Foyesade Oluokun won’t be returning to the Atlanta Falcons. Instead, the NFL’s leading tackler last season looks like he’s about to cash in and join a rebuilding franchise in free agency.
Oluokun is set to join the Jacksonville Jaguars on a three-year contract with plenty of money guaranteed up front, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport:
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Falcons Lose Key Defensive Piece
Losing Oluokun is a major blow for a Falcons defense already short of genuine impact players. The active inside linebacker proved himself exactly that by making a league-leading 192 tackles last season.
Oluokun also found the time log a pair of sacks, break up six passes and snatch three interceptions. Although he’s undersized, the 6’2″, 215-pounder is a rapid, sideline-to-sideline linebacker who can stay on the field for all three downs.
The key to his game is how often Oluokun gets to the ball carrier, a trait Next Gen Stats helped detail:
He’ll be a big hit in Jacksonville, where the Jags already have some interesting pieces on the defensive side of the ball. They include linemen Roy Robertson-Harris and Malcom Brown, both of whom should keep Oluokun clean and allow him to stockpile tackles again.
The Jaguars moved quickly for Oluokun on Monday, March 14, the start of so-called “legal tampering” ahead of free agency officially opening on Wednesday, March 16. In fact, Oluokun had been expected to return to Atlanta, based on previous reports.
Talks about a new deal for the 2018 sixth-round pick had “made progress,” according to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler. The Jaguars obviously put together a better offer, one paying more than the initial $10 million annual fee Fowler mentioned.
Oluokun will be missed because he had become the quarterback of coordinator Dean Pees’ defense. Now, Pees is left with a linebacker group lacking playmaking quality and carrying significant cap hits.
Falcons Can’t Ignore Linebackers in Free Agency
Deion Jones remains the leader of the rotation, but the 27-year-old is far from the player he was four or five years ago. Worse still, Jones is carrying a cap hit worth $20,018,431, per Spotrac.com.
Falcons writer Matt Karoly believes Jones’ hefty salary for this year meant it was him or Oluokun who would suit up for the team again, not both:
Jones looked like a prime candidate to be released so the Falcons could create more cap space. Now, it seems more likely Jones stays put as the only established name at his position.
The remaining options are unconvincing. They include Mykal Walker and James Vaughters. A quality replacement for Oluokun is needed, even though the Falcons are working with $16,057,973 worth of room under the cap.
Fortunately, there are a host of above-average linebackers on the market for general manager Terry Fontenot to choose from. Names like Jordan Hicks, Kyle Van Noy and Ja’Whaun Bentley and De’Vondre Campbell should all be on the Falcons’ radar this month.
Pees will need an athletic signal-caller who can impact both phases of offenses the way Oluokun did.