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Atlanta Falcons Free Agency: How good/bad are the decisions being made?

Written by: Joe Carlino @joecarlino14

Ah, free agency. The time where massive uncertainty is existent with all 32 member organizations because it’s really the cutthroat time of the year. From now until the beginning of training camp, all clubs will be working through the amount of salary cap room they have available, be it immediately or added after post-June 1st cut designations, to sign individuals currently listed as free agents. For the Atlanta Falcons, while limited in their current ability to sign players due to limited resources, still are making some moves internally and externally as they prepare to contend in the ever-so-talented NFC South and hopefully break the two-year drought of missing the playoffs (which might be easier now with the addition of a seventh team by virtue of the new CBA). This article will feature the additions* made for the Falcons and will feature an early grade determinant on past performance and ability to contribute towards the 2020 season.

*- This article will be updated regularly throughout the free agency period

Signed/Traded players:

LB Dante Fowler, Jr. (three years, $48 million)

Analysis: After announcing the team wasn’t going to negotiate another deal with former first-round selection Vic Beasley, the question for Atlanta was how they would respond to fixing one of their glaring weaknesses in recent years: the pass rush, which only generated 28 sacks last season. After being reported by ESPN that they were initially in the running for Robert Quinn, who eventually signed a five-year, $70 million deal with the Chicago Bears, they instead go to Dan Quinn’s history with their first major free agency signing of 2020, snagging former third overall pick Dante Fowler for three years and reunite the pair since their time at the University of Florida, where Fowler was recruited by Quinn out of Lakewood (St. Petersburg) High to play for him. Fowler has talent, generating 27.5 sacks and six forced fumbles (five recovered) in his short career, and being a product of the DQ system of fast, aggressive tacklers, he should fit right in with the Falcons defense, combining with Takk McKinley on the outside edges and allowing Grady Jarrett to eat up the middle. EARLY FA GRADE: B

RB Todd Gurley II (one year, $5 million)

Analysis: This decision comes with some major risk to the outside world given the condition of Gurley’s left knee, but there’s reason to believe that the Falcons are making a smart investment here with the former 10th overall pick in the 2015 draft (the same which Atlanta picked Vic Beasley eighth overall). For starters, this deal is only a one-year commitment, so if it doesn’t work out, Atlanta isn’t necessarily on the hook if they choose to get rid of him. Also, while the numbers do showcase a drop from his first four seasons to last year’s, Gurley does have an upside here in that he’s only 25 years old prior to the season starting, and he’s coming into an Atlanta organization which prioritizes the zone run scheme, which a runner like Gurley thrives in. From an external perception, bringing in a former UGA product will most likely fill up Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and perhaps he can also assist in the development of the guys already in the room (Ito Smith, Qadree Ollison, and Brian Hill). Personally, I like the move here to bring in Gurley, and if the Falcons can rejuvenate his career, their offense is going to be nasty. EARLY FA GRADE: B-

TE Hayden Hurst (from BAL)

Analysis: For most Falcons fans, early last week they were probably thinking Atlanta made a huge mistake letting a talent like Hooper walk without a true replacement plan in tow. But with Thomas Dimitroff at the helm, they should really learn to understand he always finds ways to work with what he’s got. Such was the case where, after watching Hooper sign his new deal (see below), he called up the Baltimore Ravens and orchestrated a trade to send the second-round pick obtained in the Mohamed Sanu trade and a fifth-round pick in exchange for a fourth-round pick and Hurst, who was selected in the 2018 draft right before Atlanta snagged Calvin Ridley. Hurst was a decent tight end in Baltimore’s system, but it was clear that Lamar Jackson had more chemistry with Mark Andrews, which led to him sliding down the depth chart. But in an offense loaded with playmakers, it’s safe to say Hurst will get his fair share to prove why he was selected in the first round. EARLY FA GRADE: B+

OL Justin McCray (one-year)

Analysis: McCray is someone whose journey has involved a stint in the Arena Football League along with time in the Titans and Browns. Because four of the five slots on the offensive line are essentially set in place (Matthews, Mack, Lindstrom, and McGary), that only leaves one spot for a starting role: left guard. And Atlanta has a lot of hungry individuals wanting to snag that role for themselves, such as last year’s free agent signing James Carpenter. It’s still too early to understand where McCray will fit in with the line, but for now, he’s a decent pickup for a replacement lineman in certain situations. EARLY FA GRADE: C+

DT Tyeler Davison (three years, $12 million)

Analysis: After losing Dontari Poe last year to the Panthers, Atlanta needed a competent person to line up opposite Grady Jarrett and provide some help to let the big man dominate. Enter Davison, who they poached from the bitter Saints last season and entrusted him with such responsibilities since they apparently have no trust in third-round pick Deadrin Senat. Davison proved himself in the 12 games he started, registering 55 tackles (four TFL), one sack, and a fumble recovery, and could continue to improve himself as the complement to Jarrett the Falcons front four needed. With guys like Takk and Fowler on the outside, if this rush can click, it might be game over for opponents. But that’s a big “if”. EARLY FA


CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson (one-year)

Analysis: Wreh-Wilson is an interesting player because he’s all over the secondary, not truly being a standalone cornerback. This is because he’ll do anything in his power to assist the defense, whether he comes in because it’s part of the game plan or because someone ahead of him on the depth chart is out due to injury. He’s probably not going to be one of the Falcons’ starting cornerbacks due to the team being sold on Isaiah Oliver and Kendall Sheffield, but could provide some much-needed assistance if they need some time to recuperate. EARLY FA GRADE: B-

WR Laquon Treadwell (one-year)

Analysis: A former first-round selection of the Vikings in 2016, Treadwell was unceremoniously cut prior to the start of last season, only to be brought back because of mounting injuries at the wide receiver position. However, just because one team thinks he’s not worth the selection doesn’t mean he should automatically be classified as a bust. Maybe it was just the system he was in which led to underwhelming stats and a lack of confidence in ownership. Now Treadwell comes to Atlanta as easily the No.3 receiver behind Julio and Ridley, and with those two commanding respect all contest, as well as Todd Gurley in the backfield and Hayden Hurst generating some coverage to boot, this could be the opportunity he needs to reignite his career. EARLY FA GRADE: B

CB Sharrod Neasman (one-year)

Analysis: Like with Blidi Wreh-Wilson, the Falcons decided to resign Neasman for another year to provide some depth in case of players being exhausted. He was listed as the backup strong safety to Ricardo Allen once Keanu Neal went down with his Achilles injury, so he’s been known to make some plays in the red zone. Deals for guys who come in and just want to provide assistance wherever it’s needed is a staple of the Falcons in recent years, so it’s no surprise that they’ve ventured down this route again. It’s worked before, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it (but address it in the draft). EARLY FA GRADE: B-

FB Keith Smith (three years, $5.5 million)

Analysis: Smith came in last season as a replacement fullback since Atlanta likes to use this once-revered position in their power zone run scheme. While the team struggled to truly make their name in the ground attack (30th in 2019), Smith proved himself enough to where the team decided to commit to him with the deal he signed last week. Lest Falcons fans forget, in that magical (but tragic) Super Bowl run, the team had a pretty impressive fullback in Patrick Dimarco, who currently plays for the Buffalo Bills. Now that Smith can enjoy the full benefits of training camp to truly understand the Falcons’ offense, it might be time for the hard-working individual to assist with the development of the rotating young backfield and the re-emerging dominance of Todd Gurley. EARLY FA GRADE: B

P Ryan Allen (one-year)

Analysis: Not much to say here regarding Allen as the Falcons released him only to immediately resign the punter they brought in to assist with ailing incumbent Matt Bosher, who just hasn’t had the same emphasis in recent years outside of that hit on Kenjon Barner. Allen was prominent in his time with New England as Bill Belichick loved left-footed punters since they apparently have better accuracy and can put more spin on the ball, thus leading to better setups for the defense. We’ll have to wait and see if Allen gains the starter position, or if he loses out to Bosher for a short while. EARLY FA GRADE: C

Released Players/UFA:

CB Desmond Trufant (post-June 1st)

Analysis: Of the current slate of releases made by Atlanta so far, this one hit close because Trufant was a decent player on the outside. While he wasn’t the best at guarding opponent’s No.1 receivers like he used to, he still had the ability to play lockdown defense and occasionally come away with an interception (his first two-INT game came against the Eagles in Week Two). It didn’t take long for him to stay a free agent, though, as he signed a two-year, $21-million deal to replace Darius Slay in Detroit, who was traded to the Eagles for draft picks. The move almost essentially says from an outside perspective that Atlanta is going to select a cornerback with one of their picks in the draft. It remains to be seen who that individual will be, or if Trufant can perform in Detroit given recent events leading to Slay’s departure. EARLY FA GRADE: ATL (C+); TRUFANT (B)

RB Devonta Freeman (release)

Analysis: Oh, how the mighty have fallen with Devonta Freeman. After signing a nice five-year extension a few years ago, he never could stay healthy enough to justify the deal to most individuals, and the Falcons eventually had no choice but to let “Eat Free” try and find food elsewhere. It’s unfortunate because Freeman was a shifty back who had good acceleration through the hole and was shifty enough to put opposing defenders on skates. Given how Freeman is a determined individual who will make the most out of any opportunity he has, there will be a team that swoops him up in the offseason. Currently, though, he’s still available, and Atlanta has moved on with their current set of developing backs and Todd Gurley (more on that above). EARLY FA GRADE: ATL (B); FREEMAN (C+)

OG Wes Schweitzer (UFA)

Analysis: What can really be said about Schweitzer? While viewed as smart and versatile who can slide inside to play center if needed, the guy was a rotating piece of the Falcons offensive line, and despite starting in 36 games in his career, he never truly got the opportunity to regain his footing after being benched in 2018, only coming back on the field due to a mounting pile of injuries suffered by Atlanta. Because of this, Atlanta decided to let him walk, and Washington scooped him up on a three-year deal worth up to $13.5 million after failing to resign Ereck Flowers. Schweitzer seems to be the most expendable of the Falcons’ releases/cuts so far this offseason, and it never really seemed like they had any intention of bringing him back. This almost guarantees that James Carpenter will be the starting left guard in 2020, and if that happens, the Falcons starting offense will feature 10 first round selections, an almost unheard of feat. EARLY FA GRADE: ATL (B+); SCHWEITZER (C+)

LB De’Vondre Campbell (UFA)

Analysis: Of the many defensive players Atlanta had to release due to salary cap implications, this one feels like the one player they really didn’t want to get away. Campbell was a smart linebacker who thrived at times with Deion Jones or when he had to lead the defense himself, as evidenced by him leading the team with 129 tackles last year. Such a final stat line enabled him to command a decent number on the market, and in recent years, there’s been a pattern with Falcons defensive players when they leave the team; they end up going west to another bird-related team with a darker shade of red to go along with the black. Campbell joins this list by inking a one-year deal worth $8.5 million according to agent Drew Rosenhaus, and unfortunately will not be in Atlanta for the 2020 season. However, since it’s a one-year deal, hope can remain that he can make a triumphant return to prominence back in the ATL in 2021. EARLY FA GRADE: ATL (C) ; CAMPBELL (B-)

LB Vic Beasley, Jr. (release)

Analysis: For most Falcons fans, this comes as a bit of a relief given how Beasley could never quite recapture the dominance he had in 2016 when he led the league with 15.5 sacks en route to the Super Bowl appearance. Perhaps he couldn’t properly develop a counter move since he was always viewed as a speed rusher, making it easier to stop him on blitzes. Or maybe his inability to work with Dan Quinn coming into the fifth-year option (which continues the streak of Falcons first rounders getting that privilege) that led to him leaving the ATL. However, like most Falcons players hitting the market, he wasn’t on it for long, inking a one-year, $9.5 million deal just five hours north in Tennessee with the Titans, with incentives that can net him a maximum of $12 million in 2020. Essentially, it’s a prove-it deal, and let’s see if Mike Vrabel can reignite a dormant flame. EARLY FA GRADE: ATL (B+); BEASLEY (B-)

TE Austin Hooper (UFA)

Analysis: A tough decision for the Falcons moving on from Hooper, who was slowly coming into his talents and becoming a reliable target for Matt Ryan when Julio and Ridley were covered, especially after Sanu was traded to New England. It was definitely a tough call for the Falcons, who obviously wanted him to resign but allowed him to test the free agent market in the hopes that his level of interest wasn’t as high as anticipated and they could get him back. Unfortunately, that plan didn’t pan out, as Hooper traveled up to Cleveland and signed a four-year, $44 million deal to join the Browns and pair up with Baker Mayfield, OBJ, Jarvis Landry, and another rising tight end in David Njoku. It’s a wait and see game if Atlanta made the right call here, especially with the acquisition of Hayden Hurst (more on that above), but in this case, Atlanta had to make a tough call and couldn’t get the desired outcome. EARLY FA GRADE: ATL (C-); HOOPER (B)



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