Falcons deemed best fit for several marquee free agents by ESPN

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The Falcons have nearly $56 million in cap space entering the offseason, and that figure could easily balloon to nearly $70 million if Atlanta parts ways with Marcus Mariota. For the first time in what feels like forever, the club will have some cash to do some shopping in free agency, and there is no shortage of roster needs. The Falcons will be active in the free agent market, and Matt Bowen of ESPN thinks Jamel Dean, Dalvin Tomlinson, T.J. Edwards, and Sam Darnold are perfect fits.

9. Jamel Dean, CB

Best team fit: Atlanta Falcons

A 26-year-old defender who plays a premium position, Dean will have multiple options on the market. The Titans are a potential landing spot, too, but I like the idea of pairing him with A.J. Terrell in Atlanta to give the Falcons two corners with press-man ability and backfield vision in zone looks. Dean is long at 6-foot-1, can disrupt throwing windows and creates on-the-ball production. He had double-digit pass breakups in each of his first three pro seasons, with two interceptions last year.

30. Dalvin Tomlinson, DT

Best team fit: Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons could boost their defensive line with Tomlinson, a 325-pound nose guard who can play as a 1-technique in a 40 front. With 13 sacks over six pro seasons, Tomlinson isn’t going to bring high-end pass-rush production to Atlanta. But thanks to lateral quickness and that size, Tomlinson can clog up running lanes, demand double-teams and provide an interior push next to Grady Jarrett to take away opposing quarterback’s throwing platforms.

37. T.J. Edwards, ILB

Best team fit: Atlanta Falcons

Edwards is a stack linebacker who will key and diagnose quickly versus the run, and he has the second-level range to impact zone windows. His 159 tackles tied for sixth in the NFL last season, and he can be schemed as a blitzer in both base and sub-personnel packages. Atlanta ranked 25th in yards allowed per play in 2022 (5.7), and it needs a playmaker in the middle of the defense.

49. Sam Darnold, QB

Best team fit: Atlanta Falcons

We can look at Darnold as competition for an incumbent starter or as a high-level No. 2 quarterback. And with the expectation the Falcons cut Marcus Mariota, Darnold would work in Atlanta as competition for second-year QB Desmond Ridder in Arthur Smith’s system. In six starts last season for the Panthers, Darnold completed 58.6% of his passes for 1,143 yards, seven touchdowns and three interceptions. He’s a good mover with arm talent and second-reaction ability, but we still see some limitations late in the down, where his decision-making declines. A return to Carolina is possible, too.

These are very interesting free agent prospects.

The Falcons need at least one more tarting-caliber cornerback this offseason, and Jamel Dean makes a lot of sense. PFF projects Dean to command a four-year, $68 million deal. Depending on how you value Dean, $17 million annually is a bargain. Spotrac projects a similar deal for just over three years instead of four at $16.5 million per year.

There’s been no indication that Casey Hayward could be cut, but it’s a possibility for an aging player coming off a season ended by injury. In that case, Atlanta would need two starters. Isaiah Oliver deserves consideration for the nickel role, but the boundary opposite of Terrell would be up for grabs. Dean makes a lot of sense in that scenario.

Tomlinson started his career in New York and primarily assumed nose tackle snaps for the Giants. He played in 13 games in 2022 and tallied 42 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and one fumble recovery. Tomlinson is a massive human whose primary asset is clogging up running lanes. He has posted 13 sacks over six seasons, so he’d do nothing more than garner double teams and provide an interior push, but that could be just what the doctor ordered for Grady Jarrett to get more one on ones.

PFF projects a $35.25 million contract over three years, an average annual value of $11.75 million per year. Spotrac has Dalvin Tomlinson’s market value at three years, $25.5 million, with an average annual value of $8.5 million. That’s a more palatable per-year salary, but the term is longer.

T.J. Edwards is Jake’s top free agent linebacker:

One of the breakout stars of the best defense in the NFL, Edwards was one of my big targets for Atlanta in the 2019 NFL Draft (along with his Wisconsin teammate TJ Watt). Edwards is the leader of a defense that gave up the fewest amount of yards in the NFL and totaled 70 sacks. He really has no weaknesses as a player. If Atlanta is going to throw somebody a bag, it should be Edwards, who’s only 26 this offseason.

Now, for the most interesting of the free agents, who would likely make the smallest impact — Sam Darnold. The USC product posted a 4-2 record while throwing seven touchdowns to just three interceptions for the Panthers last year. In those six starts, he completed under 60% of his passes for 1,143 yards.

Darnold displayed the arm talent and mobility that made him the no. 3 overall pick, but his decision-making was still questionable. The Falcons need a quarterback to compete with Desmond Ridder in training camp, and Sam Darnold is certainly a candidate.

Photographer: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire

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