With free agency set to start in about a month, the Falcons will have to evaluate other impending free agents along with their own. Atlanta has several players set to test the free-agent market that were instrumental in what little success the team experienced in 2021. Five Falcons made Pro Football Focus’ 2022 NFL free-agent rankings, and I’ve added the chances they will return to Atlanta next season.
34. HB/WR CORDARRELLE PATTERSON, ATLANTA FALCONS
Patterson attempted to set an NFL record for most positions listed on the depth chart, as he was the Atlanta Falcons’ RB2 (though he became the RB1 in reality), kick returner and fifth-string safety. Patterson enjoyed an incredible breakout year as an offensive weapon, with his 2.23 yards per route run ranking second among running backs. He may not be able to cash in on a huge deal now past 30 years old, but he deserves a healthy raise over his $3 million deal signed this past season.
PFF projects Patterson to garner somewhere around a two-year, $12 million deal with $8.25 million in guarantees. To me, that is a pretty palatable deal. He’s a matchup nightmare for defenses, and Arthur Smith showed an ability to harness Patterson’s diverse skillset. Since the Falcons don’t have much cap space heading into 2022, it still might not be feasible to spend that kind of money on an aging player like Patterson.
Chance Cordarrelle Patterson returns: 6/10
61. LB FOYESADE OLUOKUN, ATLANTA FALCONS
Oluokun leads the way for a very underwhelming free-agent class at off-ball linebacker, though his timing of reaching unrestricted free agency could work out nicely in his favor. This past offseason, San Francisco 49ers linebacker Fred Warner and subsequently Indianapolis Colts linebacker Darius Leonard reset the market at the position just under $20 million per year after years of stagnation. With Oluokun one of the few young players available, a market could develop for him that exceeds expectations.
Even though off-ball linebackers don’t have much positional value, the Falcons might not have a choice in this matter. The MIKE linebacker of Dean Pees’ defense is extremely valuable, and it’ll be challenging to find a replacement who knows the scheme as well as Oluokun. The Falcons have a ton of cap space tied up in Deion Jones, so there’s that also to consider. PFF projects Oluokun to sign a deal worth $40 million over four years.
Chance Foye Olukoun returns: 7/10
101. WR RUSSELL GAGE, ATLANTA FALCONS
Gage picked up where he left off from a strong 2020 campaign with a big 2021 season following Julio Jones‘ departure and Calvin Ridley stepping away during the 2021 campaign. From Week 11 through the end of the season, Gage’s 84.1 receiving grade was ninth among wide receivers while his 17 explosive receptions tied for fifth.
Gage’s chances of returning in 2022 are higher than the previous impending free agents because of the Falcons’ desperate need for playmakers on the outside. Gage is masterful in the short and intermediate levels, but his ceiling is that of a third receiver, in my opinion. With so much uncertainty surrounding Calvin Ridley, I think the Falcons get out in front of this one and sign Gage before another team can offer him a more lucrative deal. PFF projects a contract worth $7.5 million per year, which is a bit rich for my blood.
Chance Russell Gage returns: 8.5/10
160. EDGE DANTE FOWLER JR., ATLANTA FALCONS
Fowler agreed to a pay cut before the 2021 season and had the 2022 year on the deal removed, which put him back onto the free-agent market this offseason. After a 67-pressure season with the Rams in 2019 earned Fowler a three-year, $45 million contract in Atlanta, he recorded just 60 total pressures over two seasons on one of the worst defensive lines in the NFL. Fowler is effectively a pure pass-rush specialist at this point but could be a decent third edge defender for a team that needs pass-rushers.
Fowler was easily the most talented pass rusher the Falcons had in 2021, but I can’t see them bringing back the former third overall pick unless it is for pennies. PFF projects Fowler to sign a one-year, $6.5 million deal. If that is the figure the Falcons have to match, there’s a 0% chance Fowler returns to Atlanta. Sometimes these projections are off, so I won’t base the likelihood on that salary.
Chance Dante Fowler returns: 2.5/10
167. S DURON HARMON, ATLANTA FALCONS
Harmon earned a career-low 59.1 grade while playing on a veteran minimum contract in 2021. Nonetheless, he did log his second season of over 1,050 snaps and earned a career-best elite 90.3 run-defense grade with a low 4.5% missed tackle percentage — the fourth-best mark among defenders with at least 25 tackles.
Harmon was a solid veteran piece of an underwhelming defense. He’s consistent in what he brings to the table, but it isn’t much at this point in his career. Suppose the Falcons aren’t confident in Jaylinn Hawkins and Richie Grant taking over. In that case, I could see the Falcons returning Harmon or Erik Harris, but that wouldn’t be good for the overall team development if their younger players can’t get on the field.
Chance Duron Harmon returns: 3/10
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