Falcons among ESPN’s teams with roster holes after free agency


The Falcons signaled to their fan base and the rest of the league that they believe, whether it’s true or not, they’re contenders with Kirk Cousins.

Arthur Blank gave Terry Fontenot the go-ahead to give the veteran $180 million with $100 million guaranteed, and it fixed Atlanta’s single biggest problem over the last three years.

However, it also raised expectations. With Cousins in the fold, Raheem Morris has to make the postseason. And honestly, a one-and-done appearance will be disappointing. The most likely cause of that failure resides on the defensive side of the ball.

The Falcons offense looks like it should be a top 10 unit on paper as currently constructed. The same cannot be said for the other side of the ball. Atlanta needs a competent starting corner to at least compete with Clark Phillips, Dee Alford, and Mike Hughes, but that pales in comparison to the need for another pass rusher.

The roster hole is even making national headlines. ESPN’s Bill Barnwell explored teams that still have roster holes after free agency, and the Falcons made it.

Pass-rusher: Atlanta Falcons

Out: Calais Campbell, Bud Dupree

Finding pass-rushers who can create pressures against offensive tackles has seemingly been a problem for the Falcons since John Abraham left town in 2013.

Viewed from that lens, it might be concerning that Atlanta’s two leading pass-rushers from 2023 are free agents. Campbell and Dupree tied for the team lead with 6.5 sacks each, and the ageless Campbell paced all Falcons with 17 quarterback knockdowns.

The Falcons haven’t taken nearly enough swings on arguably the second-most important position in the sport. Whether it’s the draft, free agency or even trades, Atlanta hasn’t done nearly enough to try to fix an issue that dates back to John Abraham, as Barnwell points out. What’s the most discouraging part of Barnwell’s piece? This next part:

In: No one

It has made significant investments on the offensive side of the ball in adding Kirk Cousins and Darnell Mooney to rebuild the passing game, but we haven’t seen Morris & Co. add any talent to try to recalibrate things on the other side of the ball.

Arnold Ebiketie, a second-round pick in 2022, finished a half-sack behind Campbell and Dupree, and he should be in position to start at outside linebacker in 2024. Beyond him, there is Lorenzo Carter and DeAngelo Malone, neither of whom should be guaranteed a starting role on the edge.

No one has been acquired. The Falcons are choosing to either address it in the draft or wait until after for what’s left over in free agency. Either way, for a team with championship aspirations, this is unsettling.

What could be next: Adding a veteran edge rusher.

The Falcons should have their pick of the defensive players on the board at No. 8 and could select edge rusher Dallas Turner (Alabama), who had 10 sacks last season. I’m not sure Turner and Ebiketie would be enough for a full season, even if Turner lives up to expectations as a potential top-10 pick.

Adding at least one veteran to the mix would make sense. Dupree played outside linebacker for the Steelers in their 3-4 alignment and had a resurgent year for the Falcons after disappointing in Tennessee; the born-and-raised Georgian is a solid two-way player and would make sense on a one-year deal if his market doesn’t develop elsewhere.

I just don’t understand the thought process of betting on the upside of a rookie, Arnold Ebiketie, and DeAngelo Malone. That’s a recipe for disaster. The Falcons are returning nine total sacks from the edge unit. Very rarely do rookie pass rushers come in and dominate immediately. With the Kirk Cousins window open, the Falcons cannot sit on their hands here.

Photographer: Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire

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