The Falcons will have a new-look defense for a couple of reasons. Atlanta hired Ryan Nielsen to take over for Dean Pees as defensive coordinator, resulting in an influx of new assistants, including former Packers assistant Jerry Gray. Secondly, the team has significant resources to bolster that side of the ball — boasting the second-most cap space in the league with an arsenal of draft capital.
Nielsen spending his time in New Orleans makes several impending Saints free agents and former players possible targets, and there are some enticing ones. Sheldon Rankins, David Onyemata, Marcus Davenport, Tanoh Kpassagnon, Shy Tuttle, and Kentavius Street are all possibilities. Jerry Gray, who was a candidate for the defensive coordinator position, is a veteran, spending time as the defensive backs coach or coordinator for more than 20 NFL seasons. Since that period is so vast, we’ll just focus on his most recent stop with the Packers. Let’s take a look at some options that could follow Gray from Green Bay to Atlanta.
Adrian Amos, Dean Lowry, Jarren Reed, Justin Hollins, Keisean Nixon
There aren’t nearly as many impending free agents that interest me from the Packers as the Saints, but there are a few worth exploring.
Amos is the most proven player in the group. After beginning his career in Chicago, the veteran safety signed his second contract with the rival Packers and has been steady ever since. Some fans complain about his coverage skills, and though they aren’t elite, he’s a pretty well-rounded player from what I’ve seen. He’s very good at defending the run, but the most important attribute is his durability. Amos hasn’t missed a single game since signing with Green Bay. I believe that should be one of the top factors in whether the Falcons sign a free agent or not — the best ability is availability.
Dean Lowry didn’t live up to his contract extension, but he’s still a player worth bringing in at the right price for the proper role. In a perfect world, the Falcons bolster the trenches so much that a player like Lowry is purely a rotational piece. I don’t know how realistic that is just yet, though.
Keisean Nixon will likely be re-signed, but the Falcons should be interested if not. His value as a cornerback isn’t near as great as his value on special teams. Given Atlanta’s roster contains special teams aces Cordarrelle Patterson and Avery Williams, the chances of Nixon coming to Atlanta are slim. Still, he’s one of the best returners in football and would be a welcomed addition.
The Jarren Reed of today is certainly not the version that put up 10+ sacks in Seattle, but he’s still got some juice. He’ll be 31 years old and still provide solid effort against the pass and run. I’d put him in the same category as Lowry. I would love it if either were a depth/ rotational piece, but the thought of them starting or playing meaningful snaps is quite the discouraging image.
Justin Hollins fits that same model. He could be a rotational pass rusher. After beginning the year with the Rams, he spent the final six games with the Packers, putting up 2.5 sacks over that period. Again, it’s not inspiring but could help as a depth piece.
The Falcons have relied on former relationships in the past when signing free agents — i.e., Cordarrelle Patterson, Rashaan Evans, Anthony Firkser, etc. That tendency should be expected to continue this offseason.
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