National media outlets grade Falcons free agency thus far

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The Falcons have been one of the most active teams this offseason. Terry Fontenot has used all that cap space to fill various holes all over the roster, including an All-Pro talent in Jessie Bates III.

The team also locked up one of the few All-Pros already on the team in Chris Lindstrom, who is now the highest-paid guard in football. They re-signed Kaleb McGary to a three-year pact at a team-friendly rate as well.

The Falcons also made several other worthwhile acquisitions — trading for Jonnu Smith as well as inking former Saints David Onyemata and Kaden Elliss. There were other minor moves, like locking up Bradley Pinion for three years and re-signing Keith Smith.

There is still work to do in free agency before the draft, but a number of needs have been addressed. And several national outlets have already decided to grade the Falcons’ free agency thus far:


Atlanta Falcons: C

Key additions: Jessie Bates III (Bengals), TE Jonnu Smith (Patriots, via trade), DT David Onyemata (Saints). Key re-signings: Chris Lindstrom, LB Lorenzo Carter

The Falcons made a number of big swings Monday to jumpstart free agency, but almost all of them were clear overpays. The decision to make former Cincinnati Bengals safety Jessie Bates III, Cincy’s leader in interceptions (14) and tackles (479) since entering the NFL in 2018, the fourth-highest paid safety in the NFL on an annual basis with a four-year, $64.02 million contract is their most defendable move. Atlanta was the league’s sixth-worst total defense, 362.1 total yards per game allowed, in 2022, and they weren’t getting much out of their secondary, the eighth-worst pass defense in the NFL (231.9 passing yards allowed per game).

CBS feels the Falcons were losers this free agent cycle because of value. Bates’ deal is easily defensible — durable All-Pro with elite intangibles for a young, talent-deficient defense.

Jonnu Smith’s acquisition wasn’t my favorite until it was reported the two sides will re-work his current deal to make it more team-friendly, so I assume they missed that report instead of blatantly ignoring it.

Onyemata was a slight overpay; I agree, but a player generating a 10.6% pressure rate over the last two seasons, which is the eighth-highest among defensive tackles, is always going to be expensive.

Lindstrom’s market-setting contract extension also wasn’t my cup of tea, but what were the Falcons going to do? Nickel and dime one of their few All-Pros? No, you don’t haggle over a couple of million per year for a player as foundational as Lindstrom.

The Athletic

Falcons keep RT Kaleb McGary

Grade: A

McGary was one of the highest-rated linemen last season and should again provide key contributions both in the run game and in pass protection for Atlanta.

Falcons add LB Kaden Elliss

Grade: B

The Falcons agree to terms, per reports, with the former Saints linebacker, who is capitalizing on a productive 2022 campaign in which he recorded seven sacks and 78 tackles in 17 games (11 starts). Ellis does have a limited body of work, making just one start before 2022. But if he can build on last season, he will serve as another piece to the puzzle for a talent-deficient Falcons defense.

Falcons pay S Jessie Bates III

Grade: B

That’s a lot of money, making Bates among the highest-paid safeties in the game. He’s coming off a season in which he recorded a career-high four interceptions but also a career-low 71 tackles. New defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen should position Bates to make plays all over the field for Atlanta, whose defense ranked 26th in the league last season. His departure from the Bengals leaves a big void in Cincinnati.

Falcons add DT David Onyemata

Grade: C

The Falcons entered the offseason with the goal of improving the interior of their defensive line. They are hoping Onyemata (who ranked 34th on The Athletic’s top 150 list, and was the fifth-highest-rated defensive tackle according to those rankings, behind Javon Hargrave, Dre’Mont Jones, Zach Allen and Dalvin Tomlinson) can help with this. He had a career-high 6 1/2 sacks in 2020, but has seen his production decline in the last couple of seasons. Will a change of scenery and rotational role help spark a resurgence after seven seasons with the Saints?

The Athletic is much more bullish on the Falcons’ offseason than other national outlets. I actually agree with these grades very closely. I am curious to see how Onyemata performs because his contract, compared to other interior defenders, is a bit concerning. McGary’s deal was a total bargain, especially if he continues this trajectory in his development.


Falcons to re-sign OT Kaleb McGary

Grade: C

First and foremost, a tackle’s job is to protect the quarterback, and I struggle with the idea of paying big money for one who doesn’t do that particularly well. McGary’s 85% pass block win rate last season ranked 47th out of 64 qualifying tackles, and it was a career-high for him.

This deal isn’t as bad as I feared it might be, however, because he’s getting paid at a much lower level ($11.5 million per year) than Mike McGlinchey ($17.5 million per year) and Jawaan Taylor ($20 million per year). He could still improve, too, as a 28-year-old who was picked in the first round in 2019.

Falcons make a splash with S Jessie Bates III

Grade: B

The $16 million average per-year value isn’t overly expensive, too. Derwin James Jr.’s 2022 contract and Jamal Adams‘ 2021 contract would be the equivalent of $21.5 million and $22.6 million per year in 2023 dollars if we adjust for salary-cap inflation — a decent bit more than Bates just got — per historical contracts from OverTheCap. — Walder

Falcons to sign DT David Onyemata

Grade: C

In a loaded defensive tackle market, this looks like an overpay for Onyemata. The numbers don’t suggest he’s a game-changer. He had five sacks last season and has never had more than 6.5 in a season. His 7% pass rush win rate at defensive tackle ranked 41st out of 54 qualifiers last season, and his 27% run stop win rate ranked 58th out of 68 qualifiers. Plus, he’s already 30 years old.

Falcons trading for TE Jonnu Smith

Grade: C-

We got a second-string tight end trade! The key here is that Smith is reworking his contract, because he was slated to make $11 million in salary and roster bonuses in 2023, which is way too much for him. But $6.25 million is guaranteed, so there’s no way he’s getting less than that, and I don’t think he’s worth that price based on production. Smith has been incredibly disappointing since signing with New England as a free agent two years ago, recording just 294 and 245 receiving yards in 2021 and 2022, respectively. Looking back at it now, there’s evidence that his breakout 448-yard, nine-touchdown (including one rushing) performance in 2020 with the Titans wasn’t anything special.

Everything I said about David Onyemata and Jonnu Smith also applies to ESPN’s grades. I want to address Kaleb McGary’s grade, though.

The former first-round pick signed a deal worth around $11 million per year — a far cry from other right tackles’ respective deals. Mike McGlinchey might be a more reliable pass protector than McGary, but he’s no Lane Jonhson; in fact, he’s not that good in that area either.

They’re very similar players; McGlinchey has just been more consistent over his career. That indicates very little how each will perform over the life of their next deals.

The Falcons’ offense accentuates McGary’s strengths. Arthur Smith rarely asks him to set up in pass protection on an island for a seven-second drop. McGary isn’t asked to drop into pass sets 40 times a game like Tristan Wirfs did with the Buccaneers last season. The deal is more than fine; it was a bargain.

How do you feel about the Falcons free agency so far?

Photographer: Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire


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