After months of silence on the free-agent front, the Falcons finally made another splash at the end of last week, signing Darqueze Dennard to a one-year deal. I assume it will be worth somewhere in the $3-5 million range, but that part of the contract has yet to be released. Regardless, it helps patch up Atlanta’s most glaring weakness heading into 2020 and gives them a much brighter outlook for the 2020 season.
The Falcons offense has little to be worried about. They will start at least nine former first-round picks, and it could be eleven, depending on who wins the job at left guard and as the third wide receiver. Matt Ryan is still one of the best QBs in football, and the trio of Julio Jones, Todd Gurley, and Calvin Ridley gives him some of the most explosive weapons he’s had over his entire career. They are going to score in bunches, but that won’t matter if the defense can’t come up with stops.
Before the acquisition of Dennard, the Falcons secondary appeared to be in shambles. They decided to let go of Desmond Trufant for cap purposes, leaving their projected starting cornerback group with three years of combined NFL experience — Isaiah Oliver (two years), Kendall Sheffield (one year), A.J. Terrel (rookie). Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen have the potential to be one of the best safety tandems in the league, but severe injuries have held them back over the last two years. In a division with Tom Brady and Drew Brees, and receivers like Michael Thomas, Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson, and Emmanuel Sanders, that is a recipe for disaster.
It also doesn’t’ help that the Falcons don’t have much of a pass rush either. You have to go back to 2004 to find an Atlanta defense inside the top ten when it comes to sacks. Coincidently, that Falcons squad led the league in sacks on the way to an NFC Championship berth. The addition of Dante Fowler should undoubtedly be an upgrade over Vic Beasley, and rookie defensive tackle/end Marlon Davidson will also add some pressure up front. However, I’m not sure that’s enough to fix the issue entirely, especially with a lackluster group of cornerbacks behind them.
The addition of Dennard will take some pressure off the entire defense. It gives the Falcons four quality cornerbacks and will allow the young guys to develop at their own pace without forcing them into action. That’s going to be critical in a season with a shortened offseason and no preseason games. It should also help out the pass rush. The Falcons have been atrocious when it comes to stopping short and quick passes, making it extraordinarily challenging to sack the quarterback, which can be quite discouraging for the guys on the defensive line.
According to the AJC’s Jason Butt (congrats on the new gig), Dan Quinn plans to utilize Dennard in his familiar role as a slot cornerback, where he’s been fantastic for the Bengals in recent years.
One thing to add: Per source, while Darqueze Dennard can play outside he is preferred as a nickel by the Falcons. Assuming he gets a deal similar to what Jags offered (3 years, $13.5M), he’s likely starting. That obviously shifts rest of corner group. https://t.co/BgFmKQxrJy
— Jason Butt (@JasonHButt) July 30, 2020
This will allow rookie A.J. Terrell (assuming he’s ready), and either Isaiah Oliver or Kendall Sheffield to play outside (my guess would be Oliver, but I am fond of Sheffield’s potential as well). Pro Football Focus gave Dennard a 72.2 overall grade last season, which would have been the best among all of the Falcons cornerbacks, including Desmond Trufant, who is now with the Lions. Dennard’s a physical press corner that will contribute against the run and occasionally rush the passer as well.
This is an incredible late offseason signing by Thomas Dimitroff for the Falcons defense. Because of COVID-19 concerns and the potential for a decline in the cap next season, it would have been understandable for the Falcons to stay well under the cap in 2020, so that money could roll over to next year. However, with a GM and coaching staff under fire, they are doing everything they can to win this season, and Dennard helps in that aspect tremendously. You can never have too many corners in today’s NFL, and the Falcons secondary is now exponentially more versatile.
Photo: Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire