Just like a college student who is digging up pennies in the crevice of the car to scrounge up enough change for a batch of midnight Nacho Cheese Doritos Locos Tacos, the Atlanta Falcons are currently facing yet another offseason without financial abundance.
The team has roughly negative $6 million in cap space at the moment, but as our Kevin Knight notes, they’ve got some avenues to free up enough space to be at least somewhat active in March.
The Falcons can’t afford to sit on their hands and fully rely on the draft because they’ve got a veteran quarterback who needs a team that can perform as soon as possible and a roster with too many holes and not enough draft picks to solve them. While the team largely spent time in the bargain bin last spring, they may have to be a little more aggressive this time out. After all, one of the things general manager Terry Fontenot is known for after his time with the Saints is making smart evaluations on free agents who don’t break the bank.
Are those players out there? You bet. It helps when they have connections to the front office, but any talent will do these days with a roster that needs a good bit of it. Let’s look around for free agents that might not be super expensive and would be promising signings, starting with offense.
TE Anthony Firkser
The pride of Harvard, Firkser should be considered a legitimate possibility for the Falcons this offseason. He’s a veteran of the Arthur Smith offense, with Smith having been his position coach in 2018 and his offensive coordinator in 2019 and 2020. Firkser grew into a stealthy weapon under Smith’s watch, hitting his career yardage high in 2020 with 387 yards. In the 2020 Titans offense, Jonnu Smith drew a lot of coverage, allowing for Firkser to slip out unnoticed and gash opposing defenses who weren’t expecting him to go deep.
He was the primary pass catching tight end Tennessee in 2021 and didn’t have quite the same impact, but if that’s related to Arthur Smith leaving it certainly makes sense for him to reunite with his old coach in Atlanta and back up Kyle Pitts. Perhaps he and Smith could reconnect and give the Falcons a new dimension in the passing game.
RB J.D. McKissic
With 2021 breakout running back Cordarrelle Patterson’s status in flux as he seeks a new contract, the team might could corral a familiar name with a connection to the new front office. 2016 undrafted Falcons standout J.D. McKissic has established himself as a reliable member of any running back committee. He possesses a similar skillset to Patterson in that he’s a threat on the ground and in the passing game, even if he’s not quite the bruiser Patterson proved to be. In 2021, McKissic amassed 212 yards and two touchdowns on the ground and 397 yards and two touchdowns in the passing game.
While it’ll be hard for any player to do exactly what Patterson did in 2021, McKissic’s versatility could make him an interesting addition, especially if Patterson walks. Falcons VP of Player Personnel Kyle Smith spent 2020 watching McKissic help Washington while both were up near D.C., so maybe Kyle Smith could put in a good word for Arthur Smith, who could help McKissic see a similar production uptick like Patterson saw last fall?
WR Kalif Raymond
Another former Smith guy, wide receiver Kalif Raymond is coming off a career season in Detroit with 576 yards and four touchdowns as one of the Lions’ receivers. He didn’t nearly have that in Smith’s Tennessee offense, which Raymond was a part of in 2019 and 2020, but it does make you wonder if he’d be someone the former Titans coach would love to reunite with.
Smith used him to great effect in Tennessee in a minimal role, with the speedster averaging around 19-20 yards a reception on his 18 catches during those two years. With Raymond a free agent and the Falcons perhaps hitting the reset button on its entire receiver room (Calvin Ridley the subject of trade talk, Russell Gage is a free agent), adding someone like Raymond to help supplant depth might be a wise decision.
If he did this well as a Lion last year, it’s hard not to imagine he might be ready for a greater role, and he could fill the third receiver role semi-affordably if Gage leaves. Spotrac estimates a new contract would be $2.9 million a year.
G/C Lucas Patrick
Patrick has been a feel-good story for the Green Bay Packers, an undrafted guy out of Duke in 2016 who worked his way into the starting lineup in 2020. He’s got the flexibility teams love in offensive linemen, having played center and guard during his time in the league. Having played for Matt LaFleur the past few years, he’s got some familiarity with the Smith offense and he’s exactly the type of free agent the Falcons need to consider going into 2022. Having gone to high school in Tennessee, Atlanta would put him closer to home.
Patrick might not be a Pro Bowler just yet, but he does give a team like Atlanta a veteran presence who can start at multiple positions and who offers much more upside than a journeyman like Josh Andrews did last year. The Falcons could have Patrick compete at left guard and center, with both of those spots very much up for grabs. Though, he could also serve as valuable depth should he lose both contests. Atlanta needs to be able to give guys like Jalen Mayfield, Matt Hennessy and Drew Dalman meaningful chances to start in 2022 with the investment that has been put in them, but having a guy like Patrick to push them and give you a very solid failsafe should none of those guys show any growth is vital.
He’s hopefully not going to break the bank, but if he starts in the fall, the Falcons’ offensive line is already better.
T David Quessenberry
Another Art connection for you, but this is one who would push Kaleb McGary. While McGary isn’t terrible by any means, he’s not quite lived up to his draft status and is unlikely to see his fifth-year option picked up by the new regime. Quessenberry has blossomed with the Titans since signing there in 2018 and played admirably at right tackle for the team this past fall. He’s not going to be a worldbeater, but he’s at worst an excellent swing tackle and at best someone who could push McGary for the job and give the team someone who the head coach is familiar with who could hold down the spot for the next few seasons, perhaps.
The catch here is competition. McGary isn’t so bad that you bench him immediately, but he is at the point in his contract where the team really does need to try and give him meaningful competition. Matt Gono was likely to play that role last year, but injury made it not so. Quessenberry could come in on a two-year, cap sensible deal and compete with McGary for the right tackle spot. If he wins, the team could try and trade McGary before the season or have him as one of the NFL’s better swing tackles. A plus: Quessenberry can play guard in a pinch should you need him.
Be sure to check back in next week for five defenders that would make financial and football sense for these cash-strapped Falcons.