The Falcons have already made a number of cuts to save money so that they can retain their own free agents and bring in some fresh faces from the outside. With more cuts on the horizon, Atlanta will have plenty of money to make significant acquisitions via the free agent market even after re-signing Grady Jarrett. The Falcons primary needs remain on the offensive and defensive lines, but the secondary has also emerged as a priority with the releases of both Robert Alford and Brian Poole. As a host of high-quality players prepare to hit the open market, here are three players Atlanta should not be considering in free agency.
Thomas, a nine-year veteran, six-time Pro-Bowler, and three-time First-Team All-Pro is going to bring a lot to whoever signs him this offseason. And with the Falcons already two members down in their secondary, there seems to be optimism that they could be among the possible suitors for Thomas’s services. After all, he would be an upgrade over Ricardo Allen or Damontae Kazee and has experience in Quinn’s defensive scheme from his days in Seattle.
I just want to squash that bug real quick.
While Thomas would be an upgrade, he’s still a 30-year old player heading into his tenth season in the NFL and coming off of a torn ACL. Even though he didn’t miss a game his first six seasons in the league, he has yet to play a full season in the last three years. Also, again, he will be 30, and players do not typically show signs of improvement once they hit that number – especially in the secondary.
Whoever inks Thomas this summer will likely have to offer up significant AAV and several years. And no matter what you think about Thomas, it’s almost inevitable he will be getting paid for what he’s done in the past rather than what he is going to do over the duration of his next contract. Both Kazee and Allen are younger players signed to manageable multi-year deals. Adding Thomas is an intriguing idea on the surface, specifically because Kazee and Allen could play the corner position, but it is not a smart financial investment for a team that needs to overhaul both their offensive and defensive lines.
Dante Fowler Jr.
A former third-overall pick in 2015, Fowler has not lived up to the billing that comes with that selection. Unfortunately, he tore his ACL in training camp prior to his rookie season. He came back healthy in 2016 and by 2017 was helping the Jaguars turn into the most formidable defense in the NFL, recording eight sacks, ten QB hits and two forced fumbles as a rotational pass rusher. However, the Jags opted not to utilize his fifth-year option, and after a slow start to the 2018 season, traded him to the Rams for a 2019 third-round pick and a 2020 fifth-round pick.
Fowler only had two sacks in his final eight games with Los Angeles and is set to hit free agency for the first time in his career. At 25 years old, there is still a boatload of untapped potential, but the Falcons are not in the position to be taking risks on former top draft picks that have struggled living up to their expectations.
Atlanta needs to be searching all the cracks to find help getting after the passer. They are looking for not just one but multiple edge rushers. The problem with Fowler is there will be teams who will overpay based on a false narrative that he can turn into a double-digit sack guy, and that’s not what the Falcons need to be doing.
Fowler has played next to fantastic players at every stop of his brief career. He was a member of the infamous ‘Sacksonville’ Jaguars in 2017 and had the opportunity play aside Aaron Donald and Ndomokong Suh in Los Angeles. If he wasn’t dominating around those players, there is no reason to believe he can come to Atlanta and transform into a high-quality pass rusher.
Another name that has popped up in recent Falcons circles after the release of Robert Alford and Brian Poole is Ronald Darby. The Eagles are expected to let Darby test free agency, and he should have quite an aggressive market even though he tore his ACL late last year.
The cornerback free-agent class is extremely thin, and Darby is the most productive player available. Concerns regarding his torn ACL will be silenced by the fact that he is exceptionally talented, only 25 years old and yet to hit his prime, which sets him up for a massive pay raise.
The Falcons do have to make cornerback a priority with Alford and Poole now off the roster, but it is not where they need to be spending the bulk of their money. Desmond Trufant and Isaiah Oliver are penciled in to become the starters with Damontae Kazee as a potential nickel option, so additions to the group need to come in the form of depth. If the Falcons are going to add a corner, it is going to come later in the draft or the bargain bin of free agency.