How Falcons can go from pretenders to contenders


Many have described the Falcons as a talented, yet underachieving team. A lot of fans would probably agree that they expected better results than 7-10 last year.

Hell, Arthur Blank clearly did too or he wouldn’t have fired Arthur Smith. The expectation with Raheem Morris is to at least improve upon the Falcons’ record from the last three seasons, which isn’t a very high bar.

Eight wins in the worst division in football shouldn’t be too difficult for Morris, but it might be depending on how he and Terry Fontenot attack the quarterback position this offseason.

The Falcons are the proverbial ‘quarterback away’ from competing, which is how Bleacher Report sees Atlanta going from pretenders to contenders.

OFFENSE: Upgrade at Quarterback

This first one is obvious—but it could also be the hardest one to pull off.

Last year, the Falcons were 22nd in the league in passing, averaging just 207.3 yards per game. It has become obvious that Desmond Ridder isn’t the long-term answer under center, and Taylor Henicke is who he is—a capable backup quarterback.

The Falcons have been heavily linked to Justin Fields of the Chicago Bears, and Fields told the St. Brown Bros Podcast that he thinks he could do some damage with Atlanta’s offensive weaponry.

“Atlanta would be tough,” he said. “I think they got a lot of playmakers on the team. Bijan, my boy Kyle [Pitts], and of course Drake [London]. They probably need one more receiver, but they got some guys.”

Whether it’s Fields or someone else, Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot has to improve the team’s quarterback for Atlanta to have a shot at winning the NFC South.

This isn’t a secret. Everyone knows what is keeping the Falcons down — quarterback play.

If it were better, Arthur Smith would probably still be the head coach in Atlanta right now. There’s no debating whether they need a new signal caller under center; the argument begins when fans discuss who the team should target.

The Falcons can make the postseason for the first time since 2017 with an upgrade at the position. If the Falcons had signed Baker Mayfield instead of Taylor Heinicke, they would’ve likely made the playoffs. That’s how quickly a team’s fate can change.

However, it’s not the only thing the Falcons have to do to get to contender status, as Bleacher Reports adds.

DEFENSE: Add Pass-Rush Help

The good news is that the Atlanta Falcons doubled their sack total last year relative to 2022. The bad news is that when you consider that the Falcons only had 21 sacks as a team two years ago, some of the shine comes off that stat.

No one on Atlanta’s roster had even seven sacks last season. The team’s co-leader in sacks was 37-year-old defensive lineman Calais Campbell. Both he and edge-rusher Bud Dupree (who tied Campbell with 6.5 sacks) are free agents in 2024.

With just over $33 million in cap space, the Falcons have the cash to take a run at an upgrade on the edge. 2023 SEC Defensive Player of the Year Dallas Turner could also be in play with the eighth overall pick—especially if the Falcons add a veteran quarterback.

Outside of wide receiver, an edge defender is a pressing roster need. The Falcons haven’t had a reliably dominant pass rusher since John Abraham, and it’s not expected to change with the current crop of players on the roster.

Lorenzo Carter and DeAngelo Malone certainly aren’t those guys. The hope is Arnold Ebiketie takes another step in his development to that point, but there’s nothing more valuable than a double-digit sack pass rusher.

The Falcons shouldn’t be content with just one, even if Ebiketie becomes that. Stockpiling pass rushers is something consistently great defenses do.

Photographer: Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire

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