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Falcons free agent profiles: WR Russell Gage

Gage has been anywhere from WR3 to WR1 in the last two seasons.

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The free agent profiles continue while we look at some of the key names in Falcons free agency in the coming weeks. A deep dive into each player will help us try to figure out who the team might prioritize and who they might be comfortable letting walk.

We previously looked at Younghoe Koo, a clear priority in our opinion. Today we look at perhaps the most interesting of the bunch: WR Russell Gage.

2021 stats

66 receptions on 94 targets

770 receiving yards

4 touchdowns

11.7 yards per catch

1 extremely perplexing jump

2021 did not go as planned. Julio Jones forced his way out of Atlanta. Calvin Ridley missed 11 games to focus on his mental health. A bevy of coronavirus variants. Jalen Mayfield. A lot of bad.

For Gage, this meant he finally had a chance to show what he’s got. Thanks to multiple promotions, Gage moved from the team’s WR3 up to the team’s undisputed WR1. He finished with a career-best season. He made some absolutely dynamic plays but showed he probably is not cut out to be a WR1.

The case for signing Gage

Take one quick look at the depth chart and you have a pretty clear case for signing Gage. The 2021 Falcons had a lot of problems but starting Tajae Sharpe was one of them. Sharpe is also a free agent, with Olamide Zaccheaus and Christian Blake as restricted free agents the Falcons could tender. That leaves Frank Darby and, if he returns, Ridley. That is terrifying.

From a consistency perspective, the Falcons need someone with experience and chemistry at wide receiver. With it looking like Matt Ryan will be the quarterback for at least the foreseeable future, he needs someone he knows he can rely on. Simply put, if you can’t give Ryan any sort of consistency, you may as well move the quarterback and do a full rebuild.

Gage has been one of very, very few players on offense who has stepped up. He has made some absolutely crazy catches, and at only 26, still has some time to improve consistency and polish up his game. He played a lot more outside in 2021 and is quite effective in the slot as well. That is good versatility you can’t find right off the street.

The case against signing Gage

We still aren’t sure exactly how Arthur Smith would build his preferred team, but the common thought is he likes the bigger, more physical pass catchers. For comparison, AJ Brown was drafted by the Titans in Smith’s first season calling players. Brown had back-to-back 1,000+ yard seasons, including double digit touchdowns in his sophomore season. Brown is about an inch taller than Gage but 42 pounds heavier.

That is a big difference.

Smith may want to see a better run blocker at wide receiver who can pluck catches consistently in traffic. Maybe Gage fits better as a dynamic WR3. The Falcons would then have to figure out how to fill, potentially, both the WR1 and WR2 spot. Can they do that while dropping a veteran deal on a WR3? The Falcons may want to more effectively spend the team’s limited cap space on more premium positions.

The verdict: Re-sign Russell Gage

Given all the talk about Cordarrelle Patterson’s future, the dynamics around Gage are more interesting. In fact, the Falcons could be picking between the two. After all, that limited available cash can’t realistically be spread out over both a WR2/WR3 type and an OW. That OW, as dynamic as he has been, is on the wrong side of 30 for a team needing to rebuild.

For Gage, his age, relationship with Ryan and versatility outweighs anything else. Terry Fontenot can’t afford to take a swing on riskier players, especially in a position so barren. Gage is a proven commodity that can fill in wherever needed throughout his contract. While Gage might not be Smith’s prototypical pass catcher, Smith was able to accommodate a bigger role and bigger production from Gage down the stretch.

This is a deal that should get done.