After the draft is over, as I noted yesterday, the Falcons will need to make a move or two to free up cap space. That will allow them to sign their draft class, but it will also give them a little cash on hand to chase free agents who can help them fill any remaining roster holes after they put together their 2022 draft class.
While there are very few names that are going to knock your socks off out there on the open market, there are plenty of quality players, including ones this Falcons team should be able to fit into the budget post-Grady Jarrett extension, Deion Jones trade, or both. Even with nine picks, I wouldn’t expect the Falcons to address every position where they’re pretty shaky if they truly try to stick to drafting the best player available with a given pick rather than switch to addressing needs.
So who is out there who might be a good fit for Atlanta and won’t break the bank? Let’s take a look a few players who might land in Atlanta if they don’t find a team until after the draft.
DT Akiem Hicks
The dots connect themselves here. Hicks would have known Terry Fontenot and Ryan Pace at least a little from their shared time in New Orleans, and then Pace lured him to Chicago in 2016, where he’s been playing ever since. Hicks is no longer young by NFL defensive tackle standards, but he’s still a terrific player who somehow hasn’t found a home yet. If the price is right and the Falcons don’t make major additions to their defensive line via free agency, Hicks would be an extremely logical fit.
Spotrac has his market value at $5.5 million, and if the Falcons make a big move with Jarrett or Jones to free up space, they could easily carve out enough to add him.
OL Quinton Spain
If the Falcons want a ready-made competitor for Jalen Mayfield, or someone who should be expected to supplant him entirely, Spain would be a sensible choice. A full-time starter at guard last year for the Bengals, Spain was one of the team’s best linemen—and actually good, in case that bar I’m talking about clearing seems pretty low—and has extensive starting experience at left guard. He also knows Arthur Smith from their shared time in Tennessee from 2015-2018.
The Falcons may well want to give Mayfield first crack at the starting job after throwing him to the wolves in 2021, but Spain is the most logical option if they’re not convinced he’s going to take a big step forward.
OL Nick Easton
Easton was signed as a Saints free agent back in 2019, and Terry Fontenot likely had a significant hand in that signing given his position in pro personnel with New Orleans. A part-time starter his first two years with the Saints before being released in February 2021 after suffering an injury, Easton has experience playing both guard spots and center, and after not playing at all in 2021 would figure to be an affordable and versatile addition to a Falcons interior offensive line still lacking depth. At worst, he can credibly back up multiple positions, but the Falcons could sign him to push Jalen Mayfield or Matt Hennessy.
WR Allen Hurns
This may seem like a bit of a stretch because Hurns has not played in two full seasons. He opted out of 2020 owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, and last year he hit injured reserve in August and missed the year.
If healthy, Hurns would be another upside option for a receiving corps without a lot of proven playmakers. He’s an all-around quality player when healthy who won’t break the bank and would add more experience to the group.
Budget Pass Rushers Galore
The Falcons could obviously still stand to add edge rushers to the mix. Lorenzo Carter and Adetokunbo Ogundeji are going to be carrying the load for this team if Atlanta doesn’t add high-upside options via the draft, and even if they somehow snag someone like Kayvox Thibodeaux or Jermaine Johnson at No. 8, you could stand to bolster this group.
The market is flooded with guys who aren’t great but add a little bit of pass rushing punch and upside to the mix. Carl Nassib was a six sack option in 2018 and 2019 with larger roles before becoming more of a reserve the last couple of seasons, Melvin Ingram is still a quality option at 32 years old, Takk McKinley is still young and the regime that got sick of him is gone, Benson Mayowa consistently delivers solid seasons and is still just 30, and hell, we know Dean Pees loves Pernell McPhee. There are many more players on this list, expensive and inexpensive, who might be lured to Atlanta once they have some cap space.
Chances are unless the Falcons double dip in the draft, they’ll look to add another affordable pass rusher to the mix in May. They won’t lack for options.