Falcons Advised to Offer Former 1st-Round Pick a ‘Prove-It Deal’

Dee Ford

Getty The Falcons can add a former 1st-round pick to the pass rush.

Pass rush is still a concern for the Atlanta Falcons because the team is pinning hopes on unproven players to solve its biggest problem. Last season’s defense propped up the NFL standings with a mere 18 sacks, a number an unheralded free agent and two rookies are being counted on to improve.

It’s a risk strategy, especially for a rebuilding franchise playing in the NFC South, where Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers still hold sway. Perhaps the Falcons would be wise to recruit a veteran edge-rusher for some help.

That’s the view of one beat reporter, who believes the team should offer a recently released former first-round pick a “prove-it deal.”

Ex-First Round Edge-Rusher a Good Fit for Falcons

Falcons Digital Managing Editor Scott Bair answered a question in his weekly mailbag about whether the Falcons should recruit an experienced mentor for their young edge-rushers. Bair identified some options still on the free-agent market, including one former first-round pick: “Why not see if Dee Ford is healthy and willing to take a prove-it deal?”

Checking on Dee Ford’s health would be key to any deal coming to fruition. The 31-year-old was released by the San Francisco 49ers on Wednesday, July 27.

Cutting Ford brought the curtain down on a disappointing stint in the Bay Area for the player originally drafted 23rd overall by the Kansas City Chiefs in 2014. Ford spent five seasons with the Chiefs and formed a useful double act with bookend outside linebacker Justin Houston.

Ford’s best season was in 2018 when he logged 13 sacks, but the campaign ended in misery when he was flagged for lining up offside in the AFC Championship Game against the New England Patriots. The controversial penalty wiped out what should have been a game-sealing interception, and Brady and the Pats went on to win.

The infamous play didn’t stop the 49ers trading a second-round pick for Ford in 2019 and handing him a contract worth $87.5 million. Ford’s 6.5 sacks in his first season helped the 49ers reach Super Bowl LIV, where, ironically, they lost to the Chiefs.

Several back injuries blighted his time in San Francisco, with Ford missing 31 games in three seasons. His problems meant the Niners didn’t get value for money, per Ben Volin of the Boston Globe:

Ford couldn’t get on the field often enough for the 49ers, but he could be invaluable in a situational role for the Falcons.

Unproven Edge-Rushers Need an Experienced Presence

As Bair pointed out, “the Falcons don’t employ an edge rusher older than 26.” The senior man is former New York Giants starter Lorenzo Carter, who has never logged more than five sacks in a season.

Carter will lead a group also featuring second-round pick Arnold Ebiketie and third-rounder DeAngelo Malone. There’s also holdover Adetokunbo Ogundeji.

It’s a better group than last season’s rotation, but there’s still room for an experienced edge with a proven track record for getting to the quarterback. Ford qualifies as somebody who has put up good numbers when he’s been healthy, something noted by ESPN’s Field Yates when the 49ers restructured the player’s contract back in March:

Ford also fits the 3-4 defense coordinator Dean Pees wants to call in Atlanta, but his best role might be as a situational pass-rusher on third downs and in sub-package schemes. It’s a role Malone has so far been playing in camp, according to Kevin Knight of SB Nation’s The Falcoholic.

Bringing Ford in during camp would give the Falcons the chance to see if he can handle a reduced workload and still create pressure. If he can, Ford would be worth the kind of short-term, low-cost contract Falcons’ general manager Terry Fontenot handed to Carter.

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