It is no secret the Atlanta Falcons were one of the biggest disappointments of the 2019 NFL season. Some late momentum towards the end of the year likely saved head coach Dan Quinn's job. Now, the team is sitting in the middle of the first round and have multiple Day 2 picks at its disposal for what could be one of the franchise’s biggest offseasons in the last decade.
Injuries have plagued the Falcons for years, and 2019 was no different. Centerpiece defensive players like cornerback Desmond Trufant and safety Keanu Neal were sidelined from action once again, and a lack of depth proved to be their downfall. Giving up over 355 yards per game, the Falcons' front office knows that defense will need to be the top priority this offseason. Specifically, there must be upgrades made to its pass rush unit. Atlanta only registered 1.8 sacks per game, which ranked for second-worst in the NFL, only ahead of the Miami Dolphins. Edge defenders Vic Beasley Jr. and Adrian Clayborn are both unrestricted free agents this offseason, which means one of the worst pass-rushing units in the league will only get thinner if moves are not made.
General manager Thomas Dimitroff is known for being one of the most aggressive executives across the league, and it should not surprise anyone if he makes a splash this offseason. Most of the key players on the roster are set to return in 2020, but several important pieces are almost certain to hit the open market.
A lack of depth has been the Falcons’ Achilles heel for years. With several draft picks and cap room, Dimitroff has a chance to give this roster the boost it needs to contend for the playoffs once again.
Three Contracts To Renew
Austin Hooper, TE
There is no doubt that Austin Hooper is the biggest free agent on Atlanta’s roster set to hit the open market. His production cannot be replaced, so it would not surprise me if this front office decides to put the franchise tag on him to ensure his status in 2020. Hooper has battled through injuries throughout his young career, but when he's on the field, he is one of the most complete tight ends in the NFL. Hooper has excellent blocking production and the ability to win at all levels of the field as a pass-catcher, especially in the red zone. Atlanta needs to do whatever it takes to bring him back.
De'Vondre Campbell, LB
De'Vondre Campbell has been a versatile, steady player since he was drafted out of Minnesota. Like Hooper, he is arguably another important free agent to bring back. Not only does Campbell provide four years of starting experience and sub-package value as an off-ball linebacker, but he is one of the team's best coverage defenders in space. Keeping Campbell a part of this LB core going forward is a no-brainer for this front office.
Tyeler Davison, DT
There are several defensive linemen set to be free agents this offseason, including Jack Crawford, Clayborn and Beasley. The one player up front they should bring back, however, is Tyeler Davison. He offers value as a stout, two-gap defender against the run; I think the Falcons could realistically bring him back on a cheap, short-term deal to give them security if a top prospect isn't brought in during the draft.
One to let go: Vic Beasley Jr., OLB
There may not a player in the entire NFL with more inflated statistics on the defensive side of the ball than Beasley. He has quietly racked up 38 sacks in his young career, including one season with 16. On paper, it makes a lot of sense to bring a pass rusher with that much production back into the fold. However, his impact on the field does not match what is shown in the box score. He offers little to no value as a run defender and is one dimensional as a pass rusher. If the team can re-sign him on a cheap, short-term deal, then I would be all for bringing Beasley back. But with his production and youth, some team is going to throw a lot of money his way. The best course of action here is to part ways and start fresh at the edge defender position.
Three Key Free Agents Signings To Make
Yannick Ngakoue, DE
What is one way to help the second-worst pass rush unit in the NFL? Sign the top pass rusher on the open market. Yannick Ngakoue's exit from the Jacksonville Jaguars is all but certain, and it would be a surprise to see him get one cent less than top pass rusher money from some team. One of those teams needs to be the Falcons. Signing Ngakoue will likely mean they won't be able to make any more big-money moves in the offseason, but it's the kind of acquisition that could turn a major weakness into a promising strength. If you stack together Ngakoue with an early-round pass rusher in the 2020 draft, this unit will have done a complete 360 next season.
Graham Glasgow, IOL
A sneaky need for Atlanta is interior offensive line depth. Guard Chris Lindstrom was only healthy for five games in 2019, and the team could realistically get out of veteran center Alex Mack's contract without too much dead money. Whether it's to find depth at multiple spots or a potential starter for next year, Graham Glasgow makes a lot of sense as a potential acquisition in free agency. He's played left guard and center for the Detroit Lions over the last couple of seasons with starting experience. His annual market value will likely be in the $5- to $6-million range, and if this front office can get him for that price tag, it would be a no-brainer.
Blake Bortles, QB
Another priority is going to be finding a primary backup for Matt Ryan. Matt Schaub is a free agent and unlikely to be retained. After Schaub, the only other quarterbacks worth noting on the roster are Danny Etling and Kurt Benkert, neither of which are capable of snaps if Ryan were to miss a game. Therefore, bringing in a veteran with starting experience like Blake Bortles would be a great option if Atlanta can secure his services for a cheap, short-term deal.
2020 NFL Draft
With multiple picks in the middle of the draft to potentially package together and move up the board and Dimitroff's MO, I would be surprised if the team didn't make at least one trade early in this draft. In this scenario, however, I matched players at Atlanta's current draft slots that would best suit their needs going forward.