For the first time since Arthur Smith and Terry Fontenot took over as head coach and general manager of the Atlanta Falcons, they are expected to be players in free agency.
After inheriting a team that was cap-strapped and laden with prohibitive contracts, Fontenot and Smith will have upwards of $65 million to work with this offseason to improve the Atlanta squad. Smith has proven his chops as head coach, helping the Falcons finish with identical 7-10 records in his first two seasons despite fielding what many consider to be subpar rosters.
Now, Fontenot and Smith can work together to further mold this roster (and locker room) to fit their vision. The Falcons have done well to put themselves in this spot, and they currently have the second-most cap space behind only Chicago. Nevertheless, Fontenot doesn’t seem likely to throw wads of money at Atlanta’s problems.
According to reports from the NFL Combine – and reading between the lines of Fontenot’s own statements at the podium – the Falcons are more inclined to add an abundance of players they feel can contribute as opposed to a handful of top-tier stars.
Steve Wyche, the NFL Network’s chief national reporter, told Andrew Siciliano at the NFL Combine that the Falcons aren’t likely to go “game hunting” and that quantity may be at the forefront of the team’s collective minds.
The Falcons have a ton of cap space but that doesn’t mean they are going game hunting. GM Terry Fontenot said they have a plan, which includes players that fit the culture they’ve established. Don’t get anything twisted though: more wins must start coming. pic.twitter.com/s35ACuLSH6— Steve Wyche (@wyche89) February 28, 2023
Given the numerous needs on Atlanta’s roster, this approach makes sense. The floor of a team that played in 13 one-score games, and finished with a 5-8 record in those contests, would be presumably raised to help them emerge victorious more frequently. Fontenot has proven time and again that he has a keen eye for players who have been undervalued by the market, and whose best days lie ahead – a key component in free agency.
Currently, the Falcons’ most pressing need is along the defensive line. But the team could also use quality additions in the secondary, at linebacker and at wide receiver. That’s not to mention the ongoing discussion at quarterback, a position that Fontenot said at the combine the Falcons would address.
“We’ve talked about the quarterback position and how we want to make sure we continue to add to that position, and we want to keep bringing players in,” he said. “Really excited about Desmond (Ridder), and yet we’re going to add to the position.”
The end of Thomas Dimitroff’s time as general manager was largely defined by teams that were increasingly top-heavy. After paying home-grown stars like Julio Jones, Matt Ryan, Grady Jarrett and Deion Jones, the Falcons had to make sacrifices in other aspects of the roster – namely depth and in the trenches.
For now, it appears Atlanta is intent on heading in a different direction. With another top-10 draft pick and a healthy amount of cap space, the Falcons can likely parcel out their resources to all three phases while still landing an impact player or two. In any potential acquisition, the team has made it abundantly clear that culture fit will be high on the list of priorities.
As free agency draws ever closer, it’s enticing to toss around the biggest names in free agency as potential future Falcons. While that may not be out of the realm of possibility, Atlanta may try its hand at developing the next crop of household names rather than paying for current ones.