The legal tampering period for the NFL began on March 13th, but NFL free agency officially kicked off on March 15th. With the Falcons having the second most cap space in the league, they swiftly filled a lot of holes with multiple interesting pieces — some better than others. PFF gave the Falcons a decent grade, but I think it was a little low.
I’m here to give each signing a way-too-early grade of my own, and grade the class as a whole. All figures are via Over The Cap. Offense is linked below:
DL David Onyemata — 4 Years, $35 Million ($24.5 Million Guaranteed)
Arguably the second biggest signing on the defense, Onyemata brings some much needed juice to what has been a poor Falcons interior defensive front for a long time outside of Grady Jarrett. Even following a six-game suspension in 2022, Onyemata was one of the better interior pass rushers in the NFL, and he has familiarity with Falcons DC Ryan Nielsen. The Falcons can realistically move on from him after two seasons, so I don’t hate the deal at all. I think there were some better options on the market, but this move was solid.
EDGE Lorenzo Carter — 2 Years, $9 Million
I was pretty vocal about bringing Carter back as a rotational piece, and I love the value here. He led the Falcons in sacks, which isn’t some huge accomplishment, but Carter can be a good piece of a competent pass rush.
LB Kaden Elliss — 3 Years, $21.5 Million ($11 Million Guaranteed)
Maybe the move that caught me the most off-guard, but Elliss is an interesting piece. Nielsen was forced to use him as a pass rusher pretty frequently, and he recorded seven sacks. The Falcons still have some need at linebacker, and his contract isn’t too hard to move on from if things go sour. I like the pickup at the price, but the Falcons let a lot of premium options get away. I don’t like paying linebackers big money in most cases, so I think like the other moves, it was a solid pickup.
LB Tae Davis — 1 Year, $1.23 Million
I always have love for a UTC Moc, and Davis is an interesting signing. He had a rough start to his career, but he has carved out a role on special teams and is a willing tackler if he does get some defensive snaps. I think this is a meh signing for the price. Not much of his deal is guaranteed, but this one doesn’t move the needle very much.
CB Mike Hughes — 2 Years, $6.9 Million
A former first-round pick, the Falcons had to find some kind of replacement for the recently departed Isaiah Oliver. Hughes has had some warts in coverage, but his best year came in Kansas City in 2021 before having a solid year with the Detroit Lions in 2022. He’s a willing tackler that should provide some nice depth. The last year of his deal only guarantees $750k, so I can’t say the value is too bad here.
CB Cornell Armstrong
Armstrong was a solid player for the Falcons in 2022. Nothing spectacular, but he provided some good depth in Atlanta. I assumed they would bring him, Mike Ford, or Rashad Fenton back — and I’m plenty happy with Armstrong. He’s a willing run defender and provides depth in a room that badly needs it.
S Jessie Bates III — 4 Years, $64 Million
The big signing of the offseason, Bates and the Falcons just made too much sense for each other. The writing was on the wall, and I was in favor of picking up Bates last offseason before he was franchise tagged. When you have holes as big as the Falcons have on their defense, grabbing a game-changer like Bates will always get a good grade from me. They didn’t guarantee him too much money, either, so I give this one an A+
P Bradley Pinion — 3 Years, $8.65 Million
Surprisingly, Pinion was one of the better punters in the NFL last season. I want to keep that continuity of good special teams going, and while it’s a larger deal, I like locking him up.
LS Liam McCullough — 1 Year, $705k
Are you asking me to grade a long snapper? Really? Fine, good pickup. Special Teams matter.
This defense wasn’t going to be fixed overnight. They still have work to do, and it’ll probably have to come through the draft. EDGE was pretty poor in this free agency cycle, but that’s the nature of the beast. Hopefully, some second-year players can make a jump. I think Fontenot did fine with the circumstances, especially considering the fact that there weren’t a lot of premium options worth throwing money at. I think Bates was a great pickup, but losing Isaiah Oliver stings. I see a lot of value here, but will it be enough to help the Falcons field a competent defense? We’ll see if they have anything else up their sleeves, but for now, they get a passing grade.
Offensive Grade: B
Defensive & Special Teams Grade: B
Overall Grade: B
Photo: Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire
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