After the first week of free agency, most high quality players are off the market. However, there are still some very good pass rushers left such as Greg Hardy and Dwight Freeney, and the Falcons still have enough cap to make some moves. But let’s take a look and grade the Falcons free agent signings so far this offseason.
Brooks Reed and Justin Durant were the first two players to sign with the Falcons at 4 ET the day Free Agency began. Reed is powerful run stopper who played four years with the Houston Texans. He is a guy the Falcons can count on to stay healthy and be a reliable presence on the field. Over his four year career he has missed only 4 games, not missing a game since 2012. The Falcons definitely needed a player like Brooks Reed. He has a reputation of being a hard worker and should bring that work ethic with him to Atlanta. Reed should bring some much needed talent to the Falcons’ linebacker tandem. Brooks Reed only gets a grade of a B- because the Falcons are giving him 22 million dollars over 5 years and he has only had 8.5 sacks in the last three years. Reed is definitely an upgrade, however he is certainly not the kind of playmaker the Falcons need on defense. Pro Football Focus had him ranked the 26th best 3-4 OLB out of 46 last season.
When it was confirmed the Falcons were not going to bring back Sean Weatherspoon, a big hole at the WILL linebacker position opened up. This hole is to be filled by 8-year veteran linebacker Justin Durant. Durant was signed to a 3 year, $10.8 million deal. He is versatile and can play against both the run and the pass very well. He is a sure tackler and adds veteran leadership at the linebacker position. Durant gets a B because he should adequately fill in a huge hole that has not been filled for two years due to Weatherspoon’s injuries. However, he does not get graded higher than that because he is recovering from a significant injury himself, as he suffered a torn biceps injury and only played in 6 games last season. He also is already entering his 9th NFL season and the Falcons signed him for 3 more seasons. Durant graded out 17th among all 40 4-3 OLBs last season.
Hankerson is coming off a year in which he only played in a single game and was targeted one time because of a torn ACL. Hankerson is 6 feet 2 inches tall and weighs about 210 pounds. He has had a very inconsistent career thus far, but does have talent. He runs a 4.43 40-yard dash and has the ability to play in the slot and go down the field. He will most likely compete with Devin Hester for the 3rd receiver slot. Personally, I am not a huge fan of Hankerson. Hankerson could end up doing really well in a much better Falcons offense with a much better QB in Matt Ryan. However, he has been so up and down in his career and is another Falcons signing that is coming off a major injury. Even though the Falcons saved money by cutting Harry Douglas and adding Hankerson, the money has not even been put to use and Douglas is a much better receiver. Hankerson has potential and there is not a lot of risk in signing him, but I do not see him having any type of breakout season in 2015 with the Falcons.
Adrian Clayborn is another guy coming of a season ending injury last year. Clayborn, when healthy, has been a relatively effective pass rusher. He has 13 sacks and 5 forced fumbles in 36 career games played. It is clear that Dan Quinn values effort and hard work. All the representatives out of Tampa had nothing but good things to say about the type of person and worker Clayborn is. Expect to see a lot of effort sacks out of Clayborn because he never gives up on the play. I give this signing a grade of a B+ because it is low risk and comes with the possibility of a high reward. The Falcons only signed Clayborn for a year with a base salary of about 3 million dollars with performance based incentives. If Clayborn can stay healthy, the Falcons will get a big bang for their buck.
None of the Falcons moves were what many would consider a “big splash”. It seemed that Quinn wanted to come in an establish depth in the front seven and ensure that the Falcons would not be financially handicapped in the years to come. Schofield was yet another signing that indicated this method of thinking. Schofield signed a contract for 1 year, worth $1.7 million. He was a part of Dan Quinn’s Seahawks defense that went to back to back Super bowls. He was a rotational defensive end that applied pressure on the Quarterback. In 66 career games, Schofield has 13.5 sacks, which is not all that bad for a guy that does not see the field all the time. Schofield adds much needed depth at the DE position and could play a pretty big role in the Falcons defense this year. He was a target for Quinn since the beginning of free agency and that should show us that Quinn thinks pretty highly of him. He is also a guy that is somewhat of a gamble health-wise, as he saw a deal with the Giants fall through the cracks last year due to a failed physical. I expect Schofield to do pretty well this year for the Falcons, but he certainly is not the permanent answer for the Falcons pass rushing problems.