The Falcons have not had much money to work with over the past three years, and they haven’t been a great football team over that span, to put it mildly. Despite all that, they have done well in one area: Getting the most out of the dollars they are spending in free agency.
Per a recent study by The Athletic, the Falcons spent less in free agency from 2020-2022 than all but five other NFL teams, and they realized the fourth-best value for their money of any team in the NFL. That’s a small consolation given that few of those free agents wound up being huge contributors and they certainly did not lift the Falcons to postseason heights, but it is an encouraging bellwether for this team’s upcoming free agency period.
Why? Terry Fontenot’s fondness for rummaging in the discount bin and coming up with useful players who cost the team very little is an ethos that isn’t animated just by necessity, as he’s said over and over again in recent months. That means the money isn’t likely to change Atlanta in one important way: They’re not going to throw megadeals after players just to get a hot name or the best player on the market, instead opting to chase value even on their bigger-money deals. We’ve yet to see what Fontenot and the front office can do with actual cash in hand to spend, but the fact that they’ve turned pennies into the likes of quality contributors like Rashaan Evans, Lorenzo Carter, Casey Hayward (pre-injury, of course), MyCole Pruitt, Abdullah Anderson, and Elijah Wilkinson bodes well for their ability to find premium talent on the open market.
That’s particularly true given that the 2020 free agency period was so tepid for for Atlanta. Dante Fowler was signed to give the team a true pass rush punch and generated 7.5 sacks over two seasons, Todd Gurley was a one-and-done touchdown machine, and Darqueze Dennard saw much of his season wiped out by injury. That was one of the last straws that saw longtime Atlanta general manager Thomas Dimitroff, who once was known for a handful of great free agent additions in Michael Turner and Alex Mack in addition to some high-profile misses, jettisoned in favor of Fontenot.
The study in question matched Over The Cap contract figures with Pro Football Reference’s Approximate Value (AV) statistic, meaning this is hardly a scientific measure of value. It’s also worth noting that the Falcons, by dint of their lack of space and the poor state of the roster, were significantly worse in terms of actual on-field results than the four teams ahead of them (the Packers, Saints, 49ers, and Cowboys) in terms of teams getting the most bang for their free agent buck. Those teams did all have vastly superior rosters and focused on keeping their own players and making strategic, low-cost additions, which is where the Falcons would like to get to.
The hope—and we always have some hope, don’t we?—is that being able to actually spend leads to the Falcons acquiring players who help lift this franchise to heights they haven’t even glimpsed in five seasons. If Fontenot and company can continue to find value with deals both large and small, it will go a long way toward helping Atlanta contend now and in the future.