Potentially the most critical offseason in franchise history is underway. Not only are the Falcons currently interviewing candidates for their open general manager and head coach positions, but they are also contemplating moving on from Matt Ryan and Julio Jones — two franchise cornerstones over the last decade-plus.
That may not happen, but whatever direction the Falcons go in over the next few months, they need to get it right, or they could end up handcuffing themselves for years to come. Assuming the new regime opts to stick with Ryan and Jones, the quarterback and wide receiver positions will once again a strength in 2021. However, the rest of the roster still needs a ton of work if this group wants to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2017.
The Falcons will head into free agency with one starting safety on their roster — Ricardo Allen — and he’s a candidate to be cut, given he’s set to make over $8 million next season, and his play has been declining. That leaves the Falcons without a starting safety. This will have to be a position of focus come draft night, but they will also either have to re-sign one of Keanu Neal or Damontae Kazee, or bring in a difference free-agent.
4. Offensive Line
It’s almost crazy to think about considering just how much Thomas Dimitroff invested in the offensive line over the last few offseason, but that’s what happens when you pay multiple backups starting-caliber money and draft poorly. Outside of Chris Lindstrom — Jamon Brown, James Carpenter, and Kaleb McGary (so far) have all been busts.
Now, Alex Mack is retiring, leaving a hole at three places across the offensive line. The Falcons are hoping that McGary and Matt Hennessy can fill two of those holes (right tackle and center), but hoping generally isn’t the best strategy in the NFL. Atlanta must draft at least one interior offensive lineman to fill the void by James Carpenter when he is inevitably cut, and they have to continue to add depth to this group in case Hennessy or McGary flops.
3. Running Back
Running back is actually probably the most barren position on the roster entering the offseason. Todd Gurley and Brian Hill are both free agents that should not be brought back, leaving Ito Smith and Qadree Ollison, who shouldn’t inspire very much confidence based on their performance so far in their careers. I’m never one to advocate drafting a running back in the early rounds, but the Falcons have to spend a couple picks in the later rounds on some backs that can add some juice to this offense.
Aside from AJ Terrell, the whole cornerback room can be replaced. I wouldn’t mind bringing back Darqueze Dennard on another one-year contract. He was the Falcons second-most reliable corner when healthy. But the play from Isaiah Oliver and especially Kendall Sheffield was discouraging. Oliver failed to make a jump in his third season, and Sheffield seemed to regress as a second-year player. Perhaps the new regime can get those two back on track, but either way, this group needs help in a significant way.
1. Defensive Line
I’m not going to say it was a curse because clearly Thomas Dimitroff had know idea how to pick defensive lineman, and that just might have led to his downfall in Atlanta. Whether it was through the draft or free agency, Dimitroff consistently draft busts or significantly overpaid players that were not worth their weight (see Ray Edwards, Dante Fowler Jr.).