If you’re a fan of the Jacksonville Jaguars, to grab a team at random, yesterday was an exciting day for you. Nothing will be official until Wednesday at 4 p.m., but that team scooped up free agent after free agent to lucrative deals. The first day was filled with big names landing big deals.
If you’re a fan of the Atlanta Falcons, meanwhile, you got a Jake Matthews extension, Foye Oluokun signing with the Jaguars, plus a rumor that the team might be interested in a reserve linebacker. It was an exceedingly quiet day, to say the least, but that shouldn’t have been unexpected. It did, naturally, cause some angst, because Falcons fans are justifiably tired of this team losing and tired of waiting around for them to do something about it.
One of my biggest pet peeves is people that refuse to grow, learn and evolve. We've had legal tampering for what? 8 years? And yet people in the Year of Thomas Morstead 2022 still freak out cuz their favorite team hasn't signed anyone 8ish hours into it.— Aaron Freeman (@falcfans) March 15, 2022
To the extent that Terry Fontenot and the front office have been willing to tell us anything of note, it’s that they’ll “be patient and find value,” as Fontenot put it recently. They will spend more than last year, but this from Steve Wyche’s latest is not a quote that suggests big spending.
“Last year, when it came to being able to spend, it was closer to a zero on a scale to 10,” GM Terry Fontenot told me. “This year, it’s closer to a three.”
There are rare deals that are relatively inexpensive that are reported on the first day of legal tampering, but they are very rare indeed, and patience and value are not words you associate with those initial signings. Those are for teams with cap space and contention hopes trying to address significant needs with impact players, and are the kind of moves we hope the Falcons are in a strong position to make in a season or two.
These Falcons have a tremendous number of needs without a tremendous amount of money, though they’ve cleared enough between Calvin Ridley’s suspension, Matt Ryan’s restructure and Jake Matthews’ extension to pursue players now and potentially bring back Russell Gage and Cordarrelle Patterson, if they’re on their priority list. We’ll be lucky if we hear any substantive rumors before they actually happen on Wednesday and beyond, and we’ll be doubly lucky if those rumors wind up being about players that will make a real impact for Atlanta in 2022. We’re more likely, if all goes well, to be able to appreciate this team’s best signings in hindsight, as we ultimately did with Patterson. I’d love those Chandler Jones rumors to be true, but we’re probably talking about some less familiar names at the end of the day.
This isn’t me winding up to tell you everything’s going to be great and the Falcons are going to crush free agency, because that’s going to require considerable savviness and this team has so many holes that the odds of this front office plugging them all successfully in free agency are vanishingly slim. The Falcons are going to continue to say that they’re “having their cake and eating it too,” but as I wrote a couple of weeks ago, but realistically it’s going to take an absolutely stellar offseason to put this team anywhere near the NFC’s elite. It’s better to be clear-eyed about that so you can be pleasantly surprised if they pull it off, rather than deeply embittered if they don’t.
This is me telling you that the Falcons actually tried to brace us for them not blowing up the legal tampering period, and aside from what I’m sure is a legitimate bummer on Flowery Branch over losing Foye Oluokun, I don’t think the big ticket free agents that have been signed so far were guys the Falcons simply missed out on. They may not do a single thing of note between now and the official start of free agency, and that’s something we all need to make peace with. Hell, it’s something we should’ve made peace with years ago, given how infrequently Atlanta’s made splashes that were announced before the new league year began.
It’s way more exciting to be a fan of a team that spends on the first day of free agency, but whether those deals work out or not over the long haul is often a much trickier questions. We’ll have to be patient with the Falcons this year and hope that they can truly find the value that they’re promising us, whether that arrives in early reports tomorrow or actual confirmed signings on Friday. We’ll wait because we have to, but we’ll also wait for surprise success this year and, failing that, a time when the Falcons will be the team landing some big fish.