Free agency is a couple of months away, but it’s never too early to start thinking about who the Falcons may re-sign from their own list of impending free agents. In 2023, that list includes many players who had prominent roles in 2022, but are no locks to return given Atlanta’s plans to overhaul the roster with their wealth of cap space.
Here’s a quick and dirty guide to who is coming up for free agency and who we think the Falcons might prioritize signing, based on how they fared in 2022. The upshot is that this team is likely to let many of its free agents go, but they do have a small list of players who could be valuable next year, albeit possibly in reduced roles.
Please note that all ages listed are for the start of the 2023 season.
Unrestricted free agents
FB Keith Smith, 31: 1 carry, 2 yards; 1 reception, 8 yards
WR Olamide Zaccheaus, 25: 40 receptions, 533 yards, 13.3 yards per reception, 3 touchdowns
WR Damiere Byrd, 30: 13 receptions, 268 yards, 20.6 yards per reception, 2 touchdowns
WR KhaDarel Hodge, 28: 13 receptions, 202 yards, 15.5 yards per reception, 1 touchdown
TE MyCole Pruitt, 31: 16 receptions, 150 yards, 9.4 yards per reception, 4 touchdowns
TE Anthony Firkser, 28: 9 receptions, 100 yards, 11.1 yards per reception
RT Kaleb McGary, 28: 17 starts, 86.6 Pro Football Focus grade, 5 penalties, 6 sacks allowed
LG Elijah Wilkinson, 28: 9 starts, 64.3 Pro Football Focus grade, 5 penalties, 2 sacks allowed
T/G Chuma Edoga, 26: 1 start, 77.8 PFF grade, 1 penalty
T Germain Ifedi, 28
G Colby Gossett, 27: 4 starts, 55.3 Pro Football Focus grade, 3 penalties
After a superlative 2022, McGary seems like a good bet to be re-signed. I waffled on that all season, but a strong finish and his work as a run blocker has me convinced the Falcons will use their influx of cap space to bring him back and solidify the line.
Beyond that, there are no must re-signings here, though I expect the team to push to bring back Edoga (because of his versatility and strong work in a limited sample size), Zaccheaus, Pruitt, and perhaps Hodge. The team clearly likes Gossett as a reserve and Wilkinson did fine work at left guard in his nine starts, but his injuries and the team’s wealth of options at guard makes me think he’ll likely land a nice deal elsewhere.
The other big question mark is Smith, a fine fullback and special teams standout who will be 31 when the season begins. With the Falcons signing Clint Ratkovich to a reserve/future deal, they may be tempted to move on and try a younger player, but Smith won’t be overly expensive to re-sign and is a proven, well-rounded player. We’ll see.
If the team re-signs nobody from this list, they’d need to get a new starting left guard (unless they believe in an in-house option), a new starting right tackle, a new fullback, plus wide receiver, tight end, and offensive line depth.
Unrestricted free agents
DL Matt Dickerson, 27: 12 tackles, 1 quarterback hit
DT Vincent Taylor, 29
DT Jaleel Johnson, 28: 10 tackles, 1 quarterback hit
ILB Rashaan Evans, 27: 17 starts, 159 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble
ILB Nick Kwiatkoski, 30: 7 tackles
OLB Lorenzo Carter, 27: 17 starts, 58 tackles, 4 sacks, 1 interception, 1 defensive TD, 1 special teams TD
CB Isaiah Oliver, 26: 5 starts, 37 tackles, 1 sack, 1 interception, 2 quarterback hits
CB Mike Ford, 27: 2 starts, 15 tackles, 1 quarterback hit
CB Rashad Fenton, 26: 4 tackles
S Erik Harris, 33: 1 start, 13 tackles
Restricted free agents
DL Abdullah Anderson, 27: 8 starts, 40 tackles, 1 quarterback hit
Again, not a long list of players the Falcons must re-sign. Anderson is a no-brainer given that he’s an affordable re-signing as a restricted free agent and held his own when pressed into action as a starter. With Grady Jarrett, Ta’Quon Graham, and Timothy Horne under contract, I’d imagine you’d only see one of the other reserve options brought back with the Falcons swinging for more talent along the defensive front.
At linebacker, with Dean Pees leaving it’s not a lock that Evans will be back, though he was solid enough to think bringing him back to compete for a starting role would be wise. Ditto Lorenzo Carter, who was a quality addition to the defense and a durable one who could help out in a slightly reduced role for an outside linebacker group that needs quality more than quantity.
Finally, Oliver should be a priority, but again with Pees leaving it’s not 100% clear whether he will be. When given the chance to play extensive snaps, he’s played very well the last couple of years, and he’s still young enough to have several good years ahead of him.
The Falcons may also consider bringing back Ford and Harris for their respective special teams values, though neither will likely sniff the field on defense after upgrades.
Unrestricted free agents
P Bradley Pinion, 29: 62 punts, 45.9 yards per punt, 37.1% inside the 20; 80 kickoffs, 64.3 yards per kickoff, 73.8% touchback rate
LS Beau Brinkley, 33
Exclusive rights free agent
LS Liam McCullough, 26
There’s a no-brainer signing here and a likely one. Beau Brinkley won’t be returning after hitting injured reserve, but as an affordable exclusive rights free agent, Liam McCullough certainly will. He was a rock solid long snapper last year, and if he continues his fine work in 2023, he could be in Atlanta for a decade given his age. He’ll be back.
Pinion will also likely be back. He wasn’t a superlative punter, but he was a good one on balance and handled kickoffs exclusively for Atlanta. The combination of that quality work and his relative affordability makes Pinion a strong candidate to return for the Falcons, who haven’t had any continuity since cutting ties with Matt Bosher.
Who would you re-sign from this list of free agents?