The Falcon’s focus in free agency and the draft will be along the trenches. Pass rushers and interior defensive lineman are a must along with at least one guard. There are some secondary needs like cornerback, linebacker, wide receiver and running back. But those positions can be addressed through bargain deals and late-round draft picks. After several cuts already and more looming, the Falcons could be looking at north of $40 million in cap space this offseason – a luxury the team has not had the last few offseasons. Of course, a large chunk of that money will be spent on re-signing their own, such as Grady Jarrett. But Atlanta should still have enough change to shop in any isle they want. Stop me if you have heard that one before. Here are five players the Falcons should be eyeing in free agency.
This would be an interesting route for the Falcons to take because by re-signing Grady Jarrett and bringing in Trey Flowers, they would be bargain shopping the remainder free agency. With that said, this is a move that could take Atlanta’s defense to the next level.
Coming into 2018, the Falcons were expected to be a top ten unit. Those expectations never came to fruition for two reasons: Injuries and poor defensive line play. Outside of Grady Jarrett and Jack Crawford, there was nobody Atlanta could consistently rely on, specifically on the edge. Bringing in Flowers would solidify the Falcons rush defense and add some much-needed juice to the pass rush.
Flowers, a fourth-round pick out of Arkansas, has blossomed in the Patriots defense under Bill Belichick. He’s terrific at setting the edge against the run and has become a surprisingly effective pass rusher, particularly in the last two seasons. Since 2017 (29 games), Flowers has 14 sacks, 45 quarterback hits and 17 tackles for loss. There is no doubt what he would bring to a desperate defensive line, but the Patriots and a bevy of other teams that will be vying for his services stand in the way of making it happen.
At 31, Graham brings a lot of the same aspects that Flowers does to a defense. He’s stout against the run, recording nine or more tackles for loss in each of the last five seasons, and is a constant disruptive force getting after the passer. Flowers, who is 26 and entering his prime, maybe the superior player throughout their next contracts, but Graham is going to come at a more affordable price. As far as the bang for your buck is concerned, Graham could be the better option.
The problem is Graham is set to be 31 years old next year and is still looking to ink that lucrative contract that has alluded him thus far in his career. Spotrac currently gives Graham a market value of five years with an AAV of close to $15.5 million, just below what they gave Grady Jarrett. Personally, that number is absurd, and I don’t think there is any way a 31-year old – who is not a premier pass-rusher – is going to get close to $80 million. A more realistic figure is somewhere around four years for $55 million, and there might be a team who will be willing to top that.
So if you’re hoping that Graham will come at a discount because of all the pending pass-rushing free agents, that’s nothing more than a dream. The reality is players like DeMarcus Lawrence, Dee Ford, Jadeveon Clowney, and Frank Clark will all either play next year under some sort of tag or sign long-term extensions with their respective teams, which will make the next class of pass rushers, that includes Brandon Graham, a hot commodity.
I’d love to have Brandon Graham on the Falcons roster. But by re-signing Grady Jarrett and signing Brandon Graham, Atlanta would have very little cap space remaining. The move could also handcuff the Falcons in future years if Graham begins to show signs of regression, something common in the NFL once a player gets into their thirties. He’s a perfect fit, but Atlanta must avoid overpaying.
Rumors are that the Broncos are expected to let Paradis test the market, and Paradis has made it clear he’s not taking a home town discount. That means it is more likely than not he’s playing in another uniform next season.
Paradis has started in 57 games – primarily at center – for the Broncos over the last four seasons, winning one Super Bowl. Aside from a fractured bone in his leg that cost him seven games last season, he’s started in every game since 2015. With Alex Mack in the fold, the Falcons obviously do not need a center, but Paradis could make the transition to guard and provide a boost to the unit.
He won’t come cheap. Over The Cap suggests that Paradis is in for a massive payday and could be looking at a three-year deal worth over $10 mil AAV. That’s a higher AAV than Alex Mack received when he hit the market back in 2016, but with the rising salary cap and Paradis’s consistent production, it makes sense.
The Falcons may be hesitant to hand out such a deal given his unfamiliarity with the guard position. However, if the organization is serious about overhauling the offensive line, Paradis is one of the few free agents that may be worth it. This offensive line free-agent class is extremely weak, and we saw just how much of a difference one high-quality lineman can make on an entire group when the team signed Alex Mack.
Unlike Paradis, Saffold has shown interest in taking a hometown discount to say in Los Angeles. Although, that will only carry so much weight in his decision. The Rams are going to let him test free agency, and no matter how much one loves his organization – money talks.
The Falcons have been a disaster at the guard position, and Saffold was among the most reliable guards in the league, ranking first in the NFC West at the position according to Pro Football Focus with a grade of 73.2.
2018's highest-graded guards in the NFC West pic.twitter.com/tvzCDLeFXg
— PFF (@PFF) February 19, 2019
At 31 years old, Saffold won’t be in for a monster payday. But with limited legitimate guard options available in free agency, several teams will be eyeing him as a potential fit. The Falcons should undoubtedly be one of those teams, as they have not just one guard spot but possibly two to fill this offseason.
I’m not sure what the Ravens feed their pass rushers, but its working. Smith, a former fourth-round pick out of Kentucky, continues to inch his way towards the elite category of pass rushers. Because of that, he’s earned the nomination of the most underrated free agent according to Pro Football Focus.
It’s easy to see why. In sixteen games (eight starts), Smith recorded 60 pressures, good for the 17th most in the league. He also tallied 25 quarterbacks hits and 8.5 sacks. Smith is not nearly as effective in the run as he is against the pass. He will not set the edge like a Trey Flowers or Brandon Graham. But the Falcons most crucial need is players who can pin their ears back and get after the quarterback. Smith plays with a ferocity to him, and perhaps some of that will rub off on a player like Vic Beasley – if the Falcons opt to retain him.
Although, it is worth noting that many defensive linemen who leave the Ravens via free agency rarely have the same success. Paul Kruger and Pernell McPhee are a couple of examples. Smith would add a boost to the Falcons pass rush, but he should not be the only addition Atlanta brings in to help on the edge.