Atlanta may well make their inside linebacker decisions anti-climactic. They could simply re-sign Foye Oluokun, tinker with Deion Jones’ contract, and roll into 2022 with Oluokun, Jones, Mykal Walker and Dorian Etheridge at the position. They could also blow this thing up by not bringing back Oluokun, trading Jones, and moving forward with Walker and multiple new additions.
That uncertainty makes this an interesting position to follow in the offseason, and if the Falcons make any kind of drastic move here, they may well explore free agency to add help. Let’s take a closer look at who’s out there and who might appeal to Atlanta if they do decide to dip their toes into the free agent waters at the position, which you’ll see is largely a list of flawed but interesting players.
As always, if I miss one of your favorites, add ‘em in the comments.
- Foye Oluokun, 26
- Dont’a Hightower, 32
- Anthony Walker Jr., 26
- Ja’whaun Bentley, 26
I think some would quibble with the idea that Oluokun is a high-end starter, but the reality is he’s the NFL tackles leader, a rising young player and is someone I firmly believe can be that guy sooner than later. The Falcons will likely prioritize keeping him after a successful 2021, but we just don’t know if they’ll be able to yet.
If not, they could look for a splash elsewhere. Hightower isn’t coming off the best season of his career and is getting up there, age-wise, but remains a rock solid player at worst and is only one year removed from a Pro Bowl effort. Walker Jr. is young and talented and would be an intriguing addition, but if the Falcons are really going to pony up and aren’t keeping Oluokun, Bentley is the player I’d target. He’s coming off a very good season in New England and isn’t even turning 26 until the season.
This is not the free agent class you want to have to dip into if you’re looking for a top-flight starter, though, which is part of the reason the Falcons should push hard to keep Oluokun in-house.
Stopgap starters/high-level reserves
- Jayon Brown, 27
- Jarrad Davis, 27
- Kwon Alexander, 27
- Christian Kirksey, 29
- Reggie Ragland, 28
- Alec Ogletree, 30
- Kenny Young, 27
- Oren Burks, 27
- Jermaine Carter, 27
- Micah Kiser, 27
Brown has ties to Dean Pees, is coming off back-to-back quieter seasons, and is still young and talented. If Jones or Oloukun are leaving, Brown could be a solid addition on a prove-it deal that would allow him to bounce back and cash in heading into his age-28 season.
There are a lot of players on this list I’d be interested in as bounceback candidates after so-so seasons. Burks, Kiser, Carter and Davis, in particular, are fresh off forgettable efforts but remain young enough and talented enough to deliver value to a team willing to work with them. Given that Kiser had a nice season in 2020 and is a nice buy-low opportunity, I’d lean toward targeting him.
- Daren Bates, 31
- Neville Hewitt, 29
- Harvey Langi, 29
- Nick Dzubnar, 30
- Ezekiel Turner, 26
- B.J. Bello, 27
- Joel Iyiegbuniwe, 26
- Jon Bostic, 31
Bates is an elite special teamer the Falcons sought out to help stabilize their coverage teams, and he could well be back given his value there. He almost never plays on defense, however, so the Falcons wouldn’t be banking on him to be a top backup at the position.
Most of the guys on this list are primarily special teamers, meaning the Falcons would be looking them more as a replacement for Dorian Etheridge or Bates than anyone the team would be counting on for defensive snaps in a regular season game.