PFF names one free agent the Falcons should sign

NFL: JAN 07 Browns at Bengals

It may end up being a complete disaster, as often is the case with the Falcons, but this will be one of the most exciting offseasons in recent memory.

It starts with the head coach. The Falcons have interviewed over a half-dozen candidates with many more to come, and while it appears Bill Belichick is the frontrunner for the job, there’s still plenty of time for that to change.

But whoever the falcons land on as their next coach, he will have the more difficult task of fixing the quarterback position. Desmond Ridder and Taylor Heinicke are competent backups, but there’s a zero percent chance they will be starting in Atlanta Week 1 next season. Whether it’s through the draft, free agency, or trade the Falcons have to make some sort of splash to upgrade the position.

Beyond the quarterback, however, many other positions must be bolstered as well. The Falcons were improved in a number of areas this season, and they have a ton of young guys beaming with potential, but they are far from a group that is Super Bowl ready. Atlanta is set to have around $35 million in cap space of now, but with a few minor cuts, that number can balloon to over $50 million. There’s also a number of avenues they could take to spend even more money if they so choose.

For the second offseason in a row, the Falcons will be one of the more active teams in free agency. If I were to rank there needs outside of the quarterback position, a bonafide stud on the edge would be #1 far and away. The Falcons haven’t had a dominant pass rusher since Jonothan Abraham was roaming the Georgia Dome over a decade ago. That has to change, which is why Pro Football Focus suggests the Falcons should target Za’Darius Smith this offseason.

In his three fully healthy seasons from 2019-2022, Smith was among the best pass rushers in the league, racking up 36 sacks in 48 games, leading to three Pro Bowls and two All-Pro nominations. That’s exactly what the Falcons should be looking for, but it’s fair to wonder if those days are behind him.

Smith is on the wrong side of 30, set to turn 32 next season, and he wasn’t nearly as dominant in 2023 as he was in the past, recording just 5.5 sacks alongside arguably the most dominant pass rusher in the game in Myles Garrett. If the Falcons are paying him to be their primary pass rusher, that’s not going to be enough to fix the issue. But on a short-term deal to slot alongside someone younger and more effective, it could be enough to really make Atlanta’s defensive line a force to be reckoned with.

Photo: Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire

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