Falcons: 4 low cost, high reward bargain free-agents

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Terry Fontenot’s first offseason as general manager for the Falcons might be a frugal one, given the league’s revenue loss due to circumstances surrounding the pandemic. Fontenot has already started trimming the fat off, recently releasing Ricardo Allen and Allen Bailey, which saved the team around $11 million. There is a way to sign a couple of blue-chip free agents; it would just require pushing off contracts via restructures, which isn’t conducive to building a franchise the right way. Instead, Fontenot could find some bargain free-agents to bring in on cheap deals with high upside — something he regularly did in New Orleans.

Marlon Mack, RB

Marlon Mack entered the 2020 campaign with a reasonable amount of hype after his first 1,000-yard season while running behind one of the best offensive lines in football. Instead, he suffered a torn Achilles’ tendon just 11 snaps into the 2020 campaign. Coming off a season-ending injury will likely crater Mack’s value. The flat running back market, outside of Aaron Jones, will also play a factor in his worth. According to PFF, Mack has three seasons with 72.0-plus rushing grades and is a talented ball carrier — certainly enough to be apart of a running back by committee. A short-term prove-it deal seems like the most likely course this offseason.

Anthony Firkser, TE

Firkser enjoyed a breakout campaign last season under the guidance of Arthur Smith. He played well as Tennessee’s second tight end and even lined up in the slot when Adam Humphries was sidelined. Playing behind Hayden Hurst as he played behind Jonnu Smith should produce similar results. Hayden Hurst and Firkser could be interchangeable as both excel working off the line of scrimmage, as an H-back, and in the slot. He also has outstanding hands to serve as a primary receiving threat in some schemes, which he could eventually be, given Hurst is on the last year of his rookie deal.

Smith’s familiarity with Firkser should provide great insight for Fontenot to bring him in. The understanding is vital because they worked with these men and know their character and career trajectory. He isn’t as polished of a blocker as he is a receiver, but the upside is still there. If Firkser is the real deal, expect Smith to bring him in. The tight end free-agent market is top-heavy with proven guys like Jared CookHunter HenryGerald EverettJonnu Smith, and even Rob Gronkowski (who is assumed to be staying in Tampa). So signing Firkser to a team-friendly deal could be enticing for Fontenot and Smith.

Tyus Bowser, EDGE

Tyus Bowser is a personal favorite of mine because he offers a particular set of skills that’s perfect for Wink Martindale’s positionless defense — eerily similar to how Dean Pees runs his. In his first two years with the Ravens, he played only 320 snaps, but according to PFF, Bowser posted grades of 70.8 in 2019 and 68.3 in 2020. Each season, Bowser has played a little more and improved. His hybrid ability — rushing the passer 689 times and dropping into coverage 301 times in his career — is clearly something Pees values. The versatility to rush the passer and drop into coverage isn’t enough, though. A pass rusher sometimes wants only to do one thing, and that’s to get sacks, but sometimes in Pees’ defense, those EDGEs must drop into coverage — something Bowser has no issue doing.

“Whatever I have to do, whether that is dropping in coverage or rushing, I’m just there to do it,” Bowser told reporters in December.

Mike Hilton, CB

It’s no secret the Falcons need help at all three levels of the defense, and with the cornerback production from rookies usually low, a free agent could prove to be more effective. Hilton’s comfortability in the slot makes him valuable; consider the market set last offseason — Mackensie Alexander‘s $4 million contract. Even better, Hilton is another perfect scheme fit for Dean Pees’ defense. He epitomizes the do-it-all slot corner who can cover in both man and zone, play the run, and blitz effectively, garnering praise from teammates.

Mike is a special cat on this defense,” Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt told reporters in December. “He blitzes, he drops in coverage, he does man-to-man coverage. He does basically anything that we ask him to do.”

Photo: Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire

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