The Falcons will not be huge spenders come free agency. Thomas Dimitrioff has already stated that there will be an emphasis on taking care of the current Falcons core that came just plays away from winning the franchise’s first Super Bowl. That will take away some of the money the Falcons will be willing to spend on free agents, but Atlanta should have around $20 million to play with this offseason and will still be capable of adding some more firepower with their sights set on Super Bowl LII. Here are 5 guys who could be wearing the red and black next season.
Yea, I just said the Falcons would not be huge spenders in free agency, but Zeitler might be the only exception to that rule. The Falcons opted to invest big money in center Alex Mack last offseason, who ranked 16th in the entire NFL according to Pro Football Focus. Mack turned the Atlanta offensive line into one of the best in the NFL, leading a historically efficient Falcons offense.
It is no secret the Falcons will be looking to find a replacement soon for Chris Chester, and Zeitler would be the premium option, easily making the Falcons offensive line the most dominant in the league. The prospect of having an ultra-talented offensive line locked up for years to protect Matt Ryan is extremely enticing.
The problem is Zeitler is going to come with a hefty price tag. It would severely limit the amount of money the Falcons could spend on other free agents and may even jeopardize the future of some of the Falcons own upcoming free agents. While Zeitler is a bonafide stud, you could say the Falcons have bigger areas of concern than their offense that averaged 33.8 points per game. The same sort of problems come into play when assessing other top-level guards in this class like T.J Lang and Larry Warford. The talent is there for all of these players, but Atlanta may not be interested in another huge investment into their offensive line.
With premium edge rushers at a minimum in this year’s free agent class, the Falcons would likely look at the interior defensive line options if they wanted to add to their defense via free agency. Dontari Poe is one of the biggest names on the market and has been an absolute terror for opposing offenses in his five seasons in Kansas City. The Falcons know how important bolstering the defensive line is this offseason, and Poe along with emerging star Grady Jarrett would certainly solidify the interior for years to come.
The problem is Dontari Poe is actually coming off the worst season of his career, but that does not seem to be changing his asking price. Poe is reportedly seeking $10 million annually. Poe might not get that amount, but it is not unreasonable to think he will get a number very close to that. With the success the Falcons have had the last two seasons drafting defense, it would seem wise for the Falcons not to invest that type of money into Poe.
It seems like Ronald Leary is on his way out of Dallas, but it was not because of poor performance. Leary, once a weak link on the terrific Cowboys offensive line, has become a very solid offensive lineman in the NFL. The Cowboys have a wealth of talented offensive lineman, so Leary has become expendable and will not be as expensive of an option as the other top-level guard previously mentioned. He rated out as the 24th best guard in all of football last season with a grade of 80.4.
The Falcons have expressed interest in adding a guard in free agency, and Leary would be an affordable and youthful option for the team. With Leary, the future of the Falcons offensive line would still look extremely bright and Atlanta could still re-sign their core players and a few additional free agents with their remaining cap. This is a move I think the Falcons will pursue, but that does not mean there are no worries surrounding Leary.
The problem is Leary was just a piece to one of the best offensive lines in football. It could be the case that playing with such great players around him, some of his flaws were hidden. He will also be pursued by several teams desperate for offensive line help but not willing to pay top dollar. Leary is a guy who is probably due to get overpaid for the type of player he is.
Branch had a terrific year for the Patriots recording 49 tackles and 1.5 sacks. He is an elite run-defender, and the Patriots tend to let a lot of their free agents go. Branch could be another Patriot headed elsewhere, and the Falcons could use his services.
Branch put up significantly better numbers than Dontari Poe last season. That is not to say he is a better player, but he will come at a much cheaper price than Poe. Atlanta is going to add to their defensive line at least a little bit in free agency, and Branch could be the type of player the Falcons could get for a reasonable price at 32 years old.
The problem is despite the Patriots usual hesitance to sign aging free agents, the two sides seem highly interested in making a deal happen. Branch seems to even be hinting he might take less money to stay in New England. Branch obviously wants to play for a contendor at this point in his career, and the Falcons would certainly be an interesting destination for him.
Multiple reports have suggested that the Falcons are one of the many teams interested in McClain’s services. The defensive tackle is coming off his first year as a starter and impressed, recording 21 tackles for the Cowboys. Atlanta may end up spending most of their money locking up guys like Desmond Trufant, Matt Ryan and Devonta Freeman. That would make them extremely frugal in free agency, but McClain would still be an affordable option that would add much needed depth at the position.
The problem is McClain’s last season is the only season he has ever been effective. He has definitely earned the right to get a raise this offseason, but there really is no telling the type of production he will provide next season wherever he lands.