FinalizeThe Falcons pass rush is my most persistent concern with this team, something that has continued with only brief interruptions since I started The Falcoholic back in 2006. Atlanta has made do with inferior talent so often—or more precisely, not really made do at all—that it can be easy to think 2021 just figures to be more of the same.
And that’s easy to think because it’s probably true, to be clear. The Falcons hired Dean Pees in part because of his track record of pulling together quality defenses even when the personnel on hand isn’t ideal, as he did in Tennessee back in 2018 and 2019. He does that, in part, by sending pressure from anywhere he can get it, and will lean on a host of players and blitzes to get it. That will hopefully mean Atlanta improves their forgettable 2020 sack and pressure numbers, but the reality is that the Falcons have made no meaningful additions to the roster who figure to make that job easier.
Barkevious Mingo was not going to be much help in that regard, given his spotty track record as a pass rusher, but he was going to be asked to contribute. Now he’s gone—and if he’s found guilty of the appalling allegations facing him, he justifiably played his last NFL down last year—and the Falcons have an open roster spot and potentially another million or so to apply toward that spot if they’re not on the hook for Mingo’s guaranteed money.
Atlanta’s been saying all along that they don’t want to hamstring themselves in future years trying to contend in 2021—Terry Fontenot said it again just last week—so you’re not suddenly going to see them going out and trading for an expensive pass rusher or signing anyone to a multi-year deal. They should still not pass up the chance to bolster the talent level here, especially at edge rusher where they’re almost wholly dependent on bouncebacks, young players, and merely decent guys to get the job done. There’s enough on the open market to at least get them pointed in the right direction.
As Matt Chambers wrote over the weekend, there aren’t exactly a ton of inspiring options out there, but Justin Houston would be a considerable boost and players like Trent Murphy, Dion Jordan and Everson Griffen may be on the wrong side of 30 but can certainly be useful additions to a lacking rotation. My affinity for Houston is well-documented and his willingness to take a contract Atlanta could legitimately afford to give him is less well-documented, but even though it’d be difficult to celebrate some of the other options as lustily, there’s few players out there on the open market who wouldn’t represent help. The Falcons are, at least on paper, that bereft.
Losing and not having a great pass rush have too often gone hand-in-hand in Atlanta over the past...well, let’s just call it a long time. The Falcons have zero hope of getting to great in 2021 without a series of improbable leaps forward from the defense, but they can get a lot further away from “active liability” by adding another useful edge rusher to go with Pees’ acumen for making a fine chicken salad sandwich out of a pretty sad-looking chicken. Hopefully they’ll decide to do just that.