CBS Sports on why Falcons are losers of NFL free agency

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The Falcons were among the most active teams from the start of the legal tampering period that began Monday at noon.

Before the bell even rang, Atlanta swung a deal to acquire Jonnu Smith from New England in exchange for a seventh-round pick. Then, the biggest news of the offseason was dropped. The Falcons made Chris Lindstrom the highest-paid guard in football. They weren’t done, though.

The cash-rich Falcons would swing big deals with Jessie Bates III and David Onyemata, fortifying two levels of a defense that desperately needed difference-making talent. Before the day was over, the Falcons inked Kaden Ellis to another multi-year deal.

In all, the Falcons spent hundreds of millions of dollars and improved the talent on the roster dramatically, but the team is still considered losers of NFL free agency, according to Cody Benjamin of CBS Sports.

There’s no doubt they’ve improved their lineup, but much like the Jaguars in 2022, it’s not hard to see how they might’ve better allocated abundant resources. Bengals safety Jessie Bates III (4 years, $64M) is a big, albeit expensive, get for a secondary previously devoid of more than a single long-term playmaker. And locking up All-Pro guard Chris Lindstrom is smart, but he’s shattered the RG market with a $105M extension that’ll pay him $21M per year, more than any inside O-lineman in the NFL. Worse yet, did they really need to trade for underachieving Patriots TE Jonnu Smith (and his lofty contract) when Kyle Pitts is already in tow? Or commit $35M to Saints DT David Onyemata, a solid but unspectacular 30-year-old starter?

For reference, Benjamin only considers the Day 1 signings, but he’s still wrong on a few fronts.

Jessie Bates III is a ‘big, albeit expensive, get’ would be an oxymoron. All-Pro free agents are inherently expensive. Bates was the top player at his position on the free agent market and arguably a top-five player at his position. Benjamin is grasping at straws.

Chris Lindstrom’s market-setting deal didn’t exactly sit well with me either, but the Falcons had no option. You don’t let go of an All-Pro for a team without many blue chip players. Moreover, Lindstrom could very well make several more All-Pros on his way to dethroning Zack Martin for the league’s best guard. That would be worth every penny, especially for a guy as foundationally involved in the culture building of the new regime.

Jonnu Smith’s acquisition wasn’t exactly exciting because his current contract is atrocious; however, it was reported the two sides agreed to re-work the contract to make it more team-friendly. Mind you, the tight end’s best seasons came in 2020 and 2021 with Arthur Smith as the Titans’ offensive coordinator. If there’s anywhere he can maximize his skill set, it’s Atlanta.

Kyle Pitts being on the team also has no impact on Jonnu Smith. Arthur Smith runs more two and three tight end sets than just about any other team in the league; the pair’s skillsets actually complement each other. Pitts is a generational pass catcher while Smith is a better blocker and threat after the catch.

Finally, David Onyemata is an “unspectacular” 30-year-old starter for a league that regularly sees big men play into their mid to late 30s. Moreover, he generated a 10.6% pressure rate over the last two seasons, which is the eighth-highest among defensive tackles. Players who can pressure quarterbacks are expensive; I don’t know what to tell Mr. Benjamin, but the Falcons have had a very encouraging start to free agency.

Photographer: Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire

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