The NFL’s most valuable commodity is hope. For almost all franchises, there is not a shot in hell they will compete for a Super Bowl this season; only a few teams are capable of raising the Lombardi Trophy each year. But that hasn’t affected the league’s revenue whatsoever because each fan base survives off the hope that eventually, one day, they’ll be in the mix for a championship. The Falcons are one of those organizations. The short term outlook in Atlanta is extremely grim.
The club just traded away stalwart quarterback Matt Ryan, who long covered up the roster’s deficiencies with his veteran savviness. The Falcons are hitting the reset button. They boast the single largest dead cap hit, courtesy of Ryan, and total over $63 million in dead money. That’s an insurmountable obstacle to overcome.
The roster is also littered with replacement-level players competing for starting spots. The offensive line, which was one of, if not the worst unit in football last season, wasn’t upgraded at all. Atlanta trotted out three of the worst pass protectors in the league — Jalen Mayfield, Kaleb McGary, and Matt Hennessy — forcing Ryan to work under extreme circumstances. The group was also uninspiring in the run game, ranking among the bottom of the league in rushing yards before contact, which basically means Atlanta’s ball carriers were met at or before the line of scrimmage on most plays.
To make matters even worse, as I mentioned before, the front office did the absolute bare minimum to improve the offensive line. Germain Ifedi and Elijah Wilkinson are reserve-caliber players, and Justin Shaffer is a sixth-round pick. None of which are exactly inspiring. That’s just the offensive line.
The skill positions, outside of Kyle Pitts and Cordarrelle Patterson, were also basically non-factors. Matt Ryan had little to work with but still put up decent numbers, even if they were the worst of his career. The Falcons did upgrade in this area by bringing in Drake London, Bryan Edwards, and Tyler Allgeier while re-signing Patterson. However, aside from the veteran swiss army knife, that’s an incredibly unproven bunch.
Don’t even get me started on the defense, either. Dean Pees famously mentioned he only ran about 60% of the playbook a year ago, seemingly because individuals couldn’t mentally absorb all the information. Richie Grant hardly played, and the entire defensive front was abysmal. Atlanta’s defense infamously totaled 18 sacks in 2021, 11 fewer than the second-to-last Eagles and less than TJ Watt and Robert Quinn had individually. Pees’ unit ranked in the bottom five of almost every single defensive metric.
It was just an all-around bad team in 2021, and the 2022 roster is filled with even younger and less experienced players. It’s not going to be better this season, Falcons fans, but hope is on the horizon.
The Falcons have a great young core to build around and are set to add another blue chip prospect in the 2023 NFL Draft because they’ll be battling for one of the top selections next April. Terrell, Pitts, Lindstrom, London, Ebiketie, Malone, Andersen, Allgeier and others are fantastic building blocks. Moreover, Ridder might be the team’s next franchise quarterback. And if you look at the team’s finances in 2023 and beyond, the Falcons will be big spenders in free agency for the first time in what feels like forever.
The Falcons aren’t going to be good in 2022 and maybe not even in 2023, but the light at the end of the tunnel is nearing. In the meantime, the Falcons will continue stocking draft picks and building the roster from the ground up. The next step will be to heavily invest in the trenches, which is an area the team has ignored for many years.
Photographer: David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire