Robert Alford- Grade: A-
Releasing long-time cornerback Robert Alford was a necessary move this offseason. By eating the $2 million in dead money, Atlanta saved around $8 million in cap space for the 2019 season. Alford previously was a reliable starter opposite Desmond Trufant with occasional lapses in coverages, but this past season was abysmal and one that could not be overlooked.
Alford, when targeted by opposing quarterbacks in man coverage, gave up 75% of the balls thrown his way for over 500 yards and eight touchdowns. Second-year corner out of Colorado, Isiah Oliver is assumed to fill the void. Thinking back to his days playing in Boulder, Oliver showed excellent ball skills and thrived in press coverage. He has long arms, shining when he plays bump-and-run (a staple in Dan Quinn’s defensive strategy), and also possess elite speed to recover if his jam doesn’t land.
Matt Bryant- Grade: C-
The Falcons parted ways with their veteran placekicker after ten seasons, which saved $2.83 million against the 2019 cap with $1.33 million in dead cap. The skinny is that Matt “Money” Bryant was exceptional again in the 2018 season converting 20 of 21 field goals, with a long of 57-yards, and was 33 of 35 on extra points, but he missed three games due to a hamstring injury.
Replacement Giorgio Tavecchio is under contract on a cheap deal and hit all five field goal attempts and eight extra points in the three games he took over for the reliable Bryant. If Tavecchio can perform even slightly to the caliber as his predecessor, this move will make Thomas Dimitroff look like a genius. But if Tavecchio struggles in big moments, where Bryant shined brightest, Falcons fans will be calling for Dimitroff’s job.
Brooks Reed- Grade: B
Atlanta’s lack of depth along the defensive front is a stark weakness. By releasing Reed, the Falcons must feel confident with starters Vic Beasley and Takk McKinley and have a plan to add depth through the draft. Replacing Reed with a rookie is cheaper, but there is uncertainty the production will match that of the veteran defensive end. Cutting Alford, Bryant, and Reed, saved the Falcons over $15 million, making enough room for Grady Jarrett, who was franchise-tagged.
Grady Jarrett- Grade: A+
With Grady Jarrett under the franchise tag for the 2019 season, it gives the Falcons an extended period to reach a long-term deal. The team has until July 15th to agree to a new contract or Jarrett will play under the one-year tag worth $15.2 million.
If the two sides reach an understanding, restructuring the deal and back-loading the salary will give the Falcons more immediate cap space to fill other cavities through free agency. Even if the deal doesn’t get done and Jarrett is to play on the one-year deal, Falcons’ fans should still be satisfied. Jarrett recorded a career-high six sacks, 16 quarterback hits, 3 FF, and 8 TFLs while showing constant improvement each year. Jarrett is one of the best, young interior defensive lineman and deserves to be paid like one.
Ryan Schraeder- Grade: C+
Moving on from RT Schraeder shows the confidence that Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff have in Ty Sambrailo, who was given a 3-year contract extension this offseason. Though Quinn and Dimitroff vouch the 27-year-old has starting NFL tackle potential, if there is a discrepancy in his final four games from 2018, Matt Ryan could feel the effect of losing a tackle like Schraeder. The move saves Atlanta $6.45 million against the cap, but offensive line solidarity is vital for a team like the Falcons trying to recreate the magic from the 2016 season.
Jamon Brown- Grade: B+
Not resigning Brown was yet another mysterious move by Giants’ general manager Dave Gettleman. Brown proved to be more than a serviceable piece for a struggling New York offensive Line. Though Brown’s stats didn’t scream “under-the-radar, elite-level NFL Guard”, he can offer quality play at a position of need for Atlanta.
He gave up three sacks and committed eight penalties in eight games last year with the Giants, but his impact appeared more in the run game, where the Falcons focus is this offseason. The Giants averaged 5 yards per carry and 128 yards on the ground per game during the second half of the 2018 season with Brown in the starting lineup. People familiar with the NFL know what Matt Ryan can do with a proper run game – MVP. All around, if Brown develops his pass-blocking next to Alex Mack, this signing could be an undervalued piece of a successful off-season.
James Carpenter- Grade: B+
Another signing at an area many perceive as a priority for the offseason. Carpenter solidifies the interior offensive line and will for the next four years, as he signed a surprisingly long contract for a player coming off a significant injury after his 8th season.
He spent the first half of his career in Seattle – his connection to Dan Quinn. Carpenter was often the starter at left guard with the Seahawks and started four seasons in New York for the Jets at left guard. Falcons’ fans can expect Carpenter to be a day one starter and perform admirably.
Luke Stocker- Grade: C+
Stocker, who is on a two-year deal, will add depth behind Pro Bowler Austin Hooper. Stocker spent most of his time in Tampa Bay, but was released and picked up by the Tennessee Titans. He briefly played for Mike Mularkey, before Mularkey and the Titans parted ways after the 2017 season. After a year away from football, Mularkey is now back for his second stint with the Falcons as the tight ends coach.
Stocker is mainly a blocking tight end; in 99 games played, the University of Tennessee product has 68 catches, 577 yards, and five touchdowns. He will compete with Eric Saubert and Logan Paulsen for playing time behind Hooper. Stocker also has experience at fullback, which gives new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter an opportunity to get creative.
Logan Paulsen- Grade: C+
Paulsen was brought back to Atlanta on a one-year deal after spending the 2018 season with the team, mainly as a blocking tight end. Atlanta could have a field day using three tight end sets (Hooper, Stocker, and Paulsen) to play smash-mouth football, while also taking advantage of play-action situations using Hooper. These two signings will almost certainly eliminate selecting a tight end in this year’s draft, which boasts an impressively deep crop of tight end prospects.
Kenjon Barner- Grade: B
After losing running back Tevin Coleman to the San Francisco 49ers, expect backup Ito Smith to have an expanded role in the offense this year. Barner offers depth at the running back position, and though he has played in the NFL for six seasons, the former Oregon Duck has minimal wear and tear on his body, carrying the ball only 96 times in his career. Instead, he has primarily been used as a return specialist.
Atlanta performed poorly in this area last season, ranking 25th in yards per punt return a year ago – an unimpressive 6.8 yards per return. If given a full time role, Barner will immediately help Atlanta’s average field position. In 2017, Barner averaged a respectable 8.9 yards per punt return while playing in Philadelphia, which would place Atlanta above the league average from a year ago.
Justin Hardy- Grade: B+
Signing Justin Hardy on a team-friendly one-year deal means the Falcons are returning their four most productive receivers from last season. Though Hardy has proven to be a reliable reserve receiver, he is a core component of Atlanta’s special teams. Special teams might not seem overly critical, but the teams that pay attention to the details (i.e., New England Patriots) are usually the ones who find themselves playing late into January.
Fans can look at Justin Hardy as a leader on special teams, doing the dirty work that most players aren’t willing to do. Matthew Slater is a veteran leader of the New England Patriots, who only plays on special teams but is a sure-tackling, high-effort player that Bill Bellicheck can rely on to perform admirably in the toughest, most important moments. Hardy isn’t Slater but offers similar qualities in leadership.
Overall Offseason Grade: B-
Atlanta’s offseason shows Thomas Dimitroff’s ability to work with a tight salary cap. Atlanta wasn’t going to make any splash free agent signings due to having about 25% of the team’s yearly cap tied up in five players, but they were able to sign starting level talent at positional needs for a reasonable price.
Getting rid of Matt Bryant could prove to be the most glaring whiff of the offseason. If Atlanta’s playoff run or even the chance to make the playoffs rests on a field goal that is missed, saving under $3 million by cutting a sure-fire placekicker will seem asinine. I would’ve liked to see Dimitroff attack free agency using a different strategy, by signing veteran depth along the defensive line instead of tight end.
Signing veteran depth at any position on the defensive front grants Atlanta flexibility during the draft where they can tactically attack it by selecting the best player available. With profound defensive line and tight end talent in this year’s draft, Dimitroff could find a future starter and immediate no. 2 tight end in the mid-rounds (i.e., Jace Sternberger) and provide a solution to the defensive line in the first three rounds. Although, tight end is one of the toughest positions to reciprocate production from college to the professional level.
If the Falcons and Grady Jarrett’s representatives can reach a long-term agreement, assuming money will be freed up this season, Dimitroff will have greater elasticity in how he approaches the draft and the rest of free agency. Free agency isn’t over, and Falcons’ fans can expect more moves before the final 53-man roster is finalized.