The Atlanta Falcons had a solid 7-10 season in which they were in the playoff hunt until the final few weeks of the season. That should be seen as a slight accomplishment considering the state of the Falcons roster last season. The 2022 offseason is going to be critical for the franchise. With Sean Payton retiring as the coach of the New Orleans Saints and Tom Brady retiring in Tampa Bay, there is an opportunity. The Falcons will have the best quarterback in the division in 2022, barring something crazy, which can be a big deal. There are plenty of questions, however. The situation with wide receiver Calvin Ridley has not been resolved, and it appears unlikely that he will return. This is a critical offseason for a team that hopes to return to playoff contention soon.
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Pending Free Agents
It will be a busy offseason in Atlanta with 31 free agents. According to Over the Cap, the Falcons are going to be 6.6 million under the cap. General manager Terry Fontenot has said that he would like to re-sign their own players in the future. However, it is going to be hard to do that this offseason. While there are some lesser players included in this free-agent class for the Falcons, some guys contributed a great deal. Ten of Atlanta’s free agents this offseason played at least 40 percent of the snaps last season. That is a pretty high number. Every member of Atlanta’s special teams unit is also a free agent; they were not in the snap count equation due to being on the field less than offensive or defensive players.
A former sixth-round pick out of Yale, Oluokun led the NFL in tackles this past season. He was one of the better players on one of the NFL’s worst defenses, and he should be a priority for the Falcons to re-sign. Atlanta is devoid of young talent on either side of the ball, especially on defense. Re-signing Oluokun would give this team a leader in the middle of their defense for some years to come. He is a player that has gotten better in each season that he has been in the NFL; those are the kind of players that teams hope to keep around. Rangy and athletic, getting Oluokun back in Atlanta is a must this offseason. However, it will be tough due to being a young and talented player and the fact that the Falcons don’t have much cap room.
Younghoe Koo (RFA)
This offseason, the Falcons starting kicker of the past two seasons will be a restricted free agent. Some teams decide not to re-sign their kickers. They don’t want to use up significant cap space on a player who is not on the field every play. However, the Falcons might not want to follow that strategy with Koo. He is one of the most accurate kickers in the NFL and will be sought after if the Falcons elect not to bring him back. While it should be a no-brainer for most teams, the Falcons don’t have a lot of wiggle room when it comes to cap space. As a result, the team may elect to sign a cheaper kicker, potentially draft one, or bring in an undrafted free agent if it does not re-sign Koo.
One of the NFL’s breakout stars of the 2021 season, Patterson, will be a free agent this offseason. After being signed to just a one-year deal last offseason, Patterson was one of the bright spots on the Atlanta offense. He was used both as a running back and a wide receiver and made big plays at both positions. The contract and market for Patterson are going to be interesting. While he did enjoy his best season as a pro on the offensive end, he is aging, and this is the first season he has had this type of production. It would be unwise to overpay an aging player with so many holes on the roster. However, Patterson has publicly campaigned to be brought back to Atlanta, so that may, in fact, work.
Potential Cap Casualties
To say that the Falcons are in one of the trickiest cap situations in the NFL would just be pointing out the obvious. The contracts that former general manager Thomas Dimitroff signed have put the Falcons in a bind. This is a situation that Atlanta might not be able to get out of for another season or two. Some candidates could be considered cap casualties this offseason. However, it should be noted that the Falcons would do whatever they could to try and trade some of these players before they just outright cut them. Don’t expect an abundance of cuts from Atlanta, but more trade talk. If trades are unsuccessful, then Atlanta may stick with the contract.
Tyeler Davison ($3.6 Million Saved)
The Falcon that is most likely to get cut this offseason is Davison. Since signing with Atlanta, he has not been a bad player, but his play is not worth the cap hit. Atlanta would save $3.6 million with this move and only be on the hook for $1.2 million in dead money. This is probably a no-brainer move for the Falcons front office. Davison is not a good enough player that the Falcons should keep him at that number, and there is not a trade market for him. Expect this to be one of the first moves that the Falcons make this offseason.
Mike Davis ($2.5 Million Saved)
This past season, Davis was supposed to be one of the best value signings in free agency. However, that was not the case. Davis lost his role at running back once Patterson stepped up and had the season he had. Davis was left to be the backup. It should be noted that Patterson is a free agent, but if you are a team that needs cap relief like the Falcons, what sense would it make to keep Davis? It is not a sure thing, but Davis is definitely on the short-list of guys that the Falcons could cut to save money this upcoming season.
Kendall Sheffield ($2.5 Million Saved)
Defensive back is a position that is of need; Sheffield has done nothing to suggest he is a long-term piece on this defense. This is a player that has battled injuries and has not made a significant impact even when he is healthy. Atlanta drafted Darren Hall and Avery Williams in last year’s draft and could elect to give those guys more of a shot instead of bringing Sheffield back. This would result in good cap savings for the Falcons and not much dead money. Look for Sheffield to be released, and defensive back is a position of need in the draft.
Open Market Free Agent Targets
This will be an interesting free agent class for the Falcons to navigate. It is not the best pool of free agents to try and be rebuilding a team with, and the Falcons do not have much cap room, to begin with. They will have to be strategic with the guys they target and what positions they go after. A wide receiver could be the most pressing need in terms of not having any guys on the roster. With the Ridley situation still ongoing, the Falcons may not have any proven guys at the position when free agency opens. Look for the team to also potentially look for competition on both lines of scrimmage.
Zay Jones, Las Vegas Raiders
One bargain-free agent at the receiver that the Falcons should definitely take a look at is Jones, who really emerged for the Raiders at the end of the season. After Henry Ruggs was released and with the tight end, Darren Waller injured for much of the season, the Raiders needed someone to step up. Jones did that and became one of quarterback Derek Carr‘s favorite targets on the team. He fits the mold of a bigger possession receiver that can make plays down the field. It is unclear what the market value will be for Jones, but he should be the first guy the Falcons take a look at.
D.J. Chark, Jacksonville Jaguars
This would be the ultimate boom or bust move the Falcons could make in free agency at the receiver position. Chark started to emerge in the past few seasons, but injuries have slowed his development and will bring down his price in free agency. This would be an opportunity for the Falcons to sign him to a one-year deal and prove he can stay healthy. If Chark could remain healthy for Atlanta, this could be one of the best bargains in free agency. If not, the Falcons better have some plan at depth for the position.
Derek Barnett, Philadelphia Eagles
The biggest position of need on the Falcons roster right now is a pass rusher. It seems to be that way every offseason, but Atlanta will have to find a way to get pressure on the quarterback, and there are no proven guys on the roster. Barnett is a guy that should have some intrigue. He is still young and may just need a change in scenery. It is possible that he could be out of the Falcons price range. However, that should not stop them from making a call to the young pass rusher. He has had flashes in Philadelphia, but Barnett commits a lot of penalties and is inconsistent. Teams in the Falcons cap position should be more open to risky signings like this.
Previewing the 2022 NFL Draft
This team has a lot of needs; they could opt to go with who the best player on the board is. The free-agent moves that this team makes or does not make will determine their draft mindset. The Falcons have an extra second-round pick due to the trade that sent Julio Jones to the Tennessee Titans last fall. It is still early in the Fontenot and Arthur Smith pairing. It is hard to nail down whether they prefer trading up or down in the draft. However, with the team’s multiple needs and little cap space, trading up is probably not in the cards this draft. Trading down is much more likely.
Round 1, Pick 8: Edge Rusher
There are going to be several edge options in this draft for them to look at in nearly every round. With it being the team’s top need, that is the direction they will most likely go in round one. The guys most likely to be in contention for the pick are Jermaine Johnson, David Ojabo, George Karlaftis, and Travon Walker. Guys like Aidan Hutchinson and Kayvon Thibodeaux are likely to be gone at this point, although they would be the ideal picks at the position. It is too early to say which of the guys Atlanta might like best at pass rusher; any of those guys would make a certain level of sense.
Round 2, Pick 43: Offensive Linemen
With their first pick in the second round, the Falcons should look at a few positions. Cornerback, defensive line, and wide receiver are also potential options at this range. Ryan was one of the most pressured and hit quarterbacks last season; Atlanta has to do a better job of protecting him. Grabbing another interior lineman to compete with the guys they have or bringing in a right tackle would make the most sense. Players like Nicholas Petit-Frere, Darian Kinnard, and Jamaree Salyer are some players that would make a lot of sense here.
Round 2, Pick 58: Wide Receiver
This is the pick that the team will receive from the Titans. After grabbing an edge rusher and offensive linemen in the first two rounds, Atlanta opts to grab a young playmaking receiver. Atlanta had one of the worst receiving corps in the NFL, and most of the guys are free agents. On top of that, Ridley might be traded as well. Therefore, the receiver has to be a position that is addressed in the draft and free agency. Look for players like John Metchie, David Bell, Christian Watson, George Pickens, and Calvin Austin III to be mentioned for this pick.
Round 3, Pick 74: Secondary
With this pick early in the third round, the Falcons should look to address their secondary. The cornerback position has been talked about, but the Falcons had some of the worst safety plays in the NFL. This draft has some depth at this position, and they would be wise to try and add some young talent. Players like Derion Kendrick, Mario Goodrich, Marcus Jones, and Alontae Taylor are expected to be available at the cornerback position at this point in the draft. As far as safeties go, Kerby Joseph, Damarri Mathis, and Nick Cross are among those expected to go around this range. The Falcons will add to the secondary, whether it is corner or safety.
Early 2022 Expectations
It is hard to properly gauge what the Falcons’ expectations should be in 2022. On the one hand, their roster is full of holes, and it is unlikely that they will fill all of them this offseason. On the other hand, the other two top teams in the division, New Orleans and Tampa Bay, are going through significant changes. This is going to leave an opportunity for the Falcons to win the division, even if their record might not be the best. Falcon’s fans’ expectations should be somewhere in the middle. Ryan usually improves in his second season under a new offensive system, and that is to be expected in 2022. As a result, the team will improve and could win the division, even if the NFC South might be the NFC’s worst division in 2022.
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