The Falcons currently have three safeties under contract for the 2021 season; Ricardo Allen, Jaylinn Hawkins, and T.J. Green. Allen has been speculated by many, SportsTalkATL included, to be a cap casualty this offseason. Cutting him could save the Falcons more than $6,000,000 of his $8,375,000 salary in 2021. I honestly think Allen could be kept if Dean Pees wants him for his positional flexibility. Pees could have him play free safety, nickel safety, or strong safety, but not for his current figure. Something must give; the Falcons either have to cut him or convince him to take an outright pay cut.
Dean Pees’ defense utilizes quite a bit of nickel and dime personnel packages. With that in mind, Fontenot must bolster the backend to give his defensive coordinator the proper skillsets to maximize his scheme.
Neal isn’t going to garner some ridiculous contract. If the Falcons can get him to agree in principle to a deal before free agency begins, they could end up signing him for pennies on the dollar. An incentive-based contract protecting the team if Neal, who has an injury history, were to end up on injured reserve would be ideal. Even though Pees will likely play a majority of cover two, Neal would thrive in sub-packages that defend multiple tight ends or running back sets, as Pees will likely play more nickel and dime than Dan Quinn or Raheem Morris. PFF expects Neal to receive a two-year deal worth $5,000,000 per season, which I would happily bring the downhill thumper back for.
Here were Keanu Neal's snaps by alignment per PFF in 2020. Seems like a pretty versatile safety to me. pic.twitter.com/pPb28c94Tu
— Matt Karoly (@mattkaroly) January 22, 2021
Kazee is in a similar situation as Keanu Neal. Neal struggled to stay healthy the previous two seasons but reminded everyone in 2020 why the Falcons took him in the first round. In the previous two years, Kazee had 10 interceptions but only played in four games before heading to the IR with an Achilles injury in 2020. The Falcons could get him back on a cheap deal because of this. Kazee is extremely versatile; he can play both safety positions and nickel, which allows him to move all over the field in different defensive alignments. This is the name of the game in Dean Pees’ defense — positional flexibility.
I have been mentioning Tartt in just about every free agent article, and rightfully so. He is versatile — able to line up in any safety spot — and athletic, but he isn’t a Honey Badger play-maker. Tartt is a well-rounded safety that possesses the positional flexibility I keep talking about. He is similar to the other two listed (only playing in seven games in 2020) in that he won’t receive a large contract this offseason, perfect for a cap-strapped Falcons team.
King is a positionless athlete who can play anywhere in the secondary and return punts. He’s a valuable player to have on a roster because of his flexibility. Although the Chargers traded him mid-season to the Titans for essentially nothing in return, Arthur Smith will have enough experience with King to know whether it was a production or locker room issue. Again, every target has the ability to play multiple positions. King has been one of, if not the best slot defender since entering the league. If he took over the slot, this could allow the Falcons to potentially move Isaiah Oliver to more of a safety role as he struggles to find his niche in the NFL.
There is a clear pattern here, targeting free agents with injury histories to save the team some money. Hooker embodies that thought process better than anyone. He’s never played a full season, and he’s missed 28 games in four years, but he’s only 25-years-old. He doesn’t necessarily fit Pees’ mold of positionless football, but getting Hooker on a one-year, incentive-based contract for less than $3,000,000 should be a no-brainer. He’s worth looking at in a new system that could get the most out of his downfield playmaking skill set. Hooker could essentially play single-high, allowing others to play in the box or the slot.
Usually, former Patriot players underperform in a new setting but not Harmon. He was traded to the Lions and unquestionably performed well in all regards. Although he is a free safety, Harmon’s ability to provide stellar run-support is unparalleled at his position.
great job coming up from safety to quickly fill gap and force rb into traffic pic.twitter.com/vm4O68iRH5
— mansur (@mansurshaheen) March 22, 2020
the pass from jones here was terrible anyways but look how much range harmon covers. amazing range while playing deep safety pic.twitter.com/hUkFbEdubr
— mansur (@mansurshaheen) March 22, 2020
Here is the “Jadeveon Clowney” option for free-agent safeties. Thomas obviously was rubbing teammates and coaches the wrong way, so it’s clear that there are off-field concerns. But when Thomas is on the field, his production is still there. From PFF,
Thomas still turned in an 86.1 grade in coverage. It was his seventh straight season with a PFF coverage grade of 80.0 or higher.
There is reason to believe that Earl Thomas won’t ever return to the level of play in Seattle, but with such a troubling end to his time in Baltimore, Terry Fontenot could get a premier safety for pennies.
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