With limited cap space available, even after restructuring the contracts of Allen Bailey, Jake Matthews, and Matt Ryan, the significant splashes in free agency are over for the Falcons. I’m still hopeful they can bring in at least one more useful piece on the defensive side of the ball at a low number, but for the most part, we know what Atlanta has leading into the draft. It was never going to be a spending spree in free agency, given the Falcons cap restraints, but they have been able to fill some holes, and overall, upgrade at several positions.
Falcons re-sign Tyeler Davison to a three-year, $12.5 million deal
Atlanta’s first substantial signing involved bringing back one of their own. Tyeler Davison had a productive year in his first season in red and black, proving to be a force in the middle when defending the run. He’s never going to offer much as a pass rusher, but he’s a quality starting option next to Grady Jarrett and has a base salary of just over $2 million in 2020, with only $4.55 million of his contract being guaranteed. Considering the Falcons roster depth on the defensive line coming into the offseason, this was a good move.
Falcons trade a second-round pick and a fifth-round pick to the Ravens for Hayden Hurst and a fourth-round pick
Atlanta decided pretty early on they didn’t have the money to make Austin Hooper the highest-paid tight end in the game as he wanted, and franchise tagging him was never an option. Luke Stocker was also an obvious cut candidate, which left them with next to nothing at the tight end position going into 2020. With few quality options available in free agency and a weak draft class, the Falcons were a little bit desperate, and the Ravens took advantage.
I’m not in love with Atlanta losing a second-round pick, but Hurst has all the talent in the world to fill in for Hooper, who made the most of Dirk Koetter’s tight end friendly scheme. As the #1 option now in Atlanta, the former first-round pick out of South Carolina could easily put up similar production with Matt Ryan tossing him the rock. He’s also a much better blocking tight end than Hooper, will cost about a third as much and is under team control for the next three years. Nobody wants to part ways with picks, especially when there are so many needs to fill, but this was a move that had to be made.
Falcons sign Dante Fowler to a three-year, $45 million deal
The signing of the offseason was former #3 overall pick, Dante Fowler from the Rams. Quinn coached Fowler back when he was at Florida, and it’s apparent the two are fond of each other. There’s no debating he should be a significant upgrade over Vic Beasley, but the hope is he is just beginning to turn the corner in his career.
Fowler starter off in the NFL by tearing his ACL before even playing a game. He had a decent second year in Jacksonville, recording eight sacks in 16 games as a rotational pass rusher but underwhelmed in 2018 before breaking out for the Rams this past season, racking up 11.5 sacks. That is the type of player this Falcons defense has been missing for years, and that is the type of production they paid for.
Falcons sign Todd Gurley to a one-year deal
This is probably the most exciting signing for most Falcons fans, and also the least predictable — as far as what to expect from him next year. The days of him carrying the ball 300+ times and being a first-team All-Pro are over, but he still has a lot left in the tank when his knee is cooperating. I wasn’t too keen on the Falcons spending more money at the running back spot, but when you can land a guy this talented on a one-year deal for $6 million, it’s difficult to say it was an egregious decision. Gurley should be an upgrade over Devonta Freeman, adding much more explosion, and he won’t have to carry the burden in Dirk Koetter’s pass-happy offense.
Other minor transactions
Falcons sign Laquon Treadwell
Falcons re-sign Blidi Wreh-Wilson
Falcons re-sign Keith Smith
Falcons sign Just McCray
Falcons re-sign Sharrod Neasman
Falcons re-sign Steven Means
Falcons sign LaRoy Reynolds
Falcons sign Khari Lee
Falcons sign Edmond Robinson
When looking at the grand scheme of things, the Falcons swapped out Austin Hooper, Desmond Trufant, Devonta Freeman, and Vic Beasley for Dante Fowler Jr., Todd Gurley, and Hayden Hurst. When you factor in how much money each of those players is making, there’s no disputing Atlanta upgraded. How much better they got is the question.
If Dante Fowler breaks out for another double-digit sack campaign, Todd Gurley can stay healthy for the majority of the year, and Hayden Hurst fills the void at tight end, this is an A+ job by Thomas Dimitroff — given he did not have a lot of money to work with. However, that’s a lot to ask, and none of those guys is a sure thing. Fowler could be nothing more than a one-year wonder and go back to his days of being a mediocre pass rusher — much like Vic Beasley. Todd Gurley’s knee could be unfixable, and he might only play in 5-10 games, while Hayden Hurst could prove to be nothing more than a #3 tight end option like he was in Baltimore. I’m a fan of each of these additions, but they all come with plenty of risk.