The Falcons have prioritized the offensive side of the ball in free agency, adding two guards, two tight ends and a running back. After all the acquisitions, they are left with less than $5 million in cap space. Most of their needs on the defensive side can be taken care of via the draft; however, the Falcons lifeless pass rush can use some juice wherever they can find it, and several potential targets are remaining on the market.
Atlanta had 37 sacks last year – good for 22nd in the league. Most of those came after the Falcons acquired Bruce Irvin, who racked up 3.5 sacks and eight QB hits in eight games for Atlanta. During that time, Vic Beasley’s miserable season also began to turn around. Before Irvin came to Atlanta, Beasley only had one sack in eight weeks. After Irvin’s arrival, Beasley had four sacks in the second half of the season. Irvin is now a Carolina Panther, signing an affordable one-year, $4 million deal with the Falcons’ division rival.
Letting Irvin walk, who the Falcons reportedly had interest in retaining, signals they are not planning on making any more additions to their pass rush before the draft. Given they have little money left to spend, they are not even in the conversation for a premier pass rushing target like Justin Houston, and if they wanted to sign a cheaper option – Irvin made the most sense. That leaves Vic Beasley, Takk McKinley, and Steven Means as the only Edge players left on the Falcons roster.
Jeff Schultz of the Athletic concurs with that idea, saying the team is not planning on signing any more free agents until after the draft.
They're not going to sign another FA until after draft (if then), so it's hard to say whether DT or edge rusher will be bigger need. https://t.co/0RZNiRj78k
— Jeff Schultz (@JeffSchultzATL) March 20, 2019
Adding a pass rusher will be among the top priorities in the draft, but the Falcons are also in need of an offensive tackle and defensive tackle – both of which could take precedence over picking another edge rusher.
A lack of pass rushers has become a staple of the Atlanta Falcons, which is unfortunate considering the teams that win championships usually have a bundle of players that can get after the quarterback. Atlanta’s been better under Dan Quinn, but you have to go back to 2004 to find a Falcons team that finished in the top ten in sacks. They finished first in sacks that season with 48, and unsurprisingly, won their division with ease before losing in the NFC Championship to the Philadelphia Eagles.
With nine picks in the draft, Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff have a fantastic opportunity to bolster the entire defensive line. That said, it is going to take quite a bit for them to turn this pass rushing unit into one of the more formidable in the league. Not only will they need to draft multiple players on the edge along with at least one defensive tackle, but they are going to have to nail the picks as well. Taking into account the Falcons will also be looking to draft an offensive tackle early in the draft and Thomas Dimitroff’s poor report card in regards to selecting pass rushers; the outlook is far from promising for those hoping the team could jump into the top half of the league in terms of sacks.
Once again, pressuring the quarterback is set to be a substantial concern heading into 2019.