Let’s move past the overwhelmingly disappointing season last year, where Atlanta finished with a 7-9 record, and look ahead to the future of the franchise. A month ago, Falcons fans had nothing but optimism for their team in 2019, but now, after remaining somewhat dormant during free agency, there is a growing level of concern.
While the team was willing to add depth to their lackluster offensive line, they neglected to spend any money on their defense, which finished 28th in the league in 2018. They will be relying purely on the young, talented playmakers coming back from injury and another (hopefully) outstanding draft class.
Players like linebacker Deion Jones, who should be at full strength moving forward, and Keanu Neal, returning from a torn ACL in week one, will make their much-anticipated returns. But will that be enough to flip the trends from the year prior completely?
Per usual with the Falcons: the offensive side of the ball has a much brighter outlook. Atlanta features one of the best wide receiver corps in the NFL, an excellent quarterback with Matt Ryan, a new offensive coordinator in Dirk Koetter and a returning, healthy Devonta Freeman in the backfield. With all of the talent at his command, Koetter will have a lot of pressure to perform to the level fans believe they are capable of. Expectations that former offensive coordinator, Steve Sarkisian, failed to live up to.
But, loads of talent and pressure to perform is a good thing, right? Well, yes and no. Talented rosters in the NFL tend to lead teams to two things: winning and dishing out incredible amounts of cash. The latter of which is starting to reveal itself in Atlanta, and not in a comforting way.
When the team signed Matt Ryan to a 5 year, $150,000,000 contract, they knew their salary cap would take a hit, but pair that with having arguably the best receiver in the NFL, Julio Jones, on the roster and there may not be enough money to go around. Trading away a generational talent like Jones is not an option. I’m looking at you Giants, and the Falcons have made it clear they want to keep him around as long as possible, so how do you solve those problems in the cap?
Releasing veterans who are not living up to their contracts helps, but not to the extent that will be required to extend young stars in the making like Deion Jones and Keanu Neal. Eventually, much tougher decisions are going to have to be made to the Falcons core. Do they move on from the likes of Devonta Freeman and Mohammed Sanu after this season? Do they let other pending free agents like Austin Hooper and De’Vondre Campbell hit the open market? Is it a little bit of both? Those are the type of questions that will need answers in the near future, making 2019 all the more important in terms of the Falcons Super Bowl window.
Pre-Draft, the Falcons remain a force to be reckoned with on paper. Their relatively high draft pick gives them the ability to add a day one starter to the mix as well. All things considered, the Falcons should be a contender next year in the NFC but will need to nail the draft if they want to return to the Super Bowl for the first time since 2016. However, the long-term outlook of this franchise is much bleaker, making this draft even more imperative to the future success of the franchise.
Thomas Dimitroff and Dan Quinn will have their fair share of opportunities to make magic happen. The Falcons have all their picks plus two compensatory selections in the upcoming draft – most of which will be spent on retooling their defense. They have had a tremendous amount of success finding defensive prospects at all stages of the draft over the last several years, and are betting on themselves to do the same starting a month from today.