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NFL roster cuts: Tracking interesting pickup candidates for the Falcons

The Falcons could pick up a few free agents to add to the bottom of their 53 man roster once the dust settles on cuts.

NFL: AUG 12 Preseason - Washington Football Team at Patriots Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Falcons figure to churn the bottom of their roster a bit, because most teams do and Atlanta has some depth questions that make new signings not only possible but likely. The question is who they’ll choose to scoop up after the cut down to 53 players.

We’re not going to be able to answer that here—Terry Fontenot is not returning my texts—but there are already interesting players among the reported cuts, and that’s with the deadline to cut down still hours away. It’s worth remembering that Fontenot make his reputation in New Orleans via savvy free agent signings, and he’ll be tasked with improving the bottom of the roster by doing just that here.

We’ll round up a list of some of the most interesting and worthwhile cuts from our perspective right here, and see if any of them end up with the Falcons. New players will go to the top as we add them.

OLB Pernell McPhee

This one’s a simple matter of connecting dots. The Falcons didn’t sign McPhee initially despite his ties to Dean Pees, who coached him and loved him in Baltimore years ago, but now that he’s been cut loose perhaps they’ll consider it. He’s still a useful situational pass rusher who had three sacks in each of the past two seasons.

OG Michael Jordan

No, not that Michael Jordan.

The 23-year-old guard has started 19 games over the past two seasons for Cincinnati. It’s tough to get a read on how good a guy is playing for the Bengals offensive line, which is typically putrid, but Jordan is both young enough and has shown enough to be absolutely worth picking up for the Falcons.

QB Kurt Benkert

Here’s the thing: The Falcons didn’t even keep Benkert around to compete this summer, preferring to add Feleipe Franks and A.J. McCarron to the mix instead. It’s possible that a good training camp and preseason in Green Bay and the team’s changed circumstances causes them to at least entertain bringing Benkert back—and naturally I’d be on board with that—but given the manner in which he was cut and the timing I’m thinking Benkert will find a new home elsewhere. Still, he belongs on this for a team that has made it clear they’re not necessarily settled with Franks and Josh Rosen.

RB Jonathan Williams

He’s bounced around a lot and was just cut by Washington, but Williams has been a reasonably productive runner in his very limited chances to this point and overlapped with Terry Fontenot in New Orleans for a season. This would be more of a practice squad addition if Atlanta doesn’t elect to keep the likes of Caleb Huntley and D’Onta Foreman around, but one worth noting.

QB Cam Newton

Two things are working against Newton joining up in Atlanta: He’s reportedly unvaccinated and the Falcons were clearly proud of being the first team to have a fully vaccinated roster, and Newton’s going to want a shot at actually starting if he can get it.

Obviously, the appeal with Newton is that he’s healthier than he was a year ago, still has a cannon arm, can literally run over defenders and has extensive starting experience, giving the Falcons a backup who would not sink like a stone if something kept Matt Ryan out for multiple games. I can’t see this actually happening, but while I’m sure half the fanbase doesn’t want to even think about the possibility, it’s not an impossibility.

CB Jimmy Moreland

A 7th round pick in 2019 for Washington, Moreland was a 10 game starter over two seasons with Washington, putting up an interception, a half sack, and 86 combined tackles while chipping in on about 33% of special teams snaps in 2019 and 2020. Moreland was a player I liked quite a bit heading into that year, but more importantly, he was a draft selection while current Falcons vice president of player personnel Kyle Smith was the director of college personnel in Washington. If Atlanta’s planning to keep six cornerbacks and aren’t completely sold on Chris Williamson or Kendall Sheffield (who is still injured) as an option, Moreland could be an option.

Worth noting that he was released with an injury designation, as reported by The Athletic’s Ben Standig above, so that might put the kibosh on that.

WR Antonio Gandy-Golden

The options for the team’s #4 and #5 receivers have not actually blown anyone’s socks off this summer. The Falcons seem likely to carry some combination of Tajae Sharpe and either Christian Blake or Frank Darby through the initial wave of cuts, but they may not dust their hands and walk away after they do so.

Gandy-Golden is one to watch. Like Moreland, he was a selection while Kyle Smith was in Washington, this time in the fourth round. He’s a 6’4” wide receiver who our own Eric Robinson praises for his jump ball ability, solid build-up speed and improving hands, but an injury robbed him of some of last year and he got crowded out by new additions in Washington. The size and athleticism could be appealing for Atlanta, who as mentioned don’t have a settled depth chart after the trio of Calvin Ridley, Russell Gage and Olamide Zaccheaus.

OLB Christian Miller

An interesting flier, Miller put up 11 sacks in his senior season at Alabama back in 2018 and had 2 sacks in 7 games for Carolina in 2019 after they drafted him in the fourth round. He opted out of the 2020 season, so we don’t have a long track record in this league to go off of.

We do know that he’s still fairly young, that injury and Ron Rivera leaning on veterans limited his chances in 2019, and that he’s been productive enough in the recent past that teams will want a closer look at him. Atlanta, which has a lean outside linebacker group on paper that’s light on proven options, might be one potential landing spot.

OT Tyrell Crosby

An 11 game starter for Detroit last season after being selected in the 5th round and their projected swing tackle in 2021, Crosby was slow to return from injury this summer and struggled enough that the Lions were ready to move on. He’s still young and talented enough to land somewhere, and Atlanta just cut Willie Beavers. Unless they’re sold on Jason Spriggs as their swing tackle, Crosby’s a worthwhile pickup.

DT Marvin Wilson

A coveted undrafted free agent who got one of the biggest bonuses and guaranteed salaries of the offseason, Wilson’s summer wasn’t good enough to get him a spot on Cleveland’s roster. He’ll assuredly end up on a practice squad somewhere if a team doesn’t snap him up, but despite the quiet summer and so-so 2020 season that torpedoed his draft stock, he’s a talented player. The Falcons may be interested in seeing if they can turn that upside into more.

CB Mike Ford

ESPN’s Michael Rothstein was a Lions beat reporter before coming to Atlanta this spring, so his singling out of Ford means we’re paying attention.

Moreland has more upside as a cornerback, in my humble opinion, but Ford is at least a useful reserve and played about 45% of the special teams snaps for Detroit over the past two seasons. As Rothstein notes, if Williams liked when the two were both with the Lions, he could thump the table for him to join Atlanta and bolster special teams.

QB Trevor Siemian

Scott Bair at AtlantaFalcons.com has connected the dots here before and it makes some sense. Siemian has been a starter in the past (for the Broncos from 2016-2017) and he has a history with both Terry Fontenot (New Orleans in 2020) and head coach Arthur Smith (Tennessee in 2020). He’s a veteran who could start in a pinch and would probably be a better backup QB than Feleipe Franks or Josh Rosen.