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Goober Pyle

Where free agency stands for Falcons following trade for Hayden Hurst

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Sorry guys. Missed this one yesterday. Enjoy!

 

https://theathletic.com/1681049/2020/03/17/where-free-agency-stands-for-falcons-following-trade-for-hayden-hurst/

 

The Falcons are making a move to replace tight end Austin Hooper, who will officially become the NFL’s highest-paid tight end when his new deal with the Cleveland Browns becomes official Wednesday. That same day, Hooper’s replacement will be officially announced.

With Hooper cashing in, the Falcons needed an immediate replacement. They found one by trading a second-round pick (55th overall) and a fifth-round pick (157th overall) to the Baltimore Ravens for tight end Hayden Hurst and a fourth-round pick (143rd overall). This acquisition addressed what was suddenly a pressing need, with Atlanta able to cross starting tight end off its to-do list.

It comes at a cheaper cost, with Hurst’s 2020 cap figure checking in at $1.48 million.

But what about the other positions of need?

The Falcons seemingly still have a plethora of positions to fill if they are to be competitive for a playoff spot in 2020. With the team planning to cut Desmond Trufant and Devonta Freeman, to go along with announced cuts of Luke Stocker and Ty Sambrailo, Atlanta now has immediate needs at cornerback, edge rusher, running back, linebacker, blocking tight end and interior offensive line. It has secondary needs at interior defensive line and safety.

According to Over The Cap, Atlanta was a projected $2.1 million below the salary cap before Monday, which was less than anticipated after the NFL announced the cap would be at $198.2 million this season.

Releasing Sambrailo and Stocker will save a total of $6.35 million against the salary cap.

There is a good chance that Trufant is a post-June 1 cut, which would save an estimated $10.75 million, but that has not been announced by the team. As a post-June 1 cut, Trufant’s savings will not apply to the cap until June 2, meaning the money saved with his release cannot go toward signing anyone until the money officially comes off the books. Instead, the money saved from such a post-June 1 release will go toward any moves made leading up to the preseason, during the preseason and during the season.

If Trufant is not a post-June 1 cut, the move saves $4.95 million now. It’s also not known yet what Freeman’s designation will be. Teams do get two post-June 1 cuts. If Atlanta designates Freeman’s release after June 1, $6.5 million would free up as opposed to $3.5 million in immediate funds. Again, that money wouldn’t be off the books until June 2 if he received that designation.

If Freeman and Trufant are immediate cuts, the Falcons figure to have an estimated $15.42 million available in cap space, factoring in Monday’s cuts and Hurst’s addition. If only Trufant is a post-June 1 cut, the number is an estimated $10.47 million. If Trufant and Freeman are post-June 1 cuts, the estimated cap space would be $6.97 million. The Falcons could still add to the cap casualty count or figure out a way to tweak an existing player’s contract, either through a restructured agreement or an adjustment. If they are to add an edge rusher in free agency, another tweak to lower the cap number further may have to be done.

What the immediate numbers suggest is that if the Falcons are to add a pass rusher, it will probably have to be among a veteran group of players still producing at consistent rates. One such player is already off the board in Mario Addison, who, according to ESPN, signed a three-year deal with the Buffalo Bills late Monday.

Two remaining potential veteran defensive end options include:

Everson Griffen: Griffen posted eight sacks in 2019 and has three seasons when he topped double digits. Griffen, 32, would offer a needed veteran presence as a player who can still produce. But like Quinn, what will it cost to sign him?

Markus Golden: Golden, 29, recorded 10 sacks with the New York Giants in 2019 while starting every game for the first time in his career. Golden played last season on a one-year prove-it deal and figures to see his compensation increase with his next contract.

Of course, the Falcons could wait out the first wave of free agency and add some other pass-rushing pieces to the group. Or they could wind up deciding not to add an edge rusher while plugging other holes with affordable rotational players. From there, the Falcons would then be forced to address edge rusher in the early rounds of the draft.

How Hurst fits the Falcons

To a degree, Atlanta is taking a risk with Hurst by further addressing the offense with a high 2020 draft pick. As mentioned, the bulk of the team’s needs are on defense. By trading a second-round pick for a tight end, Atlanta can’t use such a favorable selection to address the defensive line, cornerback or linebacker.

Atlanta is hoping the initial scouting report on Hurst out of college proves true in its offensive system. Hurst, taken 25th overall in the 2018 NFL Draft and ahead of former Ravens teammate Lamar Jackson, has good hands and great speed, especially for his position. In Baltimore, Mark Andrews, the third-round selection in that same draft, just happened to be the better pass-catching option for Baltimore’s offense. It works that way sometimes. But just because Andrews proved to be better for Baltimore doesn’t mean Hurst can’t be a productive player elsewhere.

Now, Hurst will arrive in Atlanta as the top tight end option.

Hurst is an athletic tight end who should see plenty of targets right away. In 13 games, quarterback Matt Ryan threw the ball to Hooper 97 times. He caught 75 of those passes for 787 yards and six touchdowns. With Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley demanding attention on the outside, Hurst should see a lot of single coverage over the middle. The fit is perfect, and the value is tremendous, considering he has two years on his rookie deal before what should be an affordable fifth-year option.

The only unknown is Hurst himself. While the athleticism is apparent, the pro tape has yet to materialize as he has posted 43 catches for 512 yards and three touchdowns over two seasons. Based on potential alone, Jim Nagy, the executive director of the Senior Bowl, tweeted that he believes the Falcons actually might be improving their offense with Hurst.

Now, that does seem like quite the leap to make, considering how valuable Hooper was for Atlanta the past four years. It’s true that Hurst has a lot of upside to his game.

But now that he is atop the tight end group in Atlanta, it’s time for Hurst to show why he was viewed as a first-round pick just two years ago.

 

 

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