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Free agent ST specialists the Falcons may target in 2022

Who’s out there at kicker, punter, returner and long snapper?

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Dallas Cowboys Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s kick off a look at outside free agents the team may want to target with some specialists on special teams.

We’ll start here in part because the team doesn’t really have any difficult decisions here, and thus cooking up these lists felt relatively low-pressure. Younghoe Koo is a restricted free agent and one of the best kickers in football, and he ought to be re-signed. Thomas Morstead did an excellent job stepping in at punter midway through the season, and he ought to be re-signed. Josh Harris just made the Associated Press’s All-Pro team and is one of the best long snappers in football, so he ought to be re-signed. There, easy.

Of course, there’s always the potential for the Falcons to decide they can pinch a penny or prefer another target and ultimately surprise us, with that being much more likely at punter and long snapper than kicker. We’ll take a closer look in this article at who is out there in case Atlanta decides to mix things up, no matter how ill-advised that might seem.

We’re not going to spend much time on returner here. Avery Williams had both roles locked down by the time the season ended and figures to keep them, though a Cordarrelle Patterson re-signing would at least mean an open competition for the kick returner job. In addition, the team has Austin Trammell and Corey Ballentine here on reserve/future contracts, and both have return experience. I don’t expect the Falcons to target free agents based on whether they can handle these roles, is what I’m getting at.

All listed ages are as of the start of the 2022 season, by the by.

Kicker

  • Younghoe Koo, 27, 93.1% field goals, 100% extra points (RFA)
  • Dustin Hopkins, 31, 88.2% field goals, 91% extra points
  • Zane Gonzalez, 27, 90.9% field goals, 96% extra points
  • Eddy Piniero, 26, 100% field goals (8 tries), 90% extra points
  • Joey Slye, 26, 92% field goals, 82% extra points
  • Greg Joseph, 27, 86.8% field goals, 100% extra points
  • Mike Badgley, 26, 81.% field goals, 98% extra points

The Falcons need to re-sign Younghoe Koo. End of story.

If, by some cosmic happenstance or dumb decision the Falcons do not re-sign Koo, they do have some decent young kickers they could kick the tires on. Gonzalez has swung wildly between inept years and good ones, but has delivered more than he’s whiffed the past three seasons. Piniero has done a fine job wherever he’s landed but has struggled to find a consistent job to this point. Slye has a great leg but is troublingly inconsistent on extra points, Joseph is solid and settled in nicely in Minnesota this past season, and Badgley misses too many field goals to be more than an option of last resort for a team at this point.

Hopkins is older but has generally been a reliable kicker and would be a decent one-year stopgap in the extremely unlikely event that the Falcons do not re-sign Younghoe Koo. Again, though, this is a list that’s here because of due diligence more than anything else.

Punter

  • Andy Lee, 39, 49.0 yards per punt
  • Bryan Anger, 33, 48.4 yards per punt
  • Thomas Morstead, 36, 47.2 yards per punt
  • Cory Bojorquez, 25, 46.5 yards per punt
  • Kevin Huber, 36, 46.4 yards per punt
  • Michael Palardy, 29, 44.8 yards per punt
  • Jack Fox, 25, 49.92 yards per punt (ERFA)

There’s actually a good crop of punters hitting free agency this spring, including a potential long-term option.

Morstead is the logical re-signing because we know how good he is and he thrived in his half-season in Atlanta, winning NFC Special Teams Player of the Month and consistently pinning offenses deep in their own territory. I’d expect him to be the team’s priority.

If not, they could explore short-term options like Lee, Anger, or Huber, all of whom are coming off fine years and should be able to offer you a quality season in 2022. The Falcons should keep a close eye on the Lions in case they’re foolish enough to let Jack Fox walk—they won’t be, but it never hurts to stare longingly in that direction—but that’ll be a longshot. They should probably sniff around Bojorquez regardless of their plans, given that he is very young, has a booming leg, and could be a multi-year solve for a position that has been deeply unsettled since the Falcons cut ties with the great Matt Bosher.

Long snapper

  • Josh Harris, 33, 2nd Team All-Pro
  • Clark Harris, 37
  • Jon Weeks, 36
  • Matt Overton, 36
  • Jake McQuaide, 34
  • Morgan Cox, 36
  • J.J. Jansen, 36
  • Patrick Scales, 34
  • Aaron Brewer, 31

Josh Harris is a leader, an essential man for this team’s special teams, and is coming off a year where he was named a 2nd-Team All-Pro. He’s also one of the youngest long snappers set to hit the open market, and the Falcons should not seriously consider letting him get there.

Long snapping is not a young man’s game on balance, with most teams grabbing ahold of a reliable long snapper and sticking with him as long as possible. I can’t imagine the Falcons will be moving on from Harris, but there are some reliable options to pursue on the list above if they don’t, with Clark Harris being a noteworthy ironman and quality long snapper.