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What’s next for the Falcons as free agency settles?

Atlanta is loathe to head into the draft with glaring needs, but they may not be quick to make moves.

NFL: AUG 27 Preseason - Jaguars at Falcons Photo by David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

I feel pretty confident writing that the Falcons are slowing down in free agency. They’ve spent the bulk of their available cap space at this point, the market is thinning out, and they’ve addressed some of their biggest ticket needs.

With just over $20 million left in cap space, the Falcons still have dollars to work with, as they’re among the teams with the most left to spend. They also have

Get a guard

Here’s who the Falcons have to compete for a starting job at left guard right now:

  • Jalen Mayfield, a 2021 third round pick who graded out as one of the worst guards in the NFL in his rookie season, and a player who missed the entire 2022 season with a back injury;
  • Matt Hennessy, who started at center in 2021, lost the job to Drew Dalman in 2022, and made spots starts with mixed success at left guard while getting hurt;
  • Justin Shaffer, a mauling run blocker who played left guard in college but whose pass protection chops in the pros are an open question mark and spent the 2022 season on the practice squad;
  • Kyle Hinton, a former Vikings draft pick in 2020 who has played just two games in the NFL and was a reserve/future signee this offseason;
  • Ryan Neuzil, perhaps? He’s looked good in consecutive summers and cross-trained at guard and center, so I’ve been penciling him in as Dalman’s backup.

The Falcons have options, but they have no proven, high-end starters at the position on the roster. A four-way competition between Mayfield, Hennessy, Shaffer, and Hinton might yield a solid starter, or the team may still believe a healthy Mayfield can be the future at the position, but I’m not sure I’d want to roll into the summer counting on one of those outcomes.

The team was reportedly interested in Trystan Colon, who started a handful of games at guard and center for the Ravens, which indicates they’re likely targeting competition on the interior. I’d fully expect them to add another player ahead of the draft, and likely sooner than later.

Who’s out there? Rodger Saffold is familiar with Arthur Smith, Dalton Risner is a player I’ve seen more than a few players clamor for, and veteran options like Justin Pugh with extensive starting experience are available. The team isn’t getting a high-end starter, but veteran competition should be well within reach.

Acquire another wide receiver

Drake London is the top option and Mack Hollins could slot in anywhere from the No. 2 receiver to the No. 4, but the Falcons still have an acute need for more help. Jared Bernhardt’s strong summer with Desmond Ridder should give him a shot to make the team and Frank Darby’s potential special teams value and ability to work deep might help him stick, but that duo (and the other options the Falcons currently have) have basically zero regular season production to their names.

Bringing back Olamide Zaccheaus would help and drafting another young receiver has to be on the table, but I can’t imagine the Falcons going into the draft with only two proven receivers on the entire roster, no matter how often they intend to lean heavily on their tight ends. Options still available include deep threats like Robbie Anderson and Damiere Byrd, as well as veterans like Randall Cobb, Julio Jones, and Marvin Jones who have been around a long time but can still produce in a pinch.

Edge rush help wanted

The Falcons have Arnold Ebiketie and DeAngelo Malone and clearly like both. Ebiketie is, in my humble opinion, a strong bet to take a big step forward and generate 6-8 sacks and more consistent pressure in 2023, while Malone is a useful piece of the rotation at minimum. Ditto the sturdy Lorenzo Carter, who can chip in as a pass rusher and is solid against the run, and Adetokunbo Ogundeji, who figures to be a solid reserve.

The Falcons will morph their fronts a bit and will try Kaden Elliss at outside linebacker at times, which will give this group a boost, but you’ll note there isn’t a single proven high-end pass rusher on the roster. The Falcons took pains to beef up the interior of their defensive line and are chasing Calais Campbell to add some pass rushing punch to that line, but with the league’s worst pass rush over the past two seasons, they very clearly need to be able to bring more pressure off the edge than they’ve been capable of and can’t solely count on Ebiketie to deliver it.

That begs for a solid rotational signing unless the Falcons are sure they’re getting a player who can contribute on one of the first couple of days of the draft, and there are options out there. Justin Houston would be a good fit as a veteran leader and consistently productive pass rusher, but Yannick Ngakoue, Markus Golden, and Trey Flowers are among the players with previous success who could be scooped up.

Signing reserves everywhere

You should expect low-level signings to fill out the roster as the weeks roll on, too. Aside from maybe cornerback, where the need is more acute at the top of the depth chart, and quarterback where the Falcons seem to have their top two, the Falcons could use some reserves and competition just about anywhere you can think of.

Expect to see at least a handful of additions like Cornell Armstrong or Tae Davis, targeting players who can contribute on special teams and provide insurance in case of injury, as the team tries to avoid going into May needing late picks or undrafted players to fill critical reserve roles.