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Falcons free agent profiles: DT Anthony Rush

Rush came in and stabilized nose tackle, consistently delivering quality performances. Will he be back?

Atlanta Falcons v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

Anthony Rush was on the Titans when the Falcons kicked off the 2021 season. In the early going, Atlanta’s run defense was abysmal and they clearly wanted to add to their defensive line, so two days after the Titans cut ties with him, the Falcons were there to snap Rush up.

After spending about a month on the practice squad, Rush debuted in early November and wound up playing in 10 games. He delivered consistent performances playing between 25-45% of the defensive snaps, chipping in on special teams along the way. In a season where the Falcons seemed to be throwing things at the wall and seeing whether they stuck, Rush is an unmitigated success story, a player the Falcons picked up out of free agency and delivered a string of quality games for a team that badly needed them.

Will that 2021 success mean a 2022 return to Atlanta for Rush? Let’s take a closer look.

2021 stats

  • 10 games (6 starts)
  • 2 pressures
  • 19 tackles
  • 1 forced fumble
  • 1 quarterback hit
  • No penalties
  • 56.4 Pro Football Focus grade

The case for signing Rush

All Rush did was come in and help stabilize nose tackle, a position the Falcons had spent the summer and early season trying to solve with a series of signings. Along with others, Rush eventually pushed Tyeler Davison out of the rotation while delivering the kind of space-eating, block-occupying, pocket-pushing presence the Falcons had clearly been seeking all along.

While the Falcons run defense never really got to good, that had a lot more to do with tackling on the back end of the defense than anything Rush, Grady Jarrett, and others were doing up front. The argument for re-signing Rush is simple and clean: He showed he can be a quality nose tackle, he’ll probably be even better next year if the defense improves around him, and there’s very little risk to re-signing a relatively young player on a one-year restricted free agent deal, which is what he’s in line to get. Atlanta spent a long time looking for a player who could do what Rush did in 2021 at the level he did it at, and throwing that away doesn’t make a ton of sense.

The case against signing Rush

The original round tender for Rush is projected to cost the Falcons about $2.2 million. For that kind of cash in what’s likely to be another cap-strapped year in Atlanta, the team would have to feel good about Rush being a starting-caliber nose tackle who could handle 20-30 snaps per game on a weekly basis, probably trending toward the higher end of that range. Rush was a useful player last year, and if this team was swimming in cap space you wouldn’t blink about giving him that kind of money, but they’re obviously not.

Atlanta also has some options this offseason, including adding a young, cost-controlled player through the draft, bringing in DaQuan Jones because Dean Pees knows him well, or snapping up one of a handful of other interesting free agents who might potentially cost a little less. It will likely come down to money, which is the best argument against a re-signing.

The verdict: Re-sign Anthony Rush

If they can make the dollars work, this is still a no-brainer to me. Rush can be tendered safely at the original round level and brought back, making him a relatively affordable piece of the defensive line rotation. He was one of the team’s most reliable defenders up front once he arrived in Atlanta and gives the Falcons, at worst, a quality backup nose tackle, something they spent way too long searching for last year before landing Rush. You’d ideally not spend $2.2 million on that, but it’s a very reasonable price for a quality player.

I expect this one will get done with minimal fuss and we’ll get to see a full season of Rush in 2022. Hopefully he can build on his strong 2021 campaign for a better Falcons defense.