Falcons defensive coordinator’s status for 2023 season up in the air

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With the Falcons out of playoff contention and the season finale against the Buccaneers this Sunday, many around the team are looking toward the 2023 season. And who could blame them? This season has been extraordinarily middling for the Falcons and their fans, but the offseason is set to be riveting, considering the team will be selecting in the first ten picks once again while boasting as much cap space as any organization, making them big players in free agency.

However, one overlooked aspect of the offseason is personnel turnover on the coaching staff. Arthur Smith’s job is safe, but the Falcons‘ defensive coordinator Dean Pees is now contemplating retiring.

Pees is as experienced as any coordinator in football, and he’s actually already retired twice. Pees coordinated championship defenses in New England and Baltimore before hanging up his whistle the first time. Then Mike Vrabel sought him out to assume the DC role in Tennessee on his staff. After two seasons with the Titans, Pees once again retired. Then, for the second time and what will likely be the final time, the veteran defensive coordinator came out of retirement to join Arthur Smith’s staff in Atlanta, where he’s coordinated two pretty terrible units. Below are this year’s metrics:

  • Opponent Points per Game 23.1 (23rd)
  • Opponent Yards per Game 370.9 (29th) 
  • Opponent Third Down Conversion Percentage 45.89% (31st)
  • Opponent Rushing Yards per Game 133.0 (24th)
  • Opponent Yards per Rush Attempt 4.4 (16th)
  • Opponent Completion Percentage 66.41% (25th)
  • Opponent Passing Yards per Game 237.9 (26th)
  • Opponent Yards per Completion 10.9 (27th)
  • Sacks 21 (31st)
  • Takeaways per Game 1.0 (T-26th)

His defenses with the Falcons have been nothing short of terrible, but it’s not because Pees has lost his touch. Dealing with weighing salary cap issues, the Falcons have yet to spend significant money on the defensive side of the ball. For the 2022 season, Atlanta ranks 29th in cap space spent on the defense, with just a hair over $39 million allocated to Pees’ unit. That is about 19% of the team’s total salary cap, with the average defender costing the team $1.6 million in 2022. The only significant investment the Falcons have made in the defense is Casey Hayward‘s two-year, $11 million deal and Grady Jarrett’s lucrative extension.

Moreover, the new regime hasn’t spent a single first-round pick on the defensive side of the ball. A.J. Terrell was the team’s last first-round selection, while second-round picks Richie Grant and Arnold Ebiketie are the two highest-selected defenders of the new regime’s tenure.

The Falcons‘ defense has been abysmal the past two seasons, but not because of Pees. There have been moments where he was outcoached, but for the most part, the defensive issues can be attributed to the substandard personnel. Until there’s some real investment into the defense — free agency or draft — expectations should always be tempered.

Pees is a grizzled veteran and knows the talent discrepancy in Atlanta compared to the dominant units he coordinated in New England and Baltimore. He’s probably not too upset with the way his group has performed because expectations were low to begin with. Hopefully, he returns for a third season after the team invests significant resources into that side of the ball. He deserves a chance to go out in a better way than this.
Photographer: David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire
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