It’s been a long time coming. The Falcons last made a notable addition in free agency waaaaaay back in 2020 after even lowly bloggers said the Falcons didn’t have the cap space to sign any big names. Similar to those who invested in the crypto, the Falcons ignored all common sense and threw all caution to the wind in order to land Dante Fowler.
The Falcons have more or less been in a cap crunch since the Super Bowl, with the majority of that cap crunch being, in fact, cap hell. After years, fans and team alike are escaping from cap hell. We’ve seen Hall of Fame wide receivers and quarterbacks traded. Young talent leave in free agency. The team forced to sit on its hands in free agency.
It’s been a very long time coming.
To set the stage, the Falcons entered this legal tampering period with the 2nd most cap space in the league, behind only the Chicago Bears. The Falcons could sign a player at nearly any position. The options were endless. But most importantly, Terry Fontenot had to not do what got the last guy fired. No overspending. Be balanced. And no Dante Fowler.
It is finally here. The excitement is so high we’re going to do way-too-early grades for day 1 of free agency: the legal tampering edition. The new signings are unofficial until Wednesday, but you can count the deals that have fallen apart on one hand.
Chris Lindstrom Extension: 5 years, $105 million
If you want proof Fontenot isn’t his predecessor, jumping ahead of the market and locking up your young player with forcing the franchise tag, this is it. Let Lindstorm finish out his option year, play under the tag, then you will be paying $23-25 million per year on a top guard. While the Falcons in the past had paid guys in that top 5/top 10 range top 3 money, Lindstrom is one of the best in the league and has earned his record breaking contract.
Lindstrom may be the top paid guard but it isn’t by much. He narrowly edged out Quenton Nelson’s deal, signed last year, also signed when that blocker was 26. I love this for maintaining continuity, keeping your play makers, and getting ahead of the market. Exceptional.
Jessie Bates Signing: 4 years, $64 million
One of the most expected signings across the entire NFL, the Falcons landed the (semi-consensus) top safety in free agency. Bates has been phenomenal with the Bengals, of course. He slots in as the 4th highest-paid safety in the NFL, just pennies higher than Harrison Smith’s deal signed in 2021.
I thought Bates may slot in higher, thanks to the ever-increasing salaries in the NFL, closer to the $17-18 million a year range right between Jamal Adams and Minkah Fitzpatrick. Fontenot also kept the contract length in line with the market. Based on the market, it is a good spot to land. I may have liked spending on a different position but the EDGE talent available is lacking. A big but measured signing.
Jonnu Smith Trade
The Falcons paid a 7th round pick to reunite Arthur Smith with his top tight end in Tennessee. He recipient of 8 touchdown passes in his last year with Smith, Smith should immediately fill in as a dangerous TE behind Kyle Pitts. The word is Smith has restructured his deal, but at the moment, we don’t know what that looks like. The Patriots could be unloading his contract on the Falcons, hence the low draft compensation.
It is tough to grade this without knowing what the Falcons will pay Smith. Ignoring the contract, since I have to, this is a fantastic addition to the offense. Adding a good tight end to the great weapon that is Kyle Pitts adds an indescribable amount of versatility. Arthur Smith can cook up so much more with another weapon in 12 personnel. Pitts can push outside and run deep routes all day.
David Onyemata Signing: 3 years, $35 million
This signing appears to give Grady Jarrett the most help at tackle in his career. Onyemata has been quite good, especially under Atlanta’s new defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen. I think this is an overpay, especially for a guy who turns 31 this season. Not a drastic overpay, but clearly a push by Nielsen and Fontenot to get their guy.
The good news is getting their guy isn’t too expensive. A good improvement to the team.
Keith Smith: 1 year
We are grading one-year deals for fullbacks. Things have gone wild.
Smith is a competent fullback who has played about a quarter of the snaps since Smith started coaching the team. He plays heavily, and impresses, on special teams. A good under-the-radar signing that should provide good versatility. We don’t have his contract numbers, but based on the deal length, it is likely pretty close to vet minimum.
Bradley Pinion Extension: 3 years, $8.65 million
A multi-year deal for a punter? Have we gone mad?
Pinion is still pretty young for a punter (28) and had a few impressive rankings in 2022 after being signed as a free agent. He’s not Matt Bosher but who is? As much as I’d love to have a bone-crushing punter or to find an UDFA, the Falcons probably need the consistency in a year the team could sign anyone. There’s not much downside.
Kaden Elliss Signing: 3 year, $21.5 million
The night cap to Atlanta’s flurry of day one moves involved going back for seconds in pillaging the Saints defense. Elliss had a breakout season in 2022 when he had some extended time as a starter, to the tune of 11 games. In that time he racked up 7.0 sacks, 78 tackles and two forced fumbles. For the record, that’s more sacks than any Falcon has had in three seasons. His PFF grade was a robust 81.5 and the run defense was also there with an 81.5 grade.
There is a bit of a risk factor here in that Elliss has only had one really good season, in his contract year no less, but the team mitigated that a bit by committing just $11 million guaranteed. Best case, Atlanta just got a legitimate playmaker for cheap.