Pass rushers the Falcons could add via free agency


For as long as I can remember, sacking the quarterback has been a weakness for the Atlanta Falcons. Since 2010, the Falcons have only finished in the top half of the league in sacks two times – 2017 (13th) and 2016 (16th).

Atlanta did show some promise in this area over the last few weeks of the season, but the competition also has to be taken into consideration. They weren’t exactly playing the world’s best offensive lines. The Falcons front office ignored this problem last offseason, and it wound up coming back to haunt them. For the sake of their jobs, it’s not a mistake they can afford to make twice. Thomas Dimitroff and Co. will be spending a lot of resources through the draft and free agency on players who make a living getting after the quarterback.

Here are some free agent names that the Falcons will be evaluating.

Trey Flowers

Flowers may turn out to be too pricey for Atlanta, or the Patriots may decide to re-sign him, but there is no questioning the boost he would give to this Atlanta defensive line. According to Pro Football Focus, Flowers finished as the number three edge rusher in 2018 with a 90.4 overall grade.

What’s attractive about him is his ability to contribute in both facets of the game. He’s stout against the run and has been a reliable pass rusher in his three seasons as a pro, recording at least 6.5 sacks in each season. The Falcons defense needs help in both areas, which would make him an ideal fit if Atlanta has enough change to make him an acceptable offer.

Frank Clark

Over the last three seasons, Frank Clark has emerged as an elite pass rusher in Seattle, racking up 32 sacks. Unfortunately, it looks like Seattle is focused on working out an extension for Clark. When asked if Clark would be back in 2019, Pete Carroll said, “I’m counting on it.” The Seahawks could also franchise-tag Clark if they couldn’t get an extension done. However, he’d be an unbelievable addition to Falcons defense that features a lot of talent when fully healthy, and who knows how the negotiations will go this offseason.

Henry Anderson

Anderson is a player that flies under the radar unless you are a fan of the New York Jets. After being drafted by the Colts, Anderson was dealt to the Jets for a seventh-round pick last offseason. He rewarded them with seven sacks and sixteen QB hits last season. It should be noted that due to his 6’6″, 301-pound size, he’s best served as a defensive end in a 3-4 defense. However, he has a similar build to Jack Crawford, who has worked marvelously on Atlanta’s defense.

Bruce Irvin

There’s quite a talent gap in this year’s defensive-end free agent class. You have guys like Demarcus Lawrence, Frank Clark and Trey Flowers leading it and then a bevy of solid but not great veteran options to choose from. The Falcons’ own, Bruce Irvin, falls into the latter category.

At 31 years old, Irvin may be past his prime, but he’s had more than 5.5 sacks every year since 2014 and  21.5 sacks combined in his last three seasons. It took him a little while to get his feet wet in Atlanta, but once he did, he became one of the Falcons most productive players off the edge with 3.5 sacks over the last four weeks of the season. Dimitroff should be seriously considering bringing Irvin back.

Brandon Graham

Graham is another player that will fall under the aging veterans category of pass rushers. He will also be 31 by the time next season starts but could be a quality rotational piece on a unit that is in desperate need of some depth. He only had four sacks last year; however, he is a season removed from having 9.5 sacks and 15 tackles for loss. He’s had at least nine tackles for loss in each of his last five seasons.

Chris Long

At 34, I’m not sure how much more Chris Long has left to give, but the guy has won the last two Super Bowls and been to the postseason three consecutive times. We saw how much he did to help mentor the Philadelphia defensive line into one of the most ferocious in the league. Maybe he could do the same thing in Atlanta, much like Dwight Freeney did for the team back in 2016.

Cameron Wake

Wake is one of the premier pass rushers in the history of the game and he’s done it all with one team – the Miami Dolphins. That alone makes him unlikely to come to Atlanta, considering he will be 37 by the time next season starts. But even at that age, Wake has shown few signs of slowing down. He has 27.5 sacks over the last three seasons, but his six sacks last year was his lowest total since his rookie campaign back in 2009.

Clay Mathews

Clay Mathews has been a staple of the Packers defense since being drafted out of USC in the first-round of the 2009 draft. He had double-digit sack totals in four of his first six seasons, but his production has gone way down over the last four years. He had a career-low 3.5 sacks in 16 starts for Green Bay in 2018. Mathews is the cousin of Falcons’ left tackle Jake Mathews, so Atlanta might be a nice place for him to end his career, but the Falcons should not be expecting too much if they were to sign him.

Romeo Okwara

Okwara was claimed off waivers just before the 2018 season and turned out to be a diamond in the rough. In 15 games (14 starts), Okwara racked up 7.5 sacks and 14 QB hits. Before he signed with the Lions, he was with the Giants for two years – who picked him up as an undrafted free agent. He only had one sack and seven QB hits in 22 games with the G-Men. It’s hard to tell if his 2018 was just a flash in the pan or something he can build off of, but he makes for an intriguing option that probably wouldn’t cost much to pursue.

Dante Fowler Jr. 

There’s no other way around it; Fowler has been a disappointment since being drafted out of Florida with the third overall pick by the Jaguars. He missed his entire rookie season with a torn ACL, and while he had a promising 2017, the Jags opted to trade him for a 2019 third-round pick in the middle of this season. Fowler hasn’t been much better with the Rams, but he’s only 24 and a freak athlete. Fowler may be someone the Falcons want to take a flier on.

Final Thoughts

I’m not sure the Falcons will have the cap space to dole out the necessary contract it would take to bring in a player like Frank Clark or Trey Flowers. The most reasonable way for Atlanta to acquire a premier talent is through the draft. But as you can see, many quality veterans could be paired with a new draftee to add some juice to this pass rush.






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