Which of the Falcons free agents are most likely to return?

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The Falcons currently have 40 players under contract for 2021, according to Spotrac, as well as 18 unrestricted free agents leaving this offseason. Terry Fontenot, as a former director of pro personnel, is an expert at roster management. Evaluating the current roster and free-agent class will be one of his first tasks, so let’s take a look at which of those free-agents is most likely to return.

I won’t be going through all 18 unrestricted free-agents. Instead, I will begin with the least likely to return and finish with the most likely to return.

Todd Gurley

Likeliness: not likely

Todd Gurley has made recent comments about coming back to Atlanta, but as Chase pointed out, there’s virtually no chance if the price isn’t right.

Spotrac has set Gurley’s market value at two years, $11 million, giving him an AAV of $5.5 million. They have Mark IngramAustin EkelerTarik Cohen, and Giovani Bernard listed as comparable players. As much as I love Gurley, I would take all of those guys over him, and I don’t think I would give any of them — besides Ekeler because of his receiving ability — a multi-year contract with an AAV over $5 million.

Alex Mack

Likeliness: not likely

Alex Mack hasn’t made it clear whether he will retire, but expect a statement very soon. I wrote a piece on bringing him back to Atlanta after his comments about joining his former offensive coordinator Kyle Shahanan in San Francisco.

“Kyle is an incredible coach,” Mack told NBC Sports on Friday. “He’s an incredible coach, great person, strong motivator and runs an offense that is something that I’d know really well and that I performed very well in… Yeah, that said, they (the 49ers) are a very enticing thing.”

Charles Harris

Likeliness: not likely

Charles Harris played significantly better in Atlanta than he did in Miami, but that’s due to the fact he actually received playing time with the Falcons. After the team released Takk McKinnley and Dante Fowler struggled to stay healthy, Harris played respectably. Though he plays a position of need for the Falcons, I don’t see him returning.

Brian Hill

Likeliness: not likely

Much like Charles Harris, Brian Hill received playing-time due to injury — this time to Todd Gurley. He still couldn’t beat out Ito Smith for the featured role with Gurley out, which isn’t great for his case since Smith is signed through the 2021 season. Hill is a reasonable backup, but I see the Falcons going in a totally different direction this offseason.

Damontae Kazee

Likeliness: not likely

Damontae Kazee, unfortunately, tore his Achilles in the final year of his contract. Even though Keanu Neal has shown it’s possible with modern medicine to return from a once career-ending injury, I don’t see Fontenot bringing Kazee back in a new system coming off an injury. The one caveat, if Kazee comes back and plays for pennies on the dollar, Fontenot might consider it.

Justin McCray

Likeliness: somewhat likely

The Falcons have an average offensive line, but there’s always a reason to bolster the trenches. McCray isn’t going to come in and beat Matt Hennessey out at center, but he can back up every position along the offensive line. That is a precious attribute to have and might be attractive for a general manager who needs to fill holes everywhere. With such great versatility, it could allow Fontenot to find the best five linemen instead of specifically a right guard or center.

Luke Stocker

Likeliness: somewhat likely

Luke Stocker is as dangerous as any tight end in the league with the ball in his hands, right up there with Travis Kelce. Dirk Koetter had this weird obsession with Stocker, so sarcasm aside, he is familiar with Atlanta and Arthur Smith. Stocker was in Tennessee in 2017 and 2018 when Smith was a position coach. He also has experience as a fullback and H-back from his time in Tampa Bay early in his career. Stocker could provide solid depth at a reasonable price but should be used sparingly as a TE #3.

Blidi Wreh-Wilson

Likeliness: somewhat likely

Similar to Luke Stocker, Blidi Wreh-Wilson was a role player in Atlanta last year. He was decent when called upon, which came throughout the season as the Falcons’ defensive backs were decimated by injuries. He played boundary to boundary, in the slot, single-high safety, just about everywhere. That type of versatility could be appealing to Dean Pees — who loves defensive backs who can play multiple positions.

Darqueze Dennard

Likeliness: likely

Right where I left off with Blidi Wreh-Wilson, I will continue with Darqueze Dennard — who played nickel and boundary this year. When Dean Pees was in Tennessee, the Titans regularly used Logan Ryan as a nickel because he brought a safety skill set to the position — an outstanding tackler, run-defender, and blitzer. Dennard would absolutely thrive in a Logan Ryan-type role and has the ability to drop deep into coverage.

Keanu Neal

Likeliness: likely

Keanu Neal brought back on an incentive-based contract would be smart. He fits into this scheme and could play in a hybrid linebacker role, but Pees prefers his safeties to drop deep, which Neal isn’t able to do. With that said, Kenny Vaccaro is nothing short of a liability in coverage, and he thrived in Tennessee with Pees; so, I would still say Neal should return to Atlanta. According to PFF, he was top ten in tackles among all safeties and graded out at 68.2 overall. What is most impressive about Neal’s game is the development in his pass rush. He was brought on 27 blitzes with six pressures — very effective for a safety and perfect for Atlanta’s new defensive coordinator.

Younghoe Koo

Likeliness: very likely

There should be no questions, arguments, or counter-arguments about bringing back Younghoe Koo. He was one of the best kickers in the league in 2020, and they are hard to come by. I doubt Terry Fontenot lets him walk. Koo converted more field goals than anyone in the league this year with the third-highest field goal percentage. Expect him back in 2021 and beyond.

Photo: David John Griffin/Icon Sportswire

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