The Falcons only have four games left in the 2022 season, and anticipation is finally built as the team turns to Desmond Ridder in favor of Marcus Mariota. The Falcons aren’t necessarily out of playoff contention, but their road to a postseason berth is exceptionally narrow, which would include winning out. More than anything, it’s a mini audition for Ridder for a chance to be the favorite going into the 2023 season, but there are plenty of other Falcons playing for next year, those who will test free agency this offseason.
With the Falcons set to have more cap space than they’ve had in years, the 2023 offseason will be pivotal in upgrading the roster. If there’s one thing this front office has shown an ability to do, it’s finding value in free agency. Cordarrelle Patterson, Elijah Wilkinson, Casey Hayward (before the injury), Rashaan Evans, and others are under contract at team-friendly rates. With significantly more cap space to make moves, the 2023 offseason could propel the Falcons to being a perennial playoff team — the NFC South is there for the taking — or stuck treading water.
Part of those funds will be allocated to bring in free agents from the streets; hopefully, a large portion will be dedicated to a world-class pass rusher. Another part will be used to re-sign their in-house free agents, and the list is very long. Terry Fontenot’s approach to building the roster has been the same for the last two seasons — stockpiling veterans on team-friendly, one-year deals. That means a ton of roster turnover, so which Falcons are playing for their jobs over the next five weeks?
There are three groups of impending free agents. A handful will likely be brought back in 2023, regardless of how the rest of the season unfolds. Another group is a toss-up, 50/50, depending on how the final four games shake out. Then, there’s the gaggle of Falcons that are more than likely not returning in 2023, no matter what they do over the final stretch.
More than likely returning in 2023
Olamide Zaccheaus, Caleb Huntley, Kaleb McGary, Keith Smith, Abdullah Anderson, Elijah Wilkinson, Isaiah Oliver
Zaccheaus has arguably been Atlanta’s most reliable pass catcher this season. He’s third in targets, second in receptions, first in yards, and tied for second in scores. It’s a guarantee OZ returns. Huntley is also a no-brainer; he’s as hard of a runner as I’ve seen since Michael Turner. Smith is an unsung hero in the Falcons run game success. Anderson has proven worthy of being a rotational defender along the front. Oliver hasn’t been fantastic this season, but the secondary behind Terrell and Hayward is abysmal. Wilkinson and McGary also haven’t been stellar, but you’re either paying them or a significantly more amount of money to upgrade. I could see McGary’s replacement being found in the draft and developed behind him.
Bradley Pinion, Liam McCullough, Ryan Neuzil, Rashaan Evans, Damiere Byrd, KhaDarel Hodge, Lorenzo Carter, Mike Ford, Chuma Edoga, Germain Ifedi, Colby Gossett, Parker Hesse, MyCole Pruitt, Anthony Firkser
With this group, your guess is as good as mine. More prominent players like Carter and Firkser haven’t quite lived up to the expectations earlier in the year. Evans has flashed at times, but Troy Andersen is primed to take over that role. Ford has been a personal favorite of mine, and I would love to have him back. Hesse and Pruitt have been excellent in their minimal roles; I wouldn’t be shocked if either is brought back. Edoga only started one game, but given the circumstances, he performed well. Gossett’s starts have been a bag of mixed results. Pinion and McCullough have been pretty good actually, but specialists are hard to predict.
More than likely not returning in 2023
Damien Williams, Erik Harris, Beau Brinkley, Vincent Taylor, Matt Dickerson, Nick Kwiatkowski
Williams honestly didn’t get a fair shake this year. He was primed to have a significant role in the offense, but an injury held him out, and the young backs on the team performed excellently. I put Erik Harris in this section last year, and he was re-signed, so honestly, who knows. Brinkley is in the same boat as Williams. Liam McCullough replaced him and never looked back. Taylor and Dickerson are only on the team because the Falcons defensive line is hot garbage; there’s no depth. If that improves, they’ll be looking for other jobs. Kwiatkoski is an easy replacement as a core special teamer.
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