Even though Julio Jones is gone, the Falcons now have a golden opportunity to improve multiple sore spots on their team — especially on the defensive side of the ball. I broke down how much the Falcons can spend after the Julio Jones trade; there are still plenty of quality free agents left, so here are some guys I think the Falcons should sign to improve after losing their franchise icon.
10. IOL Trai Turner
Turner didn’t have a very good 2020 season in Los Angeles, and injuries were a part of that. However, Turner is a good scheme fit and is still a five-time Pro Bowler. At 27-years-old, he could be worth a one-year contract to see if he still has anything left. If he breaks camp and plays to the Pro Bowl level that he has in the past, this would be a steal for the Falcons. If he doesn’t, he could still provide some valuable depth at a very low cost.
9. S Kenny Vaccaro
A player that is familiar with Dean Pees, Vaccaro is a solid veteran option the Falcons could plug and play at safety from day one. Vacarro was cut in mid-March by the Titans, but I’d love to give him a shot in Atlanta. He’s a hybrid safety that has had a lot of success rushing the passer but still has a decent nose for the football playing as a high-safety. Dean Pees should value his versatility (again) and hopefully will give him a shot to mentor Richie Grant.
8. RB Le’Veon Bell
While I’m pretty confident in this running back room, it would be very exciting to add a guy like Le’Veon Bell. He’s no longer the two-time All-Pro that he was in Pittsburgh, but I’m not concerned about Bell’s age at this point. He was in a bad offense for the Jets and didn’t have to do much for the Kansas City Chiefs. Not only does Bell help out the running back room, but he also is another weapon to use out of the backfield as a receiver for Arthur Smith. With Mike Davis and Cordarrelle Patterson already very good pass catchers, Bell provides some extra juice at a position that could still use some depth.
7. CB Steven Nelson
Nelson was elite for the Steelers in 2018 & 2019, and although his 2020 wasn’t as good, he’s still very balanced against the run and in coverage. While Mike Hilton mostly played in the slot with Nelson on the boundary, the 28-year-old has the potential to be CB2 for the Falcons Week 1.
6. IDL Geno Atkins
Atkins is another guy that I talked about already, and I’m surprised the former All-Pro is still on the market. I expect that to change soon, but I think he would work very well with the Falcons. From my profile on Atkins:
There’s no guarantee that he won’t command a big contract, but at this point in his career — I don’t see it. Regardless, Atkins would provide immediate pass rush up the middle for a Falcons team that’s hoping to carve out a new defensive identity. With so many other quality players signing one-year deals, Terry Fontenot could persuade him to come home on a prove-it deal. The former Georgia Bulldog could show the rest of the league exactly how much he still has in the tank in hopes of attracting his last major multi-year deal in the 2022 offseason.
5. IDL Jurrell Casey
I’ve been on the Jurrell Casey train since February, and his familiarity with Dean Pees makes him a logical fit. From my profile on Casey:
Jurrell Casey was one of the best interior defenders in the entire NFL during his time with the Titans, and new Falcons defensive coordinator Dean Pees oversaw a lot of that success. Casey is no spring chicken for a defensive lineman, but he is looking like a steal for the Broncos after sending a seventh-round pick to Tennessee to acquire his services.
He made his fifth straight Pro Bowl in 2019, and it was more of the same in 2020 before he suffered a torn bicep and was done for the year. Casey isn’t the player he used to be, but his well-rounded ability, trade cost, relationship with Dean Pees, and a need for a starter next to Grady Jarrett could make him a very intriguing fit for the Falcons.
It’s worth noting that in an interview last summer, Casey didn’t hold any punches when talking about Titans management. He said they “discarded him like trash,” and I have to admit — trading him for a 7th round pick was kind of wild, big contract or no big contract.
There’s no telling if there’s bad blood there, but Arthur Smith was the offensive coordinator, and Dean Pees was retired when the move was made. When Pees was in Tennessee from 2018-2019, Casey notched 12 sacks, made 16 tackles for a loss, forced three fumbles, recovered three fumbles, and of course, made two straight Pro Bowls. Also, Casey ate opposing offensive linemen alive in the 2019 playoffs. Casey forced a fumble and a tackle for a loss to go along with his two and a half sacks.
4. EDGE Melvin Ingram III
Ingram had a career-worst year in 2020, mostly due to injuries. But from 2015 to 2019, he notched 43 sacks, ten forced fumbles, and two interceptions. If healthy, he could be a force for the Falcons — especially as a stand-up edge rusher. On top of providing a veteran presence at a position of need, Ingram could be a game-changer.
3. CB Brian Poole
Alex has discussed bringing Brian Poole back to Atlanta before, and he is still one of the best pure nickel corners in the NFL. From Alex’s profile:
Poole is instinctive and rarely asked to do something he is incapable of. He can do everything asked of him from the slot, zone or man, defend the run, or rush the passer. Poole really is a jack of all trades, and I have no idea why the Falcons let him go for pennies.
Dean Pees would have a lot of fun moving Poole around his defense.
2. S Malik Hooker
I’ve talked about Malik Hooker before, and I like his potential way too much to give up on a guy that is only 25-years-old. Injuries have hampered the former first-round pick, but I’d be over the moon to get him on a cheap “prove-it” deal.
Hooker had tremendous ball skills and instincts coming out of college. He led the entire Big Ten in interceptions in 2016, and scouts raved about how incredible his range was as a high safety. A lot of that holds true today; the problems start and end with his body.
Hooker has played in a grand total of 36 games over the past four seasons. After his rookie year, when he sniped three interceptions and broke up four passes in seven games, Colts fans were still very optimistic that he would be an impact player. Hooker wasn’t bad in 2018 or 2019, but he missed five games over those two seasons. Going into 2020, the Colts were hoping that Hooker would play a full slate and make one last playoff push with Philip Rivers. He tore his achilles in Week 2.
Hooker is the perfect low-risk, high-reward defender that the Falcons should target on a one-year deal.
1. EDGE Justin Houston
Justin Houston isn’t the same terror he used to be, but he could still provide some value to Atlanta’s defense. Even at 32, the Statesboro native and All-Pro put up eight sacks for the Colts in 2020. On top of being a decent scheme fit and veteran with high character, he just makes way too much sense for a Falcons defense that could badly use eight sacks from a single edge rusher.
Houston is the perfect fit for Atlanta, and I’d love to have him in a different red and black again.