.
The team didn’t get much out of 2020 free agent pass rusher Dante Fowler, Jr., now back on a restructured deal. 2020 rookie Marlon Davidson, billed as a vital addition to the defensive line, was largely quiet last fall. If the new defensive staff can get more out of both guys, consider what a huge addition that would be from guys already on the team. That’s not even mentioning guys like Tyeler Davison or John Cominsky, who could arguably pop more with new coaching, too.
Jones, who is a Pro Bowl linebacker at his best, was quite good but still wasn’t quite himself last fall. For how much money he’s making, it’ll be encouraging if new defensive coordinator Dean Pees and linebacker coach Frank Bush can get him back to his typical level of play. A renewed Jones paired with a stellar Oluokun and and budding Walker would give the team a really foreboding group at that position going ahead.
In the secondary, what happened to Kendell Sheffield’s emergence? He showed real skill in 2019 before regressing some in 2020. He’s got the speed to be a real contributor in the secondary, but can the new staff help improve that? Can Isaiah Oliver finally make the leap to being a starting corner in the NFL? There are two more players that might could help patch the gaps in the secondary if they can improve and show more consistency. That’s not even mentioning 2020 fourth rounder Jaylinn Hawkins, who might be called upon to start at strong safety.
That’s just defense. On offense, getting more out of 2020 trade acquisition Hayden Hurst would be a dream (and likely under Arthur Smith, a guru at utilizing tight ends), and someone finally unlocking Ito Smith’s talent more effectively would help what looks to be a depleted running back group. What about Matt Hennessy? Can this team get him to be the starting center the last regime was hoping he’d be? More consistency from 2019 first rounder Kaleb McGary couldn’t hurt, either, as he continues to grow.
Particularly on defense, there’s an entire pool of players that really could make more of a difference with fresh coaching. Think of Davidson alone. The second-round pick from last year, he was curiously absent from most games last fall, only recording four tackles. He was injured for some of the season, but one wonders if Pees’ staff could really get his career going. If Davidson lives up to his draft status with the new staff (NFL’s Lance Zierlein compared him to Vinny Curry last year), that’s a huge, huge boost.
The Falcons probably aren’t going to be this quiet in the time to come and the market settles, but don’t expect any free agency-related blockbusters. This is a team that is trying to build its own future, but it might be able to get some more inspired play out of guys on this roster, too.
All in all, while things might be a little silent right now for the Dirty Birds, January’s coaching hires could help fill in the gaps for a team that needs to do a better job of using the guys they already have.