The Atlanta Falcons had money to spend coming into free agency, and when legal tampering opened, they immediately set about throwing it around. A team that has scraped together signings with limited cap space suddenly has cap space to spare, and with a mandate to improve the roster, they hit the ground running.
The team reportedly added top-shelf safety Jessie Bates, versatile linebacker and pass rusher Kaden Elliss, defensive tackle and capable pass rusher David Onyemata, and veteran pass catching tight end Jonnu Smith via trade from the Patriots. They also re-signed useful pieces like punter Bradley Pinion and fullback Keith Smith, making for a successful first day and an improved defense, at minimum.
How do you build on that? The Falcons still have a roster lined with holes they need to fill, so in the following days it would be reasonable to expect them to tackle some of the following positions.
The Falcons have vowed to add to the position, and they did by agreeing to terms with Taylor Heinicke on Tuesday morning. Their spending spree seems likely to extinguish any dim hopes anyone had for Lamar Jackson, but unless they’re dipping into the draft to get someone to take over for Desmond Ridder, they’ll want to add veteran competition.
The market started to deplete quickly, with Derek Carr and Jameis Winston already gone and decent backups like Mike White and Case Keenum signed as well. Heinicke is an affordable veteran option to shore up the depth chart.
The Falcons have Drake London, Kyle Pitts (who will split out wide plenty in 2023), and a bunch of unproven young options at receiver. Obviously, they need to add talent.
Surprisingly, the first day of legal tampering saw basically no movement in the free agent market, which will hopefully work in Atlanta’s favor by driving down prices ever so slightly. Allen Lazard’s size and production and Jakobi Meyers’ blocking acumen and sure hands figure to make them attractive options as No. 2 receivers in Arthur Smith’s offense, and would be the closest thing this market offers to splashes. Even with the addition of Jonnu Smith at tight end, I wouldn’t expect Atlanta to skimp at WR2.
With Chris Lindstrom locked in at right guard and options like Matt Hennessy, Jalen Mayfield, and Justin Shaffer available to compete at left guard, maybe this isn’t the biggest need. Then again, how great do you feel about that competition at left guard?
Atlanta could stand to add a veteran, even if it’s just a capable option like Elijah Wilkinson again, and should at least explore doing so in the days ahead. This isn’t quite the urgent priority some of the other positions on this list are, however, so expect Atlanta to wait a little longer.
If Kaleb McGary isn’t coming back, the Falcons have no options. You could move Jalen Mayfield to right tackle again or try Tyler Vrabel, I guess? That’s not ideal.
While the Falcons could elect to draft their future right tackle in the first or second round, you wouldn’t feel good about throwing them into the fire with no insurance policy. Tackles are going for eye-popping dollars right now, so if the team intends to hit the draft they might want to sign a cost-effective veteran stopgap alternative, potentially bringing back Germain Ifedi. Given that this team doesn’t like to leave things up to chance heading into the draft, perhaps a familiar face like Ifedi or David Quessenberry who will cost less and have starting experience could be in order.
Kaden Elliss will, I believe, wind up logging time at outside linebacker in 3-4 looks, but will get plenty of work next to Troy Andersen as well. The team still needs a truly impactful edge rusher, and their options will dwindle quickly.
Getting a top-tier option might not be possible without draining most of the rest of their cap space, but a reliable veteran like Justin Houston or Markus Golden could fit the bill if they don’t want to spend big money. A team that added David Onyemata and Elliss clearly plans to bring pressure from multiple spots, but I don’t see how the Falcons can go into 2023 banking purely on Arnold Ebiketie and DeAngelo Malone to take massive steps forward.
The team has talked about the importance of the nickel corner spot in particular, and barring Dee Alford being a guy they absolutely love there (there’s at least a chance, I suppose!), they’ll need to add someone. Isaiah Oliver is a legitimate possibility there, but they could very well go outside the organization, and if they’re not planning to keep Casey Heyward they could also use a starter outside.
With A.J. Terrell and Jessie Bates looking like stellar starting options and Richie Grant growing into a capable starter, the Falcons shouldn’t squander their young secondary talent by cobbling together the rest of their cornerback corps. They’ve been persistently rumored to be interested in cornerbacks including former Jaguar Tre Herndon, and they absolutely will sign somebody.
The Falcons will fill in the edges at other positions, but these feel like the positions they’re most likely to invest in over the coming days. Who would you sign?