With the 2020 NFL Draft in the books, the Falcons have a better idea of their needs for the upcoming season. They did fill two significant holes by bringing in former Clemson cornerback A.J. Terrell and defensive tackle Marlon Davidson out of Auburn. Matt Hennessy was also a worthwhile add in the third round, who should compete for the starting left guard spot. This is a start, but the Falcons are not a complete team on paper quite yet, specifically on the defensive side of the ball. Also, after 4 p.m. EST on Monday, free agents will not count against compensatory pick formula. Thus, a second wave of free agency is upon us.
Sure, the Falcons have limited cap space as things stand (around $2.2 million). However, our very own Chase Irle broke down the cap space situation recently:
Now, much of that will be used to sign their draft class, which projects to cost around $6 million against the cap in 2020, per Over The Cap. That should leave the Falcons with about $6-7 million to target free agents. Although, most teams prefer to keep a few million in their pocket for mid-season acquisitions in case an injury takes place.
However, the Falcons could still save money in other ways, like restructuring the contract of Julio Jones. Of course, this would only move the suffering to a later year, which they’ve already done with so many players, but it could open up close to $8 million if Atlanta opted to take full advantage. The Falcons could also maneuver the cap by extending players like Alex Mack and Keanu Neal, reducing their number in 2020, or by finding a trade partner for Jamon Brown or James Carpenter. Although those moves are less likely and would not save nearly as much cap individually.
With the right maneuvering, the Falcons can bring in another impact free agent or two. Moving the cap back is usually poor cap management, but Thomas Dimitroff is on the hot seat, and there is a considerable spike projected for the 2021 season. So let’s take a look at some free agents that could fill the Falcons’ most glaring remaining needs: cornerback and pass rusher.
Despite the first-round selection of A.J. Terrell, Atlanta should be looking for a veteran corner to add to their young group. You can never have too many cornerbacks, and the Falcons’ core remains thin in a division that now features Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Teddy Bridgewater, Jameis Winston, and Taysom Hill. This is still Atlanta’s most significant need, in my opinion.
Ryan was a dynamic playmaker for the Titans last season, racking up 113 tackles, forcing 4 fumbles, hauling in 4 interceptions, and even had 4.5 sacks. It was a career year for the 29-year old, and he has made it clear he wants to get paid accordingly, coming out and publicly stating he will not accept a deal for less than $10 million. But it is almost May, so who knows if that remains a realistic possibility. If he will take a backloaded deal, he is the best option on this list; however, he may be too pricey for their liking.
Amukamara would not be a big-time playmaker addition like Ryan, but he is a consistent corner that could be had for far less. At this point in the offseason, that may be all Atlanta is looking for.
The Falcons might want to go a safer route, but if they are looking for an upside option, 25-year old Eli Apple is still on the market. Raheem Morris turned things around for the Atlanta defense overnight… could he do the same with the former 10th overall pick? Apple had a one-year, $6 million deal nixed with the Raiders, and with more money now being spent in free agency, Atlanta could likely have him for a tad bit less. The move has risk, but I would not rule the Falcons out as a team that could swing for the fence.
Jake talked about Brandon Carr earlier this week, and I’ve mentioned him as a target for Atlanta throughout free agency. The 12-year veteran will bring consistency to the corner position while mentoring the Falcons’ younger pieces. He’s started in 196 straight games, dating back to his rookie season.
After reaching five straight Pro-Bowls from 2013-2017 with the Patriots and Broncos, Talib has had two injury-plagued seasons with the Rams. However, he did help Los Angeles reach the Super Bowl in 2018. But in 2019, he only appeared in five games after being placed on Injured Reserve in October. Now, 34-years-old, the veteran shouldn’t be too costly, and Atlanta could be a place where he would like to end his career.
While the Falcons made a splash at EDGE rusher, bringing in Dante Fowler on a backloaded deal, they still need to add a rotational veteran who can help apply some pressure. In theory, they could try to sign Jadaveon Clowney to a similar backloaded deal if they opened up the maximum amount of cap space, but I doubt that would satisfy his demands. So let’s take a look at some more realistic options that remain available:
Griffen would be quite the signing for Atlanta. Pairing him with Dante Fowler and Takk McKinley immediately gives this pass-rushing group some clout. Last season, he had 8 sacks and 24 QB hits — production Atlanta would undoubtedly love to add to the mix. Griffen is available because he is 32-years old and has had some off the field issues that he was treated for back in 2018. However, those seem to be in his past. As things stand, he is the best rusher available on the market.
Matthews is no longer the star he once was but remains a solid veteran player that could help any NFL roster. Despite his decline, he was still able to compile 8 sacks in just 13 games last season. Matthews is merely a pass-rush specialist at this point in his career, but that is precisely what Atlanta needs.
If the Falcons are looking to solidify their pass-rushing group for nickels on the dime, Bennett might be their best option. He is on his last legs in the NFL, as he has already discussed retirement. However, as a rotational piece for the Patriots and Cowboys, Bennett was still able to notch 6.5 sacks in 2019. He turns 35 this season, but if he can offer that sort of production on a deal around the league minimum, Atlanta would be crazy not to at least give him a shot to show up to camp and see what he has left in the tank.
Coming off a season where he recorded 10 sacks and 27 QB hits, Golden is going to cost more than about everyone on this list, but he’s still doable if the Falcons open up some cap space by restructuring Julio Jones’ contract. However, the Giants recently placed an UFA tender on Golden, which means he would count against the compensatory pick formula. This, along with his higher price tag, may force the Falcons to look elsewhere.
Another veteran rotational option that shouldn’t cost Atlanta too much, Curry had 5 sacks and 12 QB hits last year for the Eagles. He’s also no slouch against the run. The Falcons could use both, and he should be well within their price range.