The team’s roster looks a lot better than it did pre-draft, but it’s still one of the most unproven in the NFL, and adding some veterans can help stabilize some of the uncertainty and youth the Falcons currently most work through. With Grady Jarrett signing a massive extension, his 2022 cap hit has lowered quite a bit, and it’s opened up some cap space if the team wants to use it. With $15 million open and additional ways to create cap if needed, the team can add a few guys this summer if it so chooses.
The team isn’t needing of veterans at every position right now, but there are quite a few spots on the roster that could benefit from having added experience. Let’s take a look at some names that would make sense, scheme-wise and financially.
A disclaimer is in order here. There are some good players not on this list, but there are two things the Falcons seem to prioritize in their free agents: players in their 20s who might need a change of scenery, or players they’ve got prior connections to from previous organizations.
DT Eddie Goldman
Goldman would make a lot of sense for the Falcons. The team needs depth on its defensive line, and Goldman is known for his run-stuffing ability and is a former draft pick by Ryan Pace, the ex-Bears GM who knows Goldman well. The former Bear has had a down spell over the past season or two, but he’s only 28 and the team needs depth at nose tackle.
Goldman could split reps with Anthony Rush and Vincent Taylor and make the team sleep a little easier at night that its run defense will have big bodies up front to help navigate a division with solid rushing attacks. Adding Goldman on a one-year deal almost makes too much sense.
DE Akiem Hicks
Hicks is another very logical choice on the list. Hicks was drafted in New Orleans when Terry Fontenot and Ryan Pace were members of the front office, and he played in Chicago when Pace was the GM. He fits the 3-4 scheme most likely to be used under Dean Pees, and he’d be entering a rotation where he wouldn’t necessarily have to take major snaps.
He’s struggled with injuries some as he’s gotten older and has missed time, but in Atlanta, he could afford to be a piece in a cog, rather than a consistent focal point. A one-year deal with Hicks might, like Goldman, make a lot of sense for Atlanta. He’d certainly upgrade the talent level and interior pass rush.
RB Tarik Cohen
Bear down, am I right? Cohen is a versatile running back whose electric start was slowed by an ACL injury in 2020 that he’s never quite recovered from. It seems like 2022 might be the time he’s ready to return, and again, he’s got a few key connections to this team: Pace drafted him, and Falcons offensive coordinator Dave Ragone and quarterback coach Charles London coached him in Chicago.
If Cohen is healthy, he might be a smart addition to add some veteran competition to the running back room. Arthur Smith would be able to find ways to use him, even in a fairly crowded backfield.
G Erick Flowers/Quinton Spain
Flowers and Spain don’t have too many connections to the Falcons (Spain and Smith overlapped for a few years in Tennessee from 2015-18), but they both fill a vital need on this roster: veteran competition at left guard for Jalen Mayfield and Justin Shaffer.
It’s possible the team wants to toss those two out to compete and see what happens, but Flowers and Spain are guards who both fit Smith’s scheme and could, at worst, be viable backups. It seems, judging by the offseason, the team wants Mayfield to rise to the occasion, but if it is really wanting a safe fallback, either could be a good fit. Spain is the more proven and familiar player, so he’d be the likeliest option.
P Michael Palardy
Palardy has been a solid punter throughout his career, and he’s probably the best free agent on the market right now not named Dustin Colquitt (who is nearing 40 and was cut by the Falcons last year in favor of Thomas Morstead). If the Falcons don’t want to go into the offseason with the punting battle coming down to Dom Maggio and an undrafted free agent in Seth Vernon, Palardy would be worth bringing into training camp.
He’d probably win the job unless Maggio or Vernon catches fire this summer.
DE/OLB Pernell McPhee
McPhee is the veteran rushing depth the team desperately needs with the room looking very young, and he’s got hopefully some gas left in the tank. If he still wants to play, he could reunite with Pees and provide a little added juice to the rushing rotation and veteran leadership to an increasingly young team.
An outside rushing group of McPhee, Lorenzo Carter, Arnold Ebiketie, Adetokunbo Ogundeji and DeAngelo Malone would be the best in Atlanta in years, at least on paper.
DE/OLB Trey Flowers
Flowers signed a huge deal with Detroit he sadly was never able to live up to, but he’s got the versatility and youth the team loves in its free agents. At 28 years old and coming off a pair of down seasons, Flowers would presumably love the chance to make a big splash on a one-year deal and cash in on one more big contract.
Perhaps he could come down to Atlanta and rebuild his career with a team that needs all the help it can get on its defensive front?
CB Fabian Moreau
Moreau played admirably, if not consistently, for the Falcons last fall, and if the team gets nervous about its cornerback room’s depth this summer, it could consider bringing Moreau back to perhaps fill in on the depth chart if injury strikes or the team winds up dissatisfied with its depth.
It’s not a guarantee by any means, but keep Moreau’s name in the back of your head. It’s plausible he could be back, and after starting all last year
Three guys for my personal wish list
C J.C. Tretter
Tretter is a bona fide starter at center, and his exit from Cleveland was a bit of a surprise. He’s going to latch on to a team before training camp, and if the Falcons don’t feel great about either Matt Hennessy or Drew Dalman, they should call Tretter’s agent ASAP. He might want to go to a team that’s further down the line than Atlanta, but if the team just wants a surefire starting center, Tretter can keep either Marcus Mariota or Desmond Ridder upright and absolutely help in the run game.
WR Will Fuller
Fuller’s blazing speed is his best attribute, and the Falcons wouldn’t hurt for having a receiver like him on the roster. He’s tall, fast and still pretty young, and would likely be affordable as he tries to find the best version of himself from his days in Houston.
He’s absolutely the sort of receiver that could add versatility to the receiving room, and fits the mold for what this regime seems to like in a free agent. It’d be fun to see him in this offense, and the hope would be that he would be healthy enough to contribute a full season of blazing speed to a receiving corps lacking it.
DE Jerry Hughes
I’d love to have any piece of that Buffalo Bills defense, and even though Hughes is up there in age, he’s still a really solid edge rusher that could help the Falcons get after the quarterback.
I’ve been a fan of Hughes for some time, and it’d be fun to see him play on this Falcons defense. Might as well shoot for the stars while you can, right?