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Falcons make three moves ahead of busiest NFL trade deadline in history

Atlanta trades a pair of players away and adds cornerback help.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons Training Camp Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Falcons had a decision to make at the NFL trade deadline. Were they going to be buyers, trying to bolster their chances of winning the NFC South for the first time in a very long while? Or would they be sellers, recognizing that this team isn’t ready to make any sort of deep run?

In the end, they did what the Falcons have often done with Terry Fontenot at the helm and mostly elected to stay the course, trading two players away and acquiring one. This has been a patient, pain-staking process for an Atlanta team tasked with getting out from under a series of onerous contracts, and while they’re 4-4 and in a prime position to compete in the division, the organization still has it eyes on 2023.

That said, they were one of the busiest teams on the busiest trade deadline day ever.

It’ll take a little while for us to get a handle on all the draft compensation updates from today, but Atlanta’s three moves were as follows.

Trading Calvin Ridley

Atlanta elected to move Ridley to the Jaguars for conditional picks. With Ridley suspended for the entire 2022 season, the Falcons set themselves up to get at least a 2023 6th and 2024 4th round pick even if the talented wide receiver never plays another down. If he does play and is reinstated in a timely fashion, and the Jaguars choose to extend him, Atlanta could get back a 2023 5th round pick and 2024 2nd round pick.

For a player they clearly were shopping in the spring and can’t play until at least next season, this seems like a fair return. Atlanta also freed up $11+ million for 2023, when they clearly intend to sink a ton of money into the upcoming free agent class and re-sign their best players.

Trading for Rashad Fenton

Atlanta has struggled in the secondary in back-to-back weeks, and injury is a major reason why. Casey Hayward is gone for at least the next couple of weeks, and A.J. Terrell is not a lock to return Sunday against the Chargers. Faced with that fact, and knowing that Darren Hall and Cornell Armstrong are battling but are not necessarily excelling, the Falcons swapped a seventh round pick to the Chiefs for Fenton.

An experienced corner, Fenton was quite good in eight starts a year ago for Kansas City but had struggled to open 2022, ultimately losing his starting job after five weeks. The Falcons will hope he can regain his 2021 form and contribute as a major factor right away given their woes in coverage, but at worst he figures to be a capable reserve for a team starved for help. We’ll see where he slots in, but the front office clearly felt the status quo at cornerback was not sustainable.

Trading Dean Marlowe

A 2022 free agent, Marlowe was signed to provide safety depth and special teams help. Through the first several weeks of the season, he occasionally rotated in for Jaylinn Hawkins and was one of the team’s core special teamers, so all seemed to be well.

That blew up a bit last week, with Marlowe struggling as a full-time starter and ultimately serving as the (at least partially justified) scapegoat for the 62 year touchdown bomb to D.J. Moore, a play where Marlowe seemed to misread the situation and fail to cover Moore deep. That may very well have helped expedite his exit from the team.

He’ll provide the same solid depth for the Bills, who were clearly looking to add help, but it does leave the Falcons down a depth piece and core special teamer even if he had that huge miscue as a starter. As Aaron Freeman noted, Jovante Moffatt is likely to fill in over the short-term, but the Falcons may well choose to play Isaiah Oliver and Mike Ford some at safety with Fenton on board, especially once A.J. Terrell is healthy.

The net impact here is that the Falcons gained a couple of draft picks, lost a special teams piece and reserve safety, and added cornerback help. Those are not major moves on an earth-shaking day in the NFL, but they give Atlanta a little short-term help at a very low cost while continuing to set them up to spend big and have a productive draft this coming offseason.

That has, with the exception of one or two big surprises, been the front office’s modus operandi thus far in Atlanta. The Falcons are unexpectedly competitive in 2022 and may continue to be, but this team is focused on being one of the NFC’s brightest lights in 2023 and beyond, and everything that happened today still points toward that outcome.