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Falcons 2022 free agent targets: Outside linebacker/edge rushers

The Falcons need to add help at outside linebacker in the worst way, and almost certainly will dip into free agency to do so.

NFL: OCT 13 Falcons at Cardinals Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

For all intents and purposes, the Falcons have no edge rushers. Dante Fowler is leaving, Steven Means is a free agent, Brandon Copeland is a free agent, and James Vaughters is also a free agent. Adetokunbo Ogundeji may well turn out to be a capable pass rusher and the “bellcow” coaches envision him to be, but even if that happens in 2022, the Falcons are short on bodies.

They’ll address that a variety of ways, and I’d be vexed if they left the offseason without drafting at least one high-upside player. Their approach is still likely to lean heavily on free agency, and it’s worth looking at some of the potential targets for them in this upcoming free agency class. As always, if I missed your favorite guy, toss him out in the comments.

High-end starters

  • Chandler Jones, 32
  • Von Miller, 33
  • Randy Gregory, 29
  • Haason Reddick, 27
  • Harold Landry, 26
  • Derek Barnett, 26

Landry probably makes the most sense as a splash signing, as he’s young, coming off a couple of terrific seasons, and played for Dean Pees in the past. If you’re really going to pony up some cash—and the Falcons would have to—Landry would be the player you’d logically connect to this team.

I’d be extremely happy with Barnett, too. He’s more experienced with his hand in the dirt from his time in Philadelphia, but he’s a well-rounded player who would boost the run defense and the pass rush alike.

Reddick is intriguing on a couple of levels. He’s managed 23.5 sacks over the past two seasons and is still young, which would make him a strong option on its own, but signing him would also hurt a divisional rival because he is coming off a great season in Carolina.

Jones and Miller are great players entering the twilight years of their respective careers, but obviously signing either one would give this team an immeasurable boost to their pass rush. I’m of the opinion that the best approach for this team is to add multiple mid-tier options and draft someone, but if they think Ogundeji, a draft pick, and Means/Copeland plus a top-tier free agent addition will get the job done, obviously I’m not going to complain about Chandler Jones or Von Miller. It just feels unlikely.

Stopgap starters/high-end reserves

  • Dante Fowler, 27
  • Steven Means, 31
  • Arden Key, 26
  • Melvin Ingram, 33
  • Lorenzo Carter, 26
  • Charles Harris, 27
  • Efe Obada, 30
  • Jerry Hughes, 33
  • Justin Houston, 33
  • Jason Pierre-Paul, 33
  • Nicholas Morrow, 27
  • Takk McKinley, 26
  • Kyler Fackrell, 30
  • Alex Okafor, 30
  • Ryan Kerrigan, 33

Fowler could be back if his stock is dented enough and the team is interested in bringing him back, but at this point I’d expect him to try to land elsewhere. On a terrific defense, he can be a strong option, but despite some impressive stretches he largely foundered along with the rest of this Falcons D.

Means might be back because Dean Pees loves him for his reliability, durability and locker room presence. If the Falcons go into 2021 with Means out-snapping everyone else in the outside linebacker rotation, it’s a sign that this offseason has gone poorly, to put it mildly.

Carter and Key are both reasonably young and coming off their finest NFL seasons yet, which will drive up their price but also makes them appealing additions to this team.

Harris may wind up getting a big deal fresh off a 7.5 sack campaign, but I thought he had good moments for Atlanta in 2020 and would welcome him back with open arms as a prominent piece of this rotation.

Morrow is coming off a major injury, but at just 27 years old and coming off three sacks in 14 games, he’d be an interesting addition to what we know will be a rebuilt group.

Everyone else on this list is either older, a part-time player, or both, which isn’t to say they wouldn’t prove to be an upgrade for the Falcons. Almost anyone would be, but I’m particularly partial to Justin Houston because he’s still good and would be a strong mentor for Ogundeji and any young pass rushers the team might add. Kerrigan might also be a consideration with his ties to former Washington and current Atlanta personnel executive Kyle Smith.

Reserves/special teamers

  • Brandon Copeland, 30
  • Jordan Evans, 26
  • Pernell McPhee, 33
  • Brennan Scarlett, 28
  • Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, 27

McPhee has ties to Pees and is in the deep twilight of his career, but he’s still a useful veteran presence. Copeland, who recently indicated he played all year with an injury, could be back affordably and was a useful player throughout the season. He feels like an obvious re-signing.

Okoronkwo is interesting because he’s reasonably young, is coming off a quietly quality season as a pass rusher in a very part-time role, and plays special teams.