Free agency hasn’t been kind to the Atlanta Falcons regarding acquiring new defensive tackles this offseason. Eddie Goldman signed then promptly retired, and now another new recruit, Vincent Taylor will miss the 2022 NFL season with a ruptured Achilles’ tendon.
These developments have left an otherwise restocked defense short at the interior of the line. Depth is now a concern, as is the Falcons’ ability to freshen up their options and add some oomph to the pass rush on third downs.
Fortunately, both problems can be solved by signing a free agent who was once a key to the Denver Broncos winning a Super Bowl. This veteran is an attack-minded inside disruptor who still has enough left in the tank to support Grady Jarrett in obvious passing situations.
Much-Travelled Champion an Intriguing Option for Falcons
Malik Jackson is still on the market following a disappointing season with the Cleveland Browns. The 32-year-old moved to Cleveland in 2021 after a pair of troubled years with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Before 2019, Jackson was a linchpin on two outstanding defenses. First, he helped the 2015 Broncos allow the fewest yards in football, en route to beating the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50.
Then Jackson moved to the Jacksonville Jaguars where, in 2017, he helped underpin a unit dubbed ‘Sacksonville’ after logging 55 QB takedowns. The Jags rode their big-play defense to an appearance in the AFC Championship Game.
Jackson’s time with the Jags saw him log 18 sacks in three seasons, including eight in 2017. Getting to the quarterback has rarely been a problem for a player who has 35 career sacks to his credit, a respectable total for somebody drafted in the fifth round back in 2012.
More than his numbers, Jackson has excelled at creating disruption in the pocket with his speed and power rushes from a variety of alignments. It’s a talent X’s and O’s analyst Fran Duffy highlighted not long after Jackson joined the Eagles:
The Falcons could use an interior lineman with Jackson’s pass-rush prowess after the defense registered a league-low 18 sacks last season. No defensive linemen on the roster got more than one, an obvious problem the Falcons were hoping to solve with new recruits, only for fate to have other ideas.
Falcons Tipped to ‘Dip Back Into the Free-Agent Pool’
In his weekly roundup of fan questions, Falcons Digital Managing Editor Scott Bair answered a query about whether or not the team will add to its options up front: “I would anticipate they’ll dip back into the free-agent pool and will continue watching cuts for chances to upgrade.”
It makes sense for general manager Terry Fontenot to be on the lookout for available defensive tackles after Taylor’s injury was confirmed on Tuesday, August 2 by head coach Arthur Smith:
Taylor, a former member of the Miami Dolphins, Buffalo Bills, Browns and Houston Texans, would’ve been counted on the provide depth after Goldman walked away. The latter signed a one-year deal in July after seven seasons with the Chicago Bears, but soon announced his decision to call time on his playing career, per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.
It’s easy to share Bair’s belief the Falcons aren’t done trying to sign some help at defensive tackle. When amplifying his answer, Bair mentioned three veterans: “There are some names you’ve heard of on the open market – Linval Joseph, Malik Jakson and Star Lotuleilei, to name a few – but the Falcons need to find the right fit for the scheme.”
Of the three, Jackson’s is the most intriguing name. He could play a variety of spots along the line but would surely work best next to Jarrett on third downs, trying to split the guard-tackle gaps and collapse the pocket.
Keeping Jackson in a situational role would also be a smart move because he’s missed a lot of game time in recent years. A foot injury cost him 15 games in 2019, while Jackson made just six starts the following year.
He did, however, start in 16 games for the Browns last season, proof Jackson can still get on the field and be a factor. His abilities are surely worthy of at least a short-term, prove-it contract from the Falcons.