Which current Falcons should be considered building blocks?

Falcons: AJ Terrell Greatness on display

Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith are ushering in a new era in Atlanta, and it begins in less than three weeks at the NFL Draft. The Falcons haven’t picked this high since the team selected Matt Ryan in the 2008 draft. That’s ironic, considering his heir apparent could be taken this year. After finishing 4-12, many fans have doubts about the roster entirely, and rightfully so. However, I am here to ease your worries by identifying current Falcons that are building blocks for the future.

First, in an earlier article, I brought up the point that scheme is superior to talent in the NFL, “But that doesn’t mean Henry could plug and play in any offense; remember, the scheme is superior to talent. Before Smith (2016-2018), Henry carried the ball over 500 times for 2,293 yards (4.6 YPC) and 22 touchdowns compared to his 681 carries for 3,567 yards (5.2) and 33 touchdowns. So, as I’ve said before, who exactly made who?”

It is the most “team” game in all professional sports because you depend on more people than any other, making the talent gap not as big as in other leagues like the NBA and MLB. The NFL is ultra-competitive, and it’s never more apparent than when a Wild Card team wins the Super Bowl, which has only happened ten times since 1970 but is still a realist possibility where it’s much more unlikely for an equal underdog in other sports to win their respective championship.

I mention how close the competition really is in the NFL because Arthur Smith’s addition will matter more than any single free agent or rookie from the draft this year will. The Falcons don’t have a 4-12 roster but just were outmatched schematically almost every week. There was never a flow or rhythm to the offense, and the defense felt stale and predictable. The influx of culture and scheme Smith and Fontenot are bringing in will be the difference-maker because there are already building blocks for the new regime. Here we will look over some of the players that should be in the new regime’s long-term plans.

AJ Terrell‘s contract expires in 2025, making him the player with the longest contract on the team and will surely be in Dean Pees, Arthur Smith, and Terry Fontenot’s future plans. 2024 will see some long-time Falcons’ contract extensions expiring, some of who deserve extension and belong in the new regime’s plans for the future. Ryan, Jake Matthews, Julio Jones, Deion Jones, Chris Lindstrom, Kaleb McGary, Marlon Davidson, Matt Hennessey, Mykal Walker, Jaylinn Hawkins, and Sterling Hofrichter are all in the group of expiring contracts in 2024.

Those on rookie contracts — Lindstrom, McGary, Davidson, Hennessey, Walker, Hawkins, and Hofrichter — will be hard-pressed to not be a part of the team for the next three years. Lindstrom is the only one who seems already worth a second contract. At the same time, I feel confident in saying McGary, Davidson, and Walker will be impact starters at some point before their expiration date. A second contract could be worth exploring depending on how they respond to the new scheme and coaching staff. The jury is out of Hennessey and Hawkins as the sample size is much too small to make a fair prediction of their future status within the organization. Hofrichter should be on a short leash, as he wasn’t overly impressive his rookie year with plenty of opportunities and at an easily replaceable position.

That leaves Matty Ice, Julio, and Debo — all fan favorites. I’m here to tell you that the long-term plans probably only involve the latter because it has never been conducive to winning Super Bowls to pay a wide receiver so a large percentage of the available cap, while Ryan’s fate depends on the direction Fontenot goes on April 29th. There are even fewer players whose contracts expire in 2023 deserving of being labeled as “building blocks” of the future.

First and foremost, Grady Jarrett has every bit of potential to be a Falcon for life as any. He is clearly the best player on the defense and is continuing to climb as a player. Calvin Ridley is also an ascending talent, though; I have more reservations about handing the former Alabama wideout top of the market money. Depending on how the team handles Julio, Ridley will likely be a part of Smith’s offensive vision. The rest of the 2023 expiring contracts are expendable and will have to improve dramatically to make it into the conversation of future plans.

The two players whose 2022 contract expirations I see being approached about second contracts are Younghoe Koo and Russell Gage. The former is an obvious piece, as reliable kicking is hard to come by, unlike punting. On the other hand, Gage has steadily improved each year in the league and could find himself a bargain extension for a team that has to pay two other receivers so much. Fontenot could choose to go with Gage over either Julio or Ridley. The complete list of who I think should be considered the building blocks of this team is below, spread around at skilled and non-skilled positions. Ryan would be on the list, but the draft could decide his future regardless of what I think.

AJ Terrell

Jake Matthews

Deion Jones

Chris Lindstrom

Kaleb McGary

Marlon Davidson

Grady Jarrett

Calvin Ridley

Younghoe Koo

Russell Gage

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