Opinion: Here’s what the Falcons should do before tomorrow’s trade deadline

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After a pretty ugly loss to Carolina, the Falcons are at an impasse. They sit at 3-4 and in fourth place in the NFC South. They have a tough matchup with New Orleans on Sunday, and the schedule gets tougher down the stretch. The Falcons have a few tradeable pieces, but they could also look to add to the team. The trade deadline is Tuesday, November 2nd at 4 PM EST. Will we see Atlanta make any moves before then, and if they do — should they buy or sell?

To answer the first question, I don’t see the Falcons making a move. It appears this front office and coaching staff is still evaluating, and if they did make a move, I believe they would try to add. However, I think they could do a bit of a mix-and-match strategy to fill some holes while also parting with some pieces they could not be keen on retaining. PFF proposed two hypothetical trades, and I like parts of both of them.

Hypothetical Trade: Hayden Hurst & 2022 sixth-round pick → Cincinnati Bengals for 2022 fifth-round pick

Dead money: $0
Cap savings: $1,102,730
Contract with acquiring team: One year, $1,102,730

Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow has gotten a lot out of a thin tight end group thus far in 2021. Veteran C.J. Uzomah returned from a torn Achilles suffered in 2020 and has hauled in fourteen receptions this year to lead the group. 2019 second-round tight end Drew Sample is the only other Bengals tight end with a target on the season with four, as the Bengals have deployed 11 personnel (one tight end) on a league-high 74.2% of offensive snaps since 2020.

Hurst is familiar as the former first-round pick of the AFC North rival Baltimore Ravens. Hurst was traded before the 2020 season to the Falcons along with a fourth-round pick in exchange for second- and fifth-round picks, as Atlanta acted out of desperation in an attempt to return to the playoffs. After Hurst’s third season in 2020, the Falcons had the choice to exercise his 2022 fifth-year option for just $5.428 million. Even at that very low price tag, Atlanta elected to decline, making Hurst a free agent after this season.

Since 2019, Hayden Hurst has 11 contested catches compared to eight combined from Uzomah and Sample, and his 7.8-yard average depth of target is well beyond Uzomah (5.3) and Sample (4.6). Hurst lines up in the slot on almost 50% of offensive snaps, whereas Uzomah and Sample don’t crack 20%, as they primarily line up inline. Either Bengals head coach Zac Taylor would get even faster and more spread out on offense with Hurst or the offense would dramatically improve its ability to run plays out of 12 personnel.

The Falcons can add other depth around ascending star tight end Kyle Pitts. With Hurst, they cut their losses and get started rebuilding the roster while the Bengals add another receiving option that, at the very least, provides depth and compensatory pick consideration after the season.

 

Hypothetical Trade: Duron Harmon → Tampa Bay Buccaneers for 2023 sixth-round pick

Dead money: $137,500
Cap savings: $597,222
Contract with acquiring team: One year, $597,222

It’s no secret the Buccaneers are looking to add talent at cornerback and bolster a secondary that has given them issues this season and is dealing with various ailments.

Harmon is a versatile, ball-hawking safety Tom Brady used to go toe-to-toe with in practice in New England, and he can help the Buccaneers’ young group of safeties as Tampa Bay makes its push for back-to-back Super Bowls.

So far in 2021, new Falcons defensive coordinator Dean Pees has deployed his defense in a similar manner to that of Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator Todd Bowles.

PFF’s own Dr. Eric Eager examined a handful of tendencies and traits to identify the similarities and differences between each play-caller’s scheme. Here, the Falcons and Buccaneers may be unique, as they are two of just three teams to play over 20% of snaps in Cover 2 and top six in percentage of plays run with a two-down front.

The Buccaneers’ trio of young safeties — Mike EdwardsJordan Whitehead and Antoine Winfield Jr. — are solid young playmakers on the backend, yet all have sub-70.0 coverage grades so far in 2021. Harmon has a 90.3 career coverage grade — 20th-best among all safeties since 2013 — and his 13% forced incompletion percentage on targets ranked 17th. Harmon is another veteran presence on the backend who adds more depth and brings a different perspective to the equation, which can’t hurt.

These don’t have to be exact matches, but the framework makes a lot of sense. Both of these trades could recoup some draft picks for Atlanta, allowing the team some flexibility to play younger players. On top of that, I could see there being interest in Dante Fowler Jr., Mike Davis, and Foyesade Oluokon. For now, even with both of the above trades, I think the Falcons could add some pieces. A few names that stand out:

  • RB Marlon Mack, Indianapolis Colts
  • WR Brandin Cooks, Houston Texans
  • WR Brandon Aiyuk, San Francisco 49ers
  • WR Allen Robinson, Chicago Bears
  • EDGE Clelin Ferrell, Las Vegas Raiders

I don’t think Mack and Ferrell would really be in play. Robinson being an impending free agent would also cause issues considering his price tag. However, Brandin Cooks or Brandon Aiyuk would make a lot of sense with Calvin Ridley stepping away from the team. I wrote about possibly acquiring Aiyuk here:

You know what they say about one man’s trash. I’m not sure what’s going on behind the scenes in San Francisco, but Aiyuk is a very logical target for the Falcons at this point in the season. With the trade deadline only a week away, the Falcons could add to a receiving corps that badly needs an injection of youth and talent.

It was nice to have Russell Gage back this week, and Calvin Ridley is still producing at times. Still, Aiyuk is a versatile piece that Arthur Smith could scheme into an offense that’s finally starting to click. You can’t deny Aiyuk’s athletic prowess, and he’s the burner that the Falcons need on the offense. If his fifth-year option is exercised, the former first-round pick has three years left on his contract, and now would be the right time to buy low on him. Offering the 49ers a third, fourth, or fifth-round pick could give the Falcons an immediate playmaker that helps them now and in the future.

Brandon Cooks is one of the more steady presences in the NFL, which is why he has been traded numerous times. He still has one more year of team control on a pretty reasonable contract, but with the Falcons paying Julio Jones and possibly Calvin Ridley, he may not be an option on the cap sheet — especially if they plan on retaining Cordarrelle Patterson.

I don’t think the Falcons will make much noise at the deadline, but if they do, a mix of buying and selling wouldn’t be the worst idea for a team that has shown they can win football games.

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