“Early returns are positive” on high price Falcons free agent defender

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For the first time since the new regime took over in Atlanta, the Falcons were able to participate in free agency without financial limitations.

Following two seasons of cap restraints, Terry Fontenot took on a mountain of dead money to come out the other side this offseason with a somewhat clean slate. There is still around $18 million in dead cap, but that’s a stark difference from about $84 million last year.

With all of that extra cap space, the Falcons went on a shopping spree, spending more than $250 million on new contracts as well as extensions. The headliners of the free agent class were Jessie Bates III, Calais Campbell, and David Onyemata. Lesser known Kaden Elliss was a bit of shock because he’d rarely been a full-time starter but garnered a $21.5 million deal from the Falcons. However, the early returns are positive, according to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler.

Some fans might have been surprised that linebacker Kaden Elliss got a three-year, $21.5 million deal from the Falcons in free agency, but the early returns are positive. Atlanta has been impressed with his pass-rushing skills. Fontenot was part of the Saints’ scouting department that drafted Elliss in the seventh round four years ago, so he knew what he was getting. Elliss has shown the ability to win one-on-one rushing opportunities without schematic smoke and mirrors.

For much of his time in the NFL, Elliss has been a reserve player, contributing primarily on special teams over his first three seasons, but he experienced a coming-out party last year.

In the wake of starters going down with injuries, Elliss emerged as a versatile linebacker for the Saints, posting 68 tackles, seven sacks, two forced fumbles, and two pass deflections.

Current Falcons defensive coordinator and former Saints co-defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen used him in many ways, including as an off-ball linebacker and along the defensive front. Nielsen played a significant role in Elliss coming to Atlanta, providing him with the opportunity to impact the game in multiple ways.

“Some of the snaps may have logged me defensive end, some of them I may have been at a linebacker mugged up in the B gap,” Elliss said, via the team’s website. “That’s one of the things I kind of liked about coach Nielsen, is how he has that history in his background and how he helped put together the third-down plan over there [in New Orleans]. I was excited to follow him and work with him in this [defense].”

Kaden Elliss is a more than capable run defender, but where he is most valuable is as a pass rusher. Six of his seven sacks came in the final seven weeks of the last season. Atlanta is a perfect place for Elliss to display his versatile skill set; he can play on the line, outside linebacker, inside linebacker, etc.

For a team that has spoken ad nauseam about positionless football, the sky is the limit for Kaden Elliss.

Photographer: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire

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