The Falcons made some aggressive early and smart free agency decisions this offseason, or so we thought.
The Falcons key players in free agency to there roster. First, they signed tight end Hayden Hurst in a trade with the Baltimore Ravens. Then they picked up outside linebacker Dante Fowler and running back Todd Gurley from the Rams. They also traded with the Dolphins for defensive end Charles Harris.
Barnwell broke down what went right and wrong for the Falcons.
What Went Right
For starters, the Falcons did what they needed to do and went heavy on defense.
“The Falcons finally acknowledged their need to rebuild on defense, Barnell began to write. Out went pass-rusher Vic Beasley Jr., cornerback Desmond Trufant, linebacker De’Vondre Campbell and defensive tackle Adrian Clayborn, and they declined the fifth-year option on edge rusher Takkarist McKinley. Atlanta finally made a significant investment on an outside player by signing Dante Fowler Jr., and it used first- and second-round picks on cornerback A.J. Terrell and defensive lineman Marlon Davidson. Thomas Dimitroff’s team projects to come away with one compensatory fifth-round pick and a pair of selections in the sixth round of the 2021 draft.”
What Went Wrong
Barnell argues that the only real key addition was Fowler and that they were too confident with their second-half season defense last year.
“Fowler was the only significant veteran addition this team made to that flailing defense, as Atlanta otherwise re-signed tackle Tyeler Davison and traded a seventh-round pick for Dolphins washout Charles Harris, a defensive end who went No. 22 overall in 2017. I’m worried that the Falcons might be fooled by what happened in the second half when they allowed a league-best 25.8% conversion rate on third downs. Research has suggested that teams that grossly outplay their first- and second-down performance on third down struggle to keep that up, and while they were middle of the pack by expected points added on first and second down during the final eight weeks of the season, they were the league’s best defense on third downs.
“You could argue that they didn’t have the cap room to make many additions, but after cutting Devonta Freeman, they still found a way to hand Todd Gurley a one-year, $5.5 million deal. Even if Gurley returns to form and has a great season, this is the exact sort of organization that needed to focus on finding a cheap, multiyear solution at running back. The Falcons have committed serious resources to their offensive line, have a great passing game, and desperately needed to save money for their defense.”
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What They Could Have Done Differently
There have been rumors floating pegging Clay Matthews to the Falcons where he could join his cousin Jake Matthews, but the Falcons have nearly run out of money for quality players.
“The money they committed to Gurley could have been part of an offer for someone like Jadeveon Clowney, although it would have also required Atlanta to restructure someone’s contract, likely wideout Julio Jones. As it stands, the Falcons don’t have the cap space to even go after a veteran edge rusher like Vinny Curry or Clay Matthews.”
What’s Left to Do
Barnell has some pretty bold statements. He believes the Falcons need year another cornerback after drafting rookie Terrell and releasing Brian Hill would free up cap space.
“Carve out some space for a cornerback. With plenty of veteran options still available, the Falcons project to start Terrell, Isaiah Oliver, and Kendall Sheffield. They are enthused about Sheffield after his rookie season, but I’d like to see them find a couple of million dollars to bring in somebody like Darqueze Dennard or even a veteran like Brandon Carr. Releasing backup running back Brian Hill would free up $2.1 million.”
The Falcons a pretty set on Hill after he most recently signed his tender, but then again nobody is really safe. We’ll see what Barnell has to say after Week 4.