As winter slowly turns to spring, the Atlanta Falcons are slowly but surely gearing up for the very first free agency cycle under new general manager Terry Fontenot and new coach Arthur Smith.
The difficult thing to gauge will be how the team will manage its cap space under Fontenot, known for working with a New Orleans Saints outfit that always hugged the outskirts of cap ruin. The Falcons are about 20 million over the cap right now, but through additional cuts and restructures, they could whittle that deficit down and have a little cash to spend.
The odds of the Falcons reeling in a big fish are slim with the cap constraints, but the team might justifiably want to get some starters in the building this year and might free up the space to do so.
Who might be some names to really zero in on for free agency this year?
DT DaQuan Jones
If there was one player I would put $5 on as being in a Falcons uniform next year, it’s Tennessee Titans nose tackle DaQuan Jones.
Jones has been with Tennessee ever since 2014 and has grown into a reliable defensive starter for the Nashville-based team. He’s on NFL’s Top 101 Free Agency list and would give the Falcons a major piece of Dean Pees defense locked in, ready to go.
In a variable front, the Falcons will need to find a true nose tackle to anchor their line alongside the likes of Grady Jarrett. Jones did that role well for Pees in Tennessee and you can figure he and Smith would not at all mind a transfer of power in that regard.
The Falcons have Tyeler Davison, too, who could fill that void, but Jones would upgrade Davison and anyone else on the roster at nose tackle and give the team exactly the type of player it needs to make the 3-4 defensive front in particular work.
OLB Kamalei Correa
A familiar defender to Pees, Correa was drafted by Baltimore in 2014 when the new Falcons defensive coordinator was in that same role with the Ravens. After that, Correa got traded to Tennessee when Pees got to Nashville.
When Pees went into his second retirement, Correa fell out of the Titans’ rotation and wound up traded to Jacksonville midseason in 2020 after a request.
With Correa a free agent and Pees in Atlanta, would another reunion make sense?
Well, in 2019, Correa had five sacks at outside linebacker under Pees, and he’d help the team in its 3-4 looks field pass rushing linebackers to compliment the front three defenders. The team has three very capable linebackers, but they’ll be padding the position with more guys who can rush the passer (Tennessee had nearly 10 linebackers in 2019 under Pees).
Correa could likely be had at a one-or-two-year deal that’s very cap friendly and would give the Falcons a player who could contribute immediately.
DE Jurrell Casey
Casey was one of the best Titans to ever do it, unceremoniously traded last spring for a seventh rounder to Denver and hampered last fall with an injury.
Now released from the Broncos, he’s available and could reunite with Pees and Smith in Atlanta. He’s a prime competitor and would instantly bring to the Falcons the leadership and accountability that side of the ball has needed for quite some time, as well as some tenacious pass rushing and run stuffing. Paired with Grady Jarrett, he’d give the Falcons a pretty decent one-two punch up front. He’s only 31 and has plenty of gas left in the tank.
While he’s past 30 and coming off an injury, that could work in the Falcons’ favor if he was willing to take a one-year, prove-it deal to rebound with folks he knows.
WR Adam Humphries
Sorry to keep listing former Tennessee Titans, but it’s going to be the most realistic place for us to be looking at potential folks to join this roster.
A former Buccaneer, Humphries knows Arthur Smith’s system pretty well by now, and it’s never strange for new coaches to sign former players to help integrate offensive plays and language with other players already on the team. Humphries is a savvy veteran who had 816 yards and five touchdowns in Tampa Bay in 2018, and while he ended 2020 on a pretty serious concussion, he might could help fill out the depth in Atlanta’s receiving core and give Ryan another reliable option in the passing game that knows the new offense.
It likely wouldn’t take time for Ryan and Humphries to find a groove with each other. If he’s healthy, he’d be a very respectable depth option on the team that likely wouldn’t break the bank on a one-or-two-year deal.
OLB Jordan Jenkins
With the Falcons looking at pass rushers, could Fontenot strike gold with his new team with a linebacker from an organization he’s found success with in the past?
Jenkins has been a steady presence in the Jets pass rush for quite some time, with new Falcons linebackers coach Frank Bush having coached him in the past. He’s a Georgia alum and apparently has trained in Atlanta in the past with former Falcon Chuck Smith. PFF rated him with a respectable 69.4 last season, one that saw him tally four sacks and 18 tackles.
Jenkins is the type of player that could thrive in a new setting, with a return to New York very much in question for him. Could the Harris County grad (in Hamilton, Ga.) return to the Peach State where he played his college ball and reunite with his position coach from the Jets? Fontenot helped find Demario Smith in NYJ with the Saints; maybe Jenkins is next.