Free-Agent WR Names Falcons His ‘First Priority’

Russell Gage

Getty Russell Gage preparing to face the Carolina Panthers.

The Atlanta Falcons may have finished with a losing record, but a number of key free agents have already expressed a desire to the return to the team in 2022. Among them, is the player who led all Falcons’ wide receivers in yardage.

He stepped up after primary target Calvin Ridley stepped away from the NFL to look after his mental wellbeing. This pending free agent showcased a flair for spectacular catches and a nose for the end zone during the final few weeks of the season.

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Falcons Return Named a Priority

Russell Gage has surely earned interest from other teams with his performances this season. He’ll know he can command a more lucrative contract if he elects to test the open market.

Even so, Gage is keen to stay in Atlanta. He expressed his desire to return following Week 18’s 30-20 defeat to the New Orleans Saints.

Falcons Multimedia Features Reporter Kris Rhim relayed Gage’s comments: “I love Atlanta. I love it here. In my mind, they have first priority as far I’m concerned. Those guys start talking. I’m gonna talk back because they have a special place in my heart here, and I’m hoping the same on their end.”

Gage’s words should be music to the ears of head coach Arthur Smith and general manager Terry Fontenot. They’ve witnessed the fourth-year wideout take tremendous strides during the business end of a 7-10 season.

He started just nine games, but Gage made the most of his playing time, leading all Falcons’ wideouts with 770 yards. The 25-year-old went on a tear after Week 10’s 43-3 loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

Three weeks later, Gage made 11 catches for 130 yards against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He was just as dynamic against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 15.

Gage turned eight receptions into 91 yards and a touchdown. His score came from an impressive leaping catch over Niners’ cornerback Ambry Thomas:

Gage’s season concluded in style thanks to nine grabs for 126 yards and a score against the Saints. The numbers prove Gage could make the jump from supporting player to No. 1 receiver, but that doesn’t mean he should be in a rush to test that theory elsewhere.

Maintaining some continuity in a scheme he knows well may benefit Gage more than finding a new home. He’s earned the trust of Smith, offensive coordinator Dave Ragone and quarterback Matt Ryan.

More than having the faith of his coaches and his quarterback, Gage is also becoming a player the Falcons are prepared to use in different ways. He showed his worth as a runner on a well-designed play against the Saints:

Gage is somebody Fontenot would be wise to retain sooner rather than later. Fortunately for the Falcons, Gage is far from only the only key member of the roster who wants to return.


Important Free Agents Want to Be Back

Having Gage back would keep one important playmaker in the passing game. That will be doubly useful if the Falcons can maintain their strength on the ground.

It’s something sure to happen if Cordarrelle Patterson sticks around. Atlanta’s leading rusher has already left the door open to returning next season, according to Rhim.

Balance isn’t something the Falcons enjoyed on offense too often this season. Keeping Gage paired with tight end Kyle Pitts, while Patterson continues to handle the rushing chores would at last keep the pieces in place for greater symmetry in 2022.

The same continuity could be present on defense if middle linebacker Foyesade Oluokun gets his way. He finished as the NFL’s leading tackler with 192 stops, and Oluokun told D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution he’s eager for at least another year with the Falcons.

There are enough building blocks on both sides of the ball for the Falcons to become winners in 2022, provided the front office takes care of business and moves quickly to re-sign core players like Gage.

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