The Falcons have been working with one arm tied behind their backs when it comes to roster building. Terry Fontenot has essentially had to move the personnel forward while ridding the team’s cap sheet of the bloated, overpriced contracts he inherited from the former regime. The team’s prerogative has been to eat the large amount of dead money associated with parting ways with Julio Jones, Matt Ryan, Deion Jones, and Dante Fowler in order to take steps forward.
Before the Bears traded Roquan Smith and Robert Quinn, the Falcons operated with the most amount of dead money in the league, meaning they began the season with the fewest cap dollars allocated to active rostered players. And to Arthur Smith’s credit, he’ll end up surpassing preseason expectations, which were as pessimistic as predicting the Falcons to pick No. 1 overall in the 2023 NFL Draft. He’s doing as much as he can with such little help on the roster; the Falcons winning games has come in unorthodox ways.
Smith deserves a bulk of the credit for the culture he’s instilled in Flowery Branch and the way he’s navigated a shaky quarterback situation. But the talent on the roster is going to cap the team’s ceiling. Credit to Terry Fontenot, too, because several of his diamonds in the rough free agent acquisition have had quite the return on investment. The contracts Fontenot has handed out have been predominantly one-year pacts, meaning there will be a ton of turnover this offseason.
There are exceptions; several have received multi-year deals — Mike Davis, Cordarrelle Patterson, Casey Hayward, and Marcus Mariota. Outside of them, it’s been chiefly drafted players and free agents on one-year contracts. The Falcons have 26 impending free agents, but only a portion of them were one-year deals. A list of the ones who have logged more than just a handful of snaps is below:
OLB Lorenzo Carter
WR Damiere Byrd
CB Michael Ford
WR Khadarel Hodge
There are others like Vincent Taylor, MyCole Pruitt, Colby Gossett, Matt Dickerson, Abdullah Anderson, Damien Williams, Germain Ifedi, Anthony Firkser, Nick Kwiatoski, and Chuma Edoga who signed one-year pacts that haven’t played sizeable roles other than as rotational pieces or injury elevations.
With such a large bulk of the team’s snaps coming from stopgap, bargain-bin free agents, the Falcons were always going to have to play above their ability. And it’s happened on several occasions. The Falcons almost beat a superior Buccaneers team and beat a much more talented Niners squad. But there are also the ugly losses, like on Thursday Night Football against the lowly Panthers, who are led by a third-string quarterback and interim head coach.
The Falcons’ method of building the team shouldn’t be the M.O. moving forward; it was out of necessity. Fontenot will likely hand out the most lucrative contract to a free agent this offseason, given how much cap space the team is set to have as they get out from underneath the contracts of Ryan, Jones, etc. But for right now, the Falcons are just a feisty ragtag bunch of stopgap veterans.
Photographer: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire