The Falcons are in the unenviable position of having very little money available at the moment. Before the start of the season, the Falcons need to clear enough space to sign their entire rookie class, come up with an emergency fund, and sign a few more free agents to duct tape this team together and hope it can make it down the road for 17 games.
The Falcoholic has discussed ad nauseam the many ways to create cap space. Regardless of what Terry Fontenot decides, things are going to be a bit tight. The expectation has long been that the Falcons need to work some magic with cheap veterans after the draft. This is the wave where the top players remaining are aging, ineffective or coming off of injury. That is not to say there are no gems to be had, but they’re not exactly common.
Here are our favorite free agents that could make an impact in 2021. There...are not many. Still, the Falcons could improve their weak spots with even one or two of the below names for near the veteran minimum, once they have a bit more money to spend.
Justin Houston, EDGE
Houston is the closest we will get to a household name here. The former UGA star once signed a $101 million deal, has consistently destroyed quarterbacks and has 97.5 career sacks. Despite entering his age-32 season, he is coming off of an eight-sack season with the Indianapolis Colts. He would likely fill in similar to Dwight Freeney back in 2016 with a focus on rushing the passer, and he has both plenty of experience in a 3-4 enough punch to help one of the team’s weakest positions.
Honorable mention: Melvin Ingram makes sense if the Falcons need to go cheaper/riskier. He’s coming off a season where he played just 7 games and finished with zero sacks.
Austin Reiter, Center
The former Kansas City Chiefs lineman has met with a quiet market. That should be music to Atlanta’s ears. Matt Hennessy and Drew Dalman are both inexperienced competitors for the center job, and while the Falcons obviously like Dalman a great deal and will give Hennessy a real shot, they may prefer to add some proven veteran competition.
Center is a potential disaster position that has almost no room for error. Reiter could slide in and could provided some much-needed competition in camp, and at the very least he’d be a rock solid backup.
Honorable mention: Ben Garland would be a nice re-addition for veteran depth.
Duke Johnson, Running Back
Here is where things start taking a turn for the worse. Johnson is a well-rounded back who struggled to run the ball with the Houston Texans in 2020. Johnson still has limited touches in the NFL and won’t turn 28 until September. At vet minimum, Johnson could provide some great depth in the rotation at running back. The drawback for him is that his chief strength, pass catching acumen, is not something that’s likely to be a major part of the Falcons offense in 2021. He’s still a useful player.
Honorable mention: Le’Veon Bell, but no one wants to see that at this stage of his career. You could also make a case for D’Onta Foreman, another power back who hasn’t had much success to this stage but would be available for cheap.
Bashaud Breeland, Cornerback
Breeland straddles the line between competent enough and taking reps away from a younger player. That young player could very well be rookie Darren Hall. However, there is a strong case that corner outside of AJ Terrell has no players who are proven without any injury concerns, and that could be a problem if Fabian Moreau, Isaiah Oliver, Kendall Sheffield and Hall don’t turn out to be options the team loves in 2021. Breeland may be a solid stop-gap here while Dean Pees figures out what the Falcons have in the secondary.
Honorable mention: Brian Poole makes a lot of sense here, too. We miss that guy.