Former Falcons WR Joins Tom Brady, Division Rival

Russell Gage

Getty Russell Gage is leaving the Falcons for a division rival.

Russell Gage has found a new home in free agency. Unfortunately for the Atlanta Falcons, Gage’s next destination is a little too familiar.

The Falcons’ leading wide receiver in 2021 is “expected” to sign with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It was reported by NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport:

Then it was confirmed by Greg Auman of The Athletic:

Gage now gets the chance to connect with Bucs’ quarterback Tom Brady, who recently reversed his decision to retire. Instead, Brady will return for a 23rd season in the pros, something sure to keep the Bucs favorites in the NFC South, where the Falcons are still trying to build a contender.

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Losing Gage a Double Blow

Terms of the deal were later revealed by ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler:

Those numbers offer further proof of how expensive the receiver market has gotten so far this year. It’s a challenge for cash-strapped teams like the Falcons to even keep their current wideouts, let alone invest in new playmakers.

Even so, Gage leaving town is a double blow for the Falcons. First, it means further damage for an already depleted wide receiver room.

Calvin Ridley’s suspension for violating the league’s betting policy means the Falcons lack a true No. 1 wideout. Gage showed flashes of potential to grow into that role with his performances last season.

Ridley stepped away from the team for his mental wellbeing, so Gage became the go-to target for quarterback Matt Ryan on the outside. He responded well, hauling in 66 receptions for 770 yards and four touchdowns.

Gage was particularly effective against the Buccaneers, according to Auman:

Ironically, the Falcons might wish Gage had been a little quieter against their division rival. The Bucs clearly took notice of the qualities Gage can bring to a passing game.

Now, the Falcons need to step up their efforts to put some dynamic pass-catchers around Ryan and second-year tight end Kyle Pitts.


Wide Receiver Remains a FA Priority

Pitts is the only breakaway threat in this offense. His isolation could be compounded because Gage isn’t the only free agent receiver who may not return to the Falcons this offseason.

Cordarrelle Patterson converted to running back during 2021, but he’s still also a wideout by trade. Patterson remains a safe pair of hands, per PFF Fantasy Football:

The cupboard looks pretty bare in Atlanta, but the Falcons still have moves they can make. General manager Terry Fontenot has already taken one step toward that aim.

It involves tendering restricted free agent Olamide Zaccheaus, per Katz Brothers Sports and ESPN’s Adam Schefter. His updated contract situation was explained by Michael Rothstein of ESPN:

There is also still a clutch of talented veterans at the position left on this year’s market. They include Allen Robinson, Juju Smith-Schuster and Cam Sims.

Both Robinson and Smith-Schuster would be great additions as receivers who constantly win between the hashmarks and make yards after the catch. They’d give Ryan the reliable, short-range options he loves to target.

Meanwhile, 6’5″ Sims would be a vertical threat in an offense not known for stretching the field. Sims, who played his football for the Washington Football Team last season, would be a cheaper option for a Falcons franchise that has just $13,624,973 worth of room to work with under the salary cap, per Spotrac.com.

It makes things tight when Fontenot still needs to address offensive line, linebacker, running back and the pass rush. That’s a hefty to-do list, but Gage not returning means the Falcons can’t forget about adding a receiver.

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