The Vic Beasley saga has been a roller coaster ride of emotion ever since he was drafted by the Falcons 8th overall in 2015.
At first glance, the former Clemson Tiger posesses the picture-perfect physique of a professional football player. Standing at 6’3″ and nearly 250 pounds without an ounce of fat on his body – his photo belongs in the dictionary next to what an NFL defensive end should look like. And it’s not all for show either, as he features incredible strength matched with uncommon speed for a man his size. The Falcons and their fan base had a right to be excited about who was coming to their city.
After a rookie season full of growing pains and meddling injuries, Beasley became the superstar pass rusher that Atlanta had been aching for since Johnathan Abraham retired. He led the NFL with 15.5 sacks and was a first-team All-Pro, as the Falcons put together arguably their best season in franchise history. The soft-spoken Beasley had become a fan favorite. His jersey flooded the streets of the city, but like the Falcons, his stock has plummetted since that memorable year.
In 2017, Beasley regressed towards the mean. Not only did he have just five sacks, but he only produced five QB hits as well. And 2018 was even less productive, as he recorded just 20 combined tackles (five sacks) in 16 games, leading to an intriguing offseason conversation.
The Falcons had already picked up Beasley’s fifth-year option. However, that option did not become fully guaranteed until the start of the 2019 season, which occurred in March. Thomas Dimitroff and Dan Quinn had months to decide whether they wanted to pay Beasley $12.8 million this season, and they decided to bet on their former first-round pick. A month ago, it looked like it might be the straw that broke the camel’s back, costing them their jobs. But now, that money seems reasonably spent.
After a miserable start that saw Beasley account for just 1.5 sacks in the first eight games, he’s turned it on considerably since the team’s bye week – much like most of the Falcons defense. Coincidently, that’s about the time Dan Quinn gave up his playcalling duties and worked almost exclusively with the defensive line. Beasley’s tallied 5.5 sacks over the last six weeks, including two forced fumbles. He’s also been much more of a factor in the running game, totaling 18 combined tackles over that span, bringing his total to 37 on the season, just two off of his career-high.
Even Pro Football Focus, a site that is notorious for being anti-Beasley, has started to take notice. Against the Panthers, the Falcons edge rusher finished with an elite grade (over 90) and was the highest-rated player on the defense. Beasley’s grade for the season is now up to 61.0, which is about average. But considering where it was this time last year and even earlier in 2019, it shows how much progress he’s made over the past several weeks.
I’ve been as harsh as anyone on Beasley. I thought bringing him back for nearly $13 million was a waste of money and blamed him for many of his faults. However, these last few weeks exemplify the work he has put in that many of us questioned over the offseason, especially after his slow start. Perhaps poor coaching was just as much at fault for his underwhelming production.
Beasley will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year. Given the Falcons cap restraints, I don’t see how they could take a risk on him again by handing him a multi-year contract. But I’ll give him credit: he’s earned himself a lot of money since the bye week. There was a point where I believed this year might even be the beginning of the end of his career. Now, it looks like he’s only getting started.
I wouldn’t call this an apology, but more of a congratulations. We all knew Beasley had the ability to be a Pro-Bowl pass rusher, and it’s encouraging to see it come to fruition finally. However, this doesn’t change my tune regarding his future in Atlanta. The Falcons need to move on, getting younger and tougher on their defensive line. Beasley will make some money this offseason, but not in this city.