Falcons: Roster building blocks worth keeping

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With the Falcons seemingly punting on this season, evident from the Takk Mckinley trade rumors, according to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, the rest of the roster will be assessed. The entire NFL will feel the effect in 2021 of the loss of revenue from this unusual season. Teams like the Texans and Falcons are in a favorable situation to deal with the 2021 salary cap after both organizations fired their head coach and general manager, giving them a headstart in evaluating their current roster. 

Falcons President and CEO, Rich McKay, is responsible for overlooking day-to-day football operations and assist Arthur Blank in the search for a new general manager and head coach. This does not mean that McKay will be pulling strings and trading away players left and right. However, under his direction, Thomas Dimitroff’s former responsibilities will be handled by current members of the football operations staff for the remainder of 2020.

Production and value are the two main variables when analyzing an NFL player. Those two aspects come from separate areas in a front office. The salary cap expert, Director of Player Personnel, Director of Pro Personnel, and the Director of College Scouting will collaborate when assessing a rostered player’s future. 

Since fully integrating into the NFL in 2018, PFF has sparked a widespread debate about whether or not analytics are superior to the old school method of assessing players. Regardless of your stance, an aggregate of old and new will always be the most effective philosophy. The Falcons are one of the more analytically driven front offices in the NFL.

Karl Pierburg is the Director of Football Systems for Atlanta and separates duties into four facets. Pre-acquisition, post-acquisition, opposition analysis, and athletic performance are those areas. Opposition analysis is what applies specifically to this article. It is an area that touches not just game-planning but also assesses the Falcons’ own players and potential free-agent targets. This analysis allows NFL front offices to answer questions like: how valuable is _______? What is _______ worth in draft capital? Are we paying too much for _______?

Now that you are more aware of who makes them and how they make these roster determinations, I will categorize each member of the roster based on various parameters. These include but are not limited to current/ future contract, production/potential, and scheme. After deliberation, I will designate each player as a “Keep, Maybe, or Scrap”, followed by my brief reasoning.

 

Keep

Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Grady Jarrett, Jake Matthews, Deion Jones, Dante Fowler, Chris Lindstrom, Calvin Ridley, AJ Terrell, Kaleb McGary, Hayden Hurst, Isaiah Oliver, Marlon Davidson, Deadrin Senat, Ito Smith, Brian Hill, Kendall Sheffield, Matt Hennessy, Matt Gono, John Cominsky, Mykal Walker, Foyesade Oluokun, Russell Gage, Jaylinn Hawkins, Blidi-Wren Wilson, and the entire special teams unit. 

Ryan, Julio, Grady, Matthews, and Debo are all virtually guaranteed to be on the roster next year due to their production and contract figures. Dante Fowler should be included in the former group solely based on his contract and dead money, but his play this season is discouraging, and he might need a new scheme to utilize his skill set better. 

Lindstrom, Ridley, Terrell, McGary, Hurst, Oliver, Davidson, Hennessy, Cominsky, Walker, Oluokun, and Gage are still on their team-friendly rookie deals. That does not take into consideration that half of those mentioned are budding stars in Atlanta, while the other half is made up of practical starters at worst. 

Sheffield, Wilson, Hill, Seanat, Smith, Gono, and Hawkins are all inexpensive, serviceable depth pieces. Continuity among the special teams unit is crucial for success, and Young-hoe Koo is the only member of the group not under contract next season. Including Koo, some of these aforementioned players do need new deals, but they are under this designation for a reason, whether it be based on production or economics.

 

Maybe

Ricardo Allen, James Carpenter, Allen Bailey, Charles Harris, Tyeler Davison, Damontae Kazee, and Keith Smith.

Ricardo Allen, Allen Bailey, and Tyeler Davison would all exit Atlanta this offseason if it weren’t for their contracts that expire after the 2021 season. They have all played poorly, each grading out under 60 according to PFF this season. Depending on the regime, instead of absorbing their dead caps and cutting them, they could keep them for cost-effective reasons. 

James Carpenter is close to being grouped with the previously mentioned but is not included due to his lengthy contract. Carpenter is effective in the run game but struggles in pass protection. Depending on the new leadership and scheme, he could play out the remaining years of his contract (expires after 2022) or become a dead cap casualty. 

Charles Harris and Damontae Kazee are both impending free agents, but there is a chance that new management brings them back. They have been productive when on the field and would be relatively cheap, considering Kazee’s injury and Harris’s current lack of playing time. Keith Smith received this classification because of the uncertainty surrounding the offense next year. Different systems value different positions more than others, and Smith could be seen as an asset or liability depending on the offensive scheme.

 

Scrap

Alex Mack, Keanu Neal, Todd Gurley, Tak McKinley, Matt Schaub, Justin McCray, Sharrod Neasman, Steven Means, and Luke Stocker.

Mack, Neal, Gurley, and McKinley are all set to hit free agency this offseason. Mack is aging, Neal has not stayed healthy, Gurley does not deserve a second contract, and Takk is a combination of the last two reasons. I do not see the team re-signing any of these players. If that’s true, trading any or all could only benefit Atlanta. Schaub is an expensive backup that would perform well enough if Matt Ryan went down with an injury. Still, expensive backups are for playoff-caliber teams and teams developing a quarterback. The rest of the list, including players I might have missed, are irrelevant and considered longshots to make next year’s roster.

Many will criticize this list, but without knowledge of the offensive and defensive systems, this is a crapshoot. It is based on the value I assigned these players in their current roles on their current contracts. The replacements of Quinn and Dimitroff will surely value things differently than me, but this is my outlook on how to turn things around as quickly as possible.

 

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