The story of Atlanta’s offseason to this point has been a story of patiently and affordably building up options. That’s certainly true at the safety position, where the team cut or didn’t re-sign three players who had started for them in the past, leaving them with only 2020 draft pick Jaylinn Hawkins and veteran journeyman T.J. Green holding down the fort at the position. It was clear the Falcons would need to acquire at least one starting-caliber safety before the draft, and settling for only one meant they would probably need to prioritize the position in the draft, or at least free up money to address it later in the summer. That would not be ideal for a defense with plenty of remaining issues, to put it mildly.
Instead, the Falcons signed both Erik Harris and Duron Harmon, adding two veterans with nearly 200 combined career games and 75 career starts. In doing so on a budget, they also added two players who have starting experience at both safety spots in a defense that demands some flexibility from its safety options. Neither Harris or Harmon should be or will be expected to be difference-making starters, not when both will be 30 years old and have never been All-Pro caliber players at any of their previous spots. What they can do comfortably is plug in where Dean Pees wants them to play, not only switching between free and strong safety as needed, but doing a little bit of everything when called upon. Harmon in particular has been known for his eagerness and ability in run support for a long time, but is also capable and aggressive enough in coverage to avoid being a liability.
That versatility will be expected of whoever the Falcons take in this draft class at safety, as well, because neither Harmon nor Harris is locked into a starting job or a contract beyond this season. Atlanta has plugged a hole effectively for the moment and given themselves a pair of players to evaluate as potential re-signings for 2021, while also giving a rookie and Hawkins seasoned veterans with oft-praised leadership qualities to learn from. It would not be surprising to see the Falcons actively use as many as three or four safeties on gameday if the versatile Hawkins proves to be a good fit for what Pees is looking for and they add a rookie as early as I expect they will, something we never came close to seeing in Atlanta in years past partially because of unfortunate injuries to Ricardo Allen, Keanu Neal, and Damontae Kazee.
I still fully expect the Falcons to snag a safety by no later than early on Day 3 (and likely earlier than that), one they believe will be able to compete for a starting job down the line. Regardless of who they end up with, Pees and this defensive staff won’t be able to expect elite safety play in 2021, but will hope to make it work with players who have the flexibility to do whatever the Falcons need them to do.