Atlanta’s trade of Julio Jones will shake free over $15 million in cap space. As David Walker wrote yesterday, they’ll be able to comfortably sign their rookie class at last, and then they’ll have a bit of space (between $8-$8.5 million, depending on the estimate you consult) to go shopping ahead of the season.
Offensively, the Falcons are unlikely to be a finished product, but they’re closer than they are on defense. I think the team is more likely to sign depth options if they’re dissatisfied with their reserves than pick up anyone who has a realistic shot of being a starter, though you can’t rule that out on the interior of the offensive line. Given that the free agents available are not, as you’d expect, high-end starters, Atlanta’s likely to be able to affordably shop for a couple of pickups to shore up offensive depth if they’d like to, and I expect a signing or two by the time preseason kicks off.
Here are a few interesting names on offense to watch if the Falcons end up shopping on that side of the ball, based on need, existing connections to this coaching staff, and talent. Matt Chambers took a look at potential receiver additions the other day, so we won’t cover those here.
RB T.J. Yeldon
I’ve noted that Arthur Smith hasn’t exactly leaned heavily on his backs in the passing game in his time as an offensive coordinator, and I don’t really expect that to change that much in Atlanta. With Julio Jones out of town, it’s possible Smith might find mixing in Mike Davis and others more appealing as he sorts out this offense.
If that’s the case, he’s got a capable back in Mike Davis, who hoovered up 59 catches and is a sure-handed, reliable pass catcher. Cordarrelle Patterson will likely split time between the backfield and wide receiver, as well, but with
Yeldon would be an interesting addition. He’s quick and capable of breaking big runs in limited work as a runner, but his bread and butter is the passing game, where he’s both a capable blocker and receiver. Yeldon’s coming off of the most forgettable year of his career, but doesn’t have a ton of wear and tear and is a well-rounded option. If Atlanta’s not thrilled with their depth behind Davis, Yeldon would be an affordable pickup to correct that, and a solid safety valve for Matt Ryan.
Other options: Todd Gurley (this one’s for you, Cory Woodroof), DeAndre Washington, Duke Johnson, some guy named Ito Smith
TE Richard Rodgers
Kyle Pitts, Hayden Hurst and Lee Smith are probably guaranteed roles here, with Pitts and Hurst figuring to settle in as somewhere between the 2nd-3rd and 4th-5th options in the passing game, respectively. Smith is a terrific blocker, and maybe that plus Jaeden Graham or Ryan Becker proves to be the depth chart. That’d be a fine group.
But again, we know Smith loves tight ends, and we know that we’re likely to see two tight ends on the field at least a third of the time if his recent history is any indication. If the team wanted to ensure they’re set at the position in case of injury or just want another option to give Pitts and Hurst breathers, Rodgers would be an obvious choice.
The 29-year-old is coming off a season where he scooped up 24 catches for 345 yards and 2 touchdowns, filling in after injuries decimated the position in Philadelphia. His 2018 and 2019 seasons were largely wiped out by injury, but tight ends coach Justin Peelle is familiar with his ability and Rodgers would add more pass catching acumen to the group in Atlanta. If the Falcons are flirting with the idea of adding more depth here, he’s a name to watch.
Other options: Trey Burton, Jake Butt, Tyler Eifert
C/G Nick Easton
The Easton connection is an easy one to make, which is why I’ve done so more than once this year. Terry Fontenot would have been instrumental in signing him while he was in New Orleans, and Easton served as a key reserve and part-time starter for the Saints over the past two seasons. Last year, he started nine games at right guard, but his versatility is evident, as he’s started at left guard and center in the past.
Atlanta lacks veteran depth on the interior of the offensive line outside of Josh Andrews and possibly Matt Gono, which may not be a big deal if Dwayne Ledford’s happy with his options. If he’s not and Easton is healthy—he was placed on injured reserve by the Saints back in January—Fontenot may be tempted to add him to the group to serve as the team’s top reserve behind the winners of the left guard and center battles. There’s an outside chance Easton could compete for a starting job outright if the team decides things look shaky at center or left guard.
Other options: Trai Turner, J.R. Sweezy, Joe Dahl, Jermaine Eluemenor
OT Dennis Kelly
Again, the connection here makes Kelly a name worth keeping in mind. If Gono is going to be prominently involved in the left guard competition and actually wins it, the team’s options at swing tackle today are pretty slim. If Gono takes the swing tackle gig I feel great about the team’s tackle depth, but they still might mull a veteran option.
Kelly’s still out there after starting all 16 games for the Titans last year, which seems a little incredible. He was a rock solid starter for Tennessee last year and has experience as a swing tackle and (going back to his early days with the Eagles) at guard. The question here would likely be price point, as 16 game starters generally don’t have to settle for contracts hovering near the veteran minimum and the Falcons still aren’t exactly going to be flush with cap space. The ties to Smith, Kelly’s solid track record and the team’s still unsettled depth along the offensive line make him a possibility.
Other options: John Wetzel, Chaz Green, Marshall Newhouse
QB Robert Griffin
The free agent quarterback market is thin, as you’d expect in June. But it’s also fair to wonder whether the Falcons are set at the position or not, given that A.J. McCarron has played little, has just $137,000 guaranteed on his deal (meaning the team can save nearly $1 million by cutting him), and his only competition is undrafted free agent Feleipe Franks.
Griffin is one of only a couple options currently available I’d consider if the McCarron/Franks duo ends up flopping, the other being former 49ers quarterback Nick Mullens. Mullens has shown himself to be a capable spot starter and backup for the 49ers, but Griffin is a solid reserve in his own right, one who has a better arm than Mullens and has shown much better mobility. I’d genuinely be more optimistic about him coming into a game and not sinking the Falcons entirely than McCarron.
Other options: Nick Mullens
Who do you have your eye on for free agents on offense?