Ranking Falcons impending free agents most likely to return to Atlanta

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The Falcons 2022 offseason is officially under way, and Terry Fontenot has already signed a flurry of players to reserve/future contracts. This offseason could look very similar to last spring as Atlanta is set to experience an incredible amount of roster turnover. 

“In terms of the percentage of snaps played, the Falcons’ top three receivers will all be hitting free agency. Olamide Zaccheaus (57% of offensive snaps), Russell Gage (56%), and Tajae Sharpe (47%) could all leave this offseason; the trio accounts for nearly 80% of all snaps by receivers. Lee Smith (31%) and Hayden Hurst (40%) are also set to become free agents…”

“Unless Fontenot does something drastic, the offense in 2022 will look similar to the one in 2021; however, the same cannot be said for the defense. The Falcons will be replacing an unprecedented percentage of snaps defensively. Atlanta’s defense leads the entire league in snaps coming from impending free agents. The Falcons will have to replace Foye Oluokun’s 98% of all defensive snaps, Duron Harmon‘s 91%, Fabian Moreau‘s 88%, Erik Harris‘ 64%, Steven Means‘ 58%, and Dante Fowler‘s 44%. Six defensive starters and a plethora of other rotational players will have to be replaced.”

With Calvin Ridley’s current and future status unknown, the Falcons might have just one wide receiver under contract for 2022 at this point — Frank Darby. Obviously, this was always going to be the case because Fontenot exclusively gave out one-year, team-friendly contracts — outside of Mike Davis‘s two-year deal.

Many of the impending free agents — Cordarrelle Patterson, Russell Gage, Foye Oluokun, and Hayden Hurst — have been outspoken on their desire to return to Atlanta. However, we all know the business of the NFL (and Atlanta’s salary cap woes) will prohibit some of those players from getting new deals from the Falcons. Given those constraints, the Falcons will absolutely have to prioritize these free agents. Here is my ranking for those impending free agents based on how likely it is they return to Atlanta.


Most likely
Least likely

That’s a shockingly long list of free agents, and some of their placements may surprise readers. Beginning at the top, the Falcons will likely prioritize their impending specialists — Koo, Harris, and Morstead. There is a chance the latter retires or signs with another team, but the Falcons could do much worse at the punter position.

I believe this staff will pound the table for Oliver because he was playing the best ball of his career in the nickel before going down with injury. Coupled with his cheap price tag, he makes a lot of sense to bring back, especially if the staff isn’t confident in Darren Hall. I also think the Falcons will likely bring back Russell Gage because of the team’s lack of receivers under contract in 2022. He had a decent season and showed he’s capable of being a complementary piece in this offense.

Oluokun and Patterson’s futures depend on their market value. If either is offered high-valued contracts, the Falcons will be hesitant to match. However, the coaching staff hasn’t shied away from praising the two players’ impact on the field and as leaders. Williams and Bates are key special teamers that seemed to really impress the staff, but they’ll also be cheap signings.

Moreau and Zaccheaus played respectably, but the reason I think they’re likely to return is their respective positions — both of which the Falcons need bodies at. Rush, Pennel, Ollison, McCarron, Gono, Graham, Ellerbee, Bullard, and Andrews are all 50/50 in my opinion; however, they all provide value.

The next group is where I become more doubtful of their futures with the team. Andrews, Means, Harris, Sharpe, Copeland, Blake, and Rosen are veterans who the coaching staff seemed satisfied with their efforts or potential.

The final group is who I have a hard time seeing Fontenot re-signing. Hurst’s fifth-year option was declined for a reason, though it is possible the Falcons feel they could bring him back for less money. Harmon has been a somewhat reliable veteran, but the safety group is stacked with young players, and this was always going to be a bridge year for them. Spriggs played a backup role all year that the front office will undoubtedly upgrade. After having his 2022 year voided, Fowler will not be brought back unless it is one a one-year, prove-it deal.

Lee Smith is the least likely to return. Not because of his on-the-field performance but rather the reports that he’s retiring. Smith plays an old-school type of football, and Falcons fans can expect Arthur Smith to roster a blocking-first tight end every year he’s the head coach. If Smith didn’t retire, he would be at the top with the specialists.

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