“We’re going to have to find players because you can’t just build your roster with overpaid players in free agency or top draft picks. We have to really dig and find value in free agency,” Fontenot said, via the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “That’s working with the coaches and finding exactly what they need and going and finding the players that they need. That’s throughout the entire draft and that’s in undrafted free agency. So, we have to be scouts and go find good players that can really fit the make-up and profile that we are looking for.”
These are the exact players Fontenot and the Falcons will avoid because their production in 2021 will likely not match their paychecks. All contract projections are from PFF, and I will focus on free agents at positions of need.
The Falcons will have a completely different-looking safety room in 2021, and Fontenot will surely address the position through free agency and April’s draft. The safety free-agent market is saturated with high-profile players, such as Anthony Harris and Justin Simmons. The Vikings defense — as a unit — was worse in 2020 compared to 2019, and Harris saw his stats absolutely plummet.
After missing just three tackles in 2019, Harris missed 10 in 2020. He also surrendered four touchdowns compared to zero in 2019, allowing a passer rating of 118.1 when targeted, up from 44.2 in 2019. PFF predicts the Washington Football Team will sign the former Virginia Cavalier for four years, $56 million ($14M APY).
Outside of the dollars and cents not making sense, the scheme fit with Harris doesn’t work. In Mike Zimmer’s defense, he was a perfect free safety — split-safety looks with coverage being by far his best asset. Dean Pees needs his safeties to be versatile, able to play multiple positions — slot, deep, and in the box. If suitors can’t afford Justin Simmons, they should consider pursuing Marcus Williams, Marcus Maye, or Jaquiski Tartt instead of Harris.
The tight end position in Atlanta is much different than safety with Hayden Hurst signed through the 2021 season. But acquiring someone like Hunter Henry would benefit Arthur Smith’s offense, which uses multiple tight end sets. 38% of the Titans’ play calls came out of a formation with at least two tight ends — 33% with two, 5% with three.
In his first couple of years in the league, Henry looked to be the next great tight end, but injuries derailed his trajectory. He is only 26, but he’s been in the league five years and missed 25 games. Even then, his statistics were never league-leading, failing to reach the 700-yard mark in a single season or score more than five touchdowns since he caught eight as a rookie in 2016. Henry’s yards-per-target rate also dropped from 9.3 in 2017 to 8.6 in 2019 (he missed 2018 because of an ACL tear) to 6.6 in 2020.
PFF predicts the Chargers sign Henry for four years, $48 million ($12M APY) — a little too rich for my taste. I believe a new city will help him return to his high-level of play, but he’s already hit his peak and isn’t worth $12 million per year.
Clowney is probably the most physically gifted player to ever rush the quarterback, but he’s never been an elite pass rusher. Although he’s one of the league’s best run defenders, the Falcons can’t shell out the money PFF projects for an EDGE that has three sacks in his last 22 games.
There’s a reason why he was one of the last free agents to sign during the 2020 offseason, and those concerns are still prevalent. Injuries aren’t going to go away after he failed to record a single sack in eight games with Tennessee last season. Clowney will likely receive a similar contract as the Titans gave him a season ago, and for that reason, Terry Fontenot should be out.
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