For the first couple of offseasons, the Falcons front office had to sign veterans to short-term, team-friendly deals as they navigated a mess of a salary cap inherited from the former regime. Terry Fontenot has consistently had to shop the bargain aisle in free agency while making difficult decisions to move on from franchise greats like Matt Ryan and Julio Jones.
Now, with much of the dead money behind them, the Falcons will be flexible enough to make significant additions this offseason if they so choose. As it currently sits, the team is projected to have just north of $60 million in cap space, but that figure could easily balloon to over $70 million if Atlanta parts ways with Marcus Mariota. With all those resources, this is a pivotal offseason for the Falcons.
“We’re in the next phase of the plan,” Fontenot said. “We had a plan from the very beginning, and now we’re in the next phase of that. This is going to be a different offseason than we’ve had the previous years.”
One important aspect of roster building is value. Fontenot has done a pretty good job finding just that with his free agent deals. And even though he has more resources doesn’t mean he and the front office should stray from that philosophy.
“Just because we have more resources this offseason, we still have to have discipline,” Fontenot said. “We still have to set parameters. We’re trying to put together a puzzle.”
There is a ton of work to do. There isn’t a single area of the roster that doesn’t need to be addressed. Whether it’s top end talent or depth, every position group could use bolstering — both sides of the trenches, the other two levels of the defense, offensive skill positions, and quarterback… every single unit. However, there is an expected developmental leap for the players drafted by this regime. It’s not just acquiring talent; it’s developing it.
“We do have a young core, but they have to take another step this offseason because we are going to continue to work hard to build this program,” Fontenot said. “Everyone has to look at this offseason and take on that challenge.”
Kyle Pitts showed up as a Pro Bowler, so nobody should be worried about him returning from injury. Avery Williams has proven to be a dynamic player in the third phase of the game and as a running back. Ta’Quon Graham experienced a massive sophomore leap in his development. Drew Dalman, Richie Grant, Darren Hall, Ade Ogundeji, Jalen Mayfield, and Frank Darby need to have big third years in the league — some are much more likely to improve dramatically than others.
Drake London is the team’s WR1, breaking Pitts’ rookie receptions record. And honestly, Tyler Allgeier should be considered in that same breath. Arnold Ebiketie flashed a ton of potential; I’m most excited to see him in Year 2. Troy Andersen was probably thrusted into a starting role too soon. Once his processing improves, his impressive physical abilities should shine through. Desmond Ridder finished the year strong, and DeAngelo Malone is someone that didn’t garner a ton of attention, but he still has plenty of potential.
The Falcons can acquire all the free agents they want, but if those guys don’t take the necessary steps in their developments, it’ll be for nothing. Drafting and developing is how good teams stay good.