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What’s next for the Falcons after settling on their initial 53 man roster?

Atlanta has moves to make, and we’ll soon know just what they are.

Atlanta Falcons v Miami Dolphins Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

As Scott Bair with the Falcons put it earlier today, the Falcons are a team in transition. Regardless of how optimistic you are about this team in 2022, the folks in charge of getting Atlanta back to greatness know very well that they’re not there yet, and the roster is far from immutable. Atlanta’s brass, from Terry Fontenot to Arthur Smith, has talked repeatedly about the roster changing because they want us to know it’s going to. That means the 53 man roster that just was finalized is far from final, and the changes could be significant and will arrive swiftly.

What is next for the Falcons?

Injured reserve, possibly

There are clues that John FitzPatrick and Marlon Davidson are headed to injured reserve, which would free up a couple of roster spots that might go to new additions or familiar faces like Anthony Firkser. Both have been injured—FitzPatrick did not practice last week, we knew Davidson would miss “at least” preseason—and both were eyebrow-raising additions to the roster in a vacuum.

For Davidson, that’s owing to injury, as a man who cannot seem to get a break on that front has once again missed time. For FitzPatrick, it’s because Anthony Firkser and MyCole Pruitt had more playing time and played well.

That’s speculation until we see it in action, but it’s worth a quick note. Regardless of whether Davidson and FitzPatrick stay, it seems likely Atlanta will be active in scouring the waiver wire and then free agency for additions, and then they’ll be building the practice squad.

Waiver claims

Matt Chambers will have an article in the morning about the team’s placement in the waiver order, but suffice to say it’s pretty early, so they’ll have a good shot at snagging any players they really want. As Falcons vice president of player personnel Kyle Smith said back in late July, Atlanta’s scouting apparatus and front office have been taking a look at potential roster cuts from other teams for a while now in case good players shake loose. If someone the team loves has, they can put in a claim and actually have enough cap space to absorb a decent-sized contract.

“You’re taking about all of the - what we call - bubble guys that may have a chance to get cut,” Smith said. “We’re evaluating them.”

It would shock me if the Falcons did not at least try to claim someone, whether it’s former free agent target Kemoko Turay or a project offensive lineman with upside like former Raiders first-rounder Alex Leatherwood. They’re in a favorable position to do so and they’ve put in the time scouting potential options, and it seems unlikely in the extreme that nobody they like was waived earlier today.

That in turn may have an impact on the next note.

The practice squad

Atlanta has a ton of formerly in-house candidates to fill practice squad spots. Frank Darby, Caleb Huntley, Teez Tabor, MyCole Pruitt, and several others did enough this summer to extend their stay in Atlanta, and I don’t think the team selected and then soured on Justin Shaffer in the span of a few months. Chances are at least half and perhaps as much as 90% of the practice squad will be filled with familiar faces.

Not all, though. Atlanta had luck scooping up a few options from other teams last year both after cuts and later on, getting current starter Anthony Rush and quality reserves like Quinton Bell along the way. If they don’t put in a claim on a particular player they like and don’t want to use up a roster spot right away, they can still import a free agent via the practice squad and have them work their way up to the roster. I expect there will be at least a couple of players who fit the bill.

There are also players currently on the roster who figure to end up on the practice squad sooner than later. This team has three undrafted free agents (Jared Bernhardt, Timothy Horne, and Nate Landman) and a couple of surprise additions like Bell and Mike Ford who are great stories and promising players, but also would seem to be situated at the very bottom of the roster. If Atlanta adds players from other teams, someone has to go, and stashing players like Landman and Horne in the initial 53 man roster would seem to increase your chances of sneaking them through to the practice squad in a couple of days if you’re replacing them with veterans. Chances are when the team goes to take the field against the Saints, they’ll have fewer UDFAs taking up roster spots, but any of them who are cut are virtually guaranteed to go to the practice squad instead.

It’s going to be a lively couple of days for the Falcons, who showed last year that they’re never truly done tinkering with the roster. Building a quality practice squad and adding more talent via waivers and free agency is the best way to ensure they have the depth to weather the season, and that process has already begun.