There’s going to be a robust inside linebacker market in free agency this spring, one the Falcons may well dip into to bolster a position in flux. It just may not be a priority position, because the team has 2022 pick Troy Andersen, a still-young Mykal Walker, and potentially Rashaan Evans again.
I simply missed this line when D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote it last week in a larger story about the team’s offseason plans, but it appears the Falcons and Evans have mutual interest in bringing the veteran linebacker back to Atlanta. Ledbetter reports that the team and Evans are actively working on a deal, and to quote him directly:
“There is a mutual interest in Evans, who led the team with 159 tackles, returning, but it’s early in the negotiating process.”
This is a mild surprise because Dean Pees, who coached the Falcons’ defense in 2022 and coached Evans in Tennessee, has retired. Evans did lead the team in tackles, make a few big plays in coverage, pick up a pair of sacks, and turn in consistently solid efforts against the run while starting every game, so the team’s interest in having him as a veteran leader and potential starter under Ryan Nielsen certainly makes sense. Evans did have his struggles in coverage, something that Andersen and Walker can relate to, so if they do bring back Evans the team will be counting on improvement from at least two players in that trio. Given that Evans will only be 28 years old and (hopefully) surrounded by better talent, chances are good he can deliver a season that’s at least in line with his 2022.
Evans is one of the small handful of re-signings that I’d expect the Falcons to be interested in on defense, given that he was one of the few players the team added who was more of an asset than a liability, alongside the surprising Abdullah Anderson and (before he got hurt, anyways) Casey Hayward, who is still under contract. This team is likely to prioritize significant upgrades at safety and along the defensive line, so pairing Evans with Andersen for what’s likely to be a fairly reasonable price makes sense. Given that there is a truly impressive collection of inside linebacker talent hitting the market, though, it will still be a little surprising if they essentially run it back with the 2022 group.
We’ll see what comes of these negotiations, but for now, it seems wise to pencil Troy Andersen and Rashaan Evans in as 2023 starters for the Falcons.