Falcons free agent signing makes NFL.com’s list of analytical fits

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The Falcons made significant moves this offseason. The club made Chris Lindstrom the highest-paid guard in the league, traded for Jonnu Smith, and bolstered the pass rush with free agent addition David Onyemata. However, the gem of the offseason is Jessie Bates III, who signed a four-year deal worth $64+ million.

It was one of the more obvious free agent fits. Everyone believed the Falcons were the frontrunners to sign the premier free agent safety. After playing on the franchise tag in 2022, the former Bengals All-Pro was in line for a lucrative deal, and Atlanta had an obvious need for a safety to pair with Richie Grant.

Moreover, Bates was seen recently in public with Kyle Pitts, AJ Terrell, and Casey Hayward, which he admitted played a role in his free agent decision.

Outside of being a rangy and versatile safety, Bates was one of my personal favorites because of his durability. Last year marked his fifth straight 1,000-plus-snap season, which should be a priority for the Falcons right now. He was clearly the teams top free agent target this offseason, and the Falcons weren’t going to mess around, giving him $36 million fully guaranteed and $23 million in the first year of the deal. Bates is an excellent addition to the secondary that will feature AJ TerrellCasey Hayward, and Richie Grant.

Cynthia Frelund believes it’s one of the best free agent fits of the offseason.

When I was projecting free agency fits before the start of the new league year, Bates to Atlanta was the best match, according to my model, when looking at the highest win-shares relative to player position. According to NGS, Bates posted the fifth-best ballhawk rate (23.3%) and the fifth-best targeted EPA (-11.0) among safeties last season (minimum of 30 targets as the nearest defender).

In 2022, the Falcons allowed +112 yards after the catch over expected on passes of 10-plus air yards, seventh-most in the NFL. So in the big picture, they needed to address the safety position. New defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen (who’s taking over after Dean Pees’ retirement) helped produce excellent safety play as a member of the Saints’ staff. Considering these factors, it starts to become clearer how Atlanta will utilize Bates, whose defensive grade in 2020 (90.1) still stands as the second-best among safeties since that season, per PFF. He projects as extremely useful in the concepts the Falcons are most likely to deploy.

It’s pretty simple why it was a perfect fit: Jessie Bates is an All-Pro and the Falcons defense was abysmal.

Although, Frelund makes several interesting points about Bates’ ball hawking ability and Atlanta’s suspect defense in that aspect. What she doesn’t note is the impact on Richie Grant. Bates’ presence will allow the former second-rounder to assume a role that better accentuates his strengths. It was a home run free agent addition for the Falcons.

Photographer: Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire

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