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Offseason Mailbag: Free agency targets, trading up for a QB & Calvin Ridley watch

Atlanta’s coaching search has concluded, the introductions have been made, and now the real work begins. 

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Denver Broncos v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Perry Knotts/Getty Images

The Super Bowl is nearly here, which means we’re staring down the vast offseason desert. It’s beginning to get repetitive saying each February that the Falcons are facing one of their most important offseasons in recent memory, but that’s been the case for a little while now.

Atlanta’s coaching search has concluded, the introductions have been made, and now the real work begins. We’ve got the NFL Combine coming up, free agency set to kick off and that little thing called the draft on the not-so-distant horizon. How the Falcons navigate the coming months could end up being the difference between breaking the playoff drought and a continued spiral. They don’t feel far off, but hope is a house of cards in this league.

So, let’s talk about the future of this franchise, shall we?

First two FAs you would go after from other teams and the first two FAs you’d resign from the current team – GP (@requestGranted)

I love this question. I’ll start with the internal free agents because that’s a little simpler. And I want to preface this by saying that even though Nate Landman is technically a free agent, he’s an exclusive-rights free agent and I’m operating under the assumption that he will undoubtedly get a qualifying offer.

The two Falcons free agents I’d prioritize are both on the defensive line, but they might not be the two you’d expect. Calais Campbell is an easy choice for a lot of reasons, but he would have been a legitimately impactful player in the playoffs had the Falcons made it. He can still be a big part of a playoff team. For the other spot, I debated going with Bud Dupree for his production, but I think the Falcons add an end in the draft and they have a few young guys who need more reps. Therefore, I’d like to see Kentavius Street come back on a short-term deal. As we learned this year, you can never have enough interior depth in the trenches. He’s not a game-changer, but Street can get the job done. For more on the internal free agents, Josh Kendall had a nice piece for The Athletic.

Now, let’s get to the outside hires.

Because I’m a horrible self-editor and take this stuff way too seriously, I’m going to give you three players I’d consider. My first is the only true big-ticket free agent on my list, and that is Chiefs cornerback L’Jarius Sneed. Terry Fontenot has said time and again that he seeks to address needs in free agency, and while I like what Clark Phillips did to end the year, Sneed would be a huge upgrade at the No. 2 corner spot. He’s got the type of aggressiveness and stickiness that Morris would love in this secondary, and Sneed could thrive opposite Terrell.

My other two options are more about adding excellent role players. I think Bills end A.J. Epenesa would be a great second-line player in the trenches for Atlanta as a run-package pass rusher. And finally, I think Darnell Mooney could be a potentially undervalued No. 2 option in an offense he’s somewhat familiar with.

What would it cost the Falcons to move up to 1.02 to take Maye or Daniels (assuming the Bears aren’t moving 1.01 in this scenario) – Ryan Hooper (@RHoooper50)

These questions are always a little tricky because there’s just so much information we don’t know, but it’s a fun and educational exercise, nonetheless. I used PFF’s mock draft simulator for my answer, which allowed me to offer both picks and players. The simulator provided a probability that each trade would be accepted, so I’ll lay out a handful of scenarios below with brief commentary.

Package 1: 8th pick in 2024 | 43rd pick in 2024 | 1st-round pick in 2025

(PFF prediction: 100% chance to be accepted)

This is the most straightforward trade, according to the simulator. I’m not sure it would be quite this simple.

Package 2: 8th pick in 2024 | 43rd pick in 2024 | 74th pick in 2024 | 2nd-round pick in 2025

(PFF prediction: 69% chance to be accepted)

I included this option because it shows just how wide the value gap is between first-round picks and the other rounds. If Atlanta wants to keep its first-round pick next year, things will get tougher.

Package 3: 8th pick in 2024 | 43rd pick in 2024 | CB A.J. Terrell

(PFF prediction: 100% chance to be accepted)

Morris probably wouldn’t be willing to part with his top cornerback in a trade, but Terrell seems to be the most valuable player on the roster for this exercise. He was the only player to get the “100% chance designation,” while others got “likely to be accepted.”

Package 4: 8th pick in 2024 | 43rd pick in 2024 | 74th pick in 2024 | QB Desmond Ridder

(PFF prediction: 90% chance to be accepted)

I was honestly shocked to see the prediction score for this one. While I do think Ridder will be an asset as a cost-effective backup, the Falcons shouldn’t hesitate at all if they could do this and get their QB of the future.

Package 5: 8th pick in 2024 | 43rd pick in 2024 | 74th pick in 2024 | 79th pick in 2024 (from JAX) | 2nd-round pick in 2025

(PFF prediction: 85% chance to be accepted)

I think an actual trade would look closer to this. Thanks to the Calvin Ridley trade, the Falcons are set to gain the 79th pick from Jacksonville and could get as much as a second-round pick (more on that in a bit). Sending Washington all of the picks in the first three rounds, plus a second-rounder next year is a good place for negotiations to start for the No. 2 pick.

Will the Calvin Ridley news affect what we do in free agency as far as QB? – Lord Hudson (@BlacThanos)

If the Falcons’ plans at quarterback are sidetracked by what the Jaguars decide to do with Calvin Ridley, then things have already gone off the rails. We know the Falcons are going to get a third-round pick, which is already fair compensation. The thought process should be that a second-round pick is a cherry on top and not something to rely on. Based on recent reports, the Jags re-signing Ridley is still up in the air.

And in terms of the best-case impact, I think it would matter more for the draft than free agency. Sure, Atlanta would have another second-round pick to add a talented receiver for a veteran quarterback, but I think it’s more likely that they’d view that pick as an upgrade for the trade packages we just discussed. In that same vein, it would also enhance any trade package for a veteran quarterback.

Now that Raheem Morris has been chosen as head coach, what should be the next 4-5 big priorities for the Falcons during the offseason? List by importance if you wish. – Ed Helinski (@MrEd315)

Part of me wanted to be a little wry with this answer and just put “Find a quarterback” for every priority, but we’re trying to get this mailbag going and that’s probably not the best approach.

4. Get a head start on the defense. Unless the Falcons already have a veteran option in mind at quarterback, there’s only so much that can be done to start building the offense. So many of the finer details will depend on the individual, so until he arrives I think the focus needs to be on getting the defense nailed down. Atlanta will have some key pieces returning on defense in 2024, but there are a lot of new coaches who could use this time to familiarize themselves with those players.

3. Figure out an extension for A.J. Terrell. Although I offered him up in a trade package earlier, a long-term deal for Terrell should be a top priority for the franchise. He will play the upcoming season on his fifth-year option, but since Morris and Fontenot are both well aware of what Terrell can do, I don’t see them forcing him into a contract year. Terrell won’t command absolute top dollar, but he won’t be cheap either.

2. Secure either a top receiver or pass rusher in free agency. As I mentioned previously, Fontenot believes in filling roster holes with proven NFL talent. Outside of quarterback, the clearest holes for Atlanta are a dominant pass rusher and complementary receivers. While I’d love for the Falcons to take multiple bites at the apple in both the draft and free agency, they need to have at least a starting-caliber pass rusher or a doubles partner for Drake London. Because the Falcons don’t have a large number of holes, I think they can pay a higher price to get a 1B receiver as opposed to a No. 2.

1. Lock themselves in a dark room and watch all of the quarterback tape possible.

Thanks to everyone who submitted questions for today’s mailbag! If you’d like to submit a question for the future, leave it in the comments below or send to @willmcfadden on Twitter.