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Falcons free-agency targets: Rex Burkhead, Desmond King could be on the radar - The Athletic


Goober Pyle
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This was written earlier today before the release of Rico, Allen Bailey, and Benkert. 
 

by Tori McElhaney for The Athletic 

 

In Terry Fontenot’s first appearance as the Falcons’ new general manager, he said that while he understands the realities of the salary-cap situation in Atlanta, his introductory news conference was not the time to speculate what moves he and his staff may or may not make this offseason.

“We understand the challenge,” Fontenot said. “There are some talented players on the roster, but we know where we are with the salary cap and understand we are going to have to make some difficult decisions like a lot of teams in the NFL. We understand that. But it’s not the right time — obviously, or ever the right time — to make predictions.”

Fontenot’s focus after his January hire was on making sure he and coach Arthur Smith “get the right people in the building.”

Now that the front office and coaching staff are filling out, though, perhaps it is time to do a bit of speculating as the door opens on the free-agency market and the draft draws closer.

The Falcons do not have many opportunities or options in front of them to be movers and shakers in free agency.  Atlanta will use the draft to build up its future. It will use free agency to get the organization to said future with minimal bumps and bruises along the way.

The Falcons will likely have several cap casualties in 2021, so free agency will need to be used as a plug-and-fill depth solution for the attrition. Keep in mind it’s something Atlanta will have to do cheaply.

On Tuesday, The Athletic took a look at Fontenot’s past in New Orleansand how his eye for mid- and veteran-minimum-level talent helped the Saints bolster their depth. This is something Fontenot has to bring to Atlanta as the salary-cap situation looms large.

So, with the free-agency stage set, we’ll look at potential targets for the Falcons, focusing mainly on their need for edge rushers, running back depth and help in the secondary. While the main playmakers of these position groups will likely come from the draft, free agency could help establish much-needed depth for the Falcons, with a few names you may have heard of and perhaps some you haven’t.

Edge

Who could leave: Charles Harris (UFA), Allen Bailey (cap casualty), Steven Means (UFA), Jacob Tuioti-Mariner (cap casualty)

Who will stay: Dante Fowler

Potential targets: Brent Urban (Chicago) established himself as a dependable backup on a Bears defensive line that saw a series of injuries take hold. Urban had more chances to prove himself in 2020 than he would have had players ahead of him not been injured, but Urban made the most of those opportunities. The Falcons could benefit from someone like Urban as a rotational option. He started the final nine games for Chicago last season and he had 23 of his 36 total tackles during that time, as well as 1.5 of his 2.5 sacks on the season. Urban could have a connection with new Falcons outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino, who comes to Atlanta from Chicago, where he was a senior defensive assistant and outside linebackers coach. Though the Falcons need more than 2.5 sacks in a year to make up for the lack of pass-rush production, Urban might be on the rise. Atlanta could take advantage of that if the Bears let him walk.

Tarell Basham of the Jets is another consideration. Like the possible Monachino-Urban connection, Basham played the last two years under Frank Bush, the Falcons’ new linebackers coach. Bush was the Jets’ assistant head coach defense/linebackers coach for two seasons before getting promoted to defensive coordinator for the final four games of the 2020 season. The Jets won two of those four (with wins over the Rams and the Browns). Basham played his best game of the season against the Browns, posting one sack, five combined tackles, three quarterback hits and two forced fumbles.

If Bush vouches for Basham’s future, perhaps he could find a spot in Atlanta. He isn’t a spectacular pass rusher, but most of the “spectacular” pass rushers in free agency will cost much more than Atlanta has to spend. Thus, it may come down to player development and how creative new defensive coordinator Dean Pees can be with this position if he has to wait a bit longer to get a pass rusher who can make an immediate difference.

Running back

Who could leave: Todd Gurley (UFA), Brian Hill (UFA), Qadree Ollison (cap casualty)

Who could stay: Ito Smith

Potential targets: The Saints likely will have a few cap casualties Fontenot will consider picking up. The cap situation in New Orleansisn’t too different from that of what’s going on in Atlanta. A couple of names to keep in mind are Ty Montgomery and Dwayne Washington. Neither saw much action in 2020, due partly to injuries. That doesn’t bode well for their future in New Orleans or anywhere else. But the Falcons need depth, cheap depth, and one of these backs could be an option if Fontenot sees untapped potential.

Speaking of something happening in 2020 that may not bode well for a player …

Rex Burkhead will be coming off a torn ACL sustained in Week 11 with the Patriots. However, because of the frequency of ACL tears and how precise the recovery is these days, Burkhead could be a cheap backup option. Burkhead is a skilled receiving back, which is something the Falcons need. Because Burkhead is coming off a serious knee injury and will be north of 30 by the time the season starts, he may fall in the Falcons’ price range, and if healthy, he could add a very interesting layer as a rotational back for them.

That’s all the Falcons need. They are not likely to go after their lead back in free agency like they did with Gurley in 2020. They just need to fill out the room in free agency.

Defensive backs

Who could leave: Ricardo Allen (cap casualty), Keanu Neal (UFA), Darqueze Dennard (UFA), Blidi Wreh-Wilson (UFA), Damontae Kazee (UFA), Sharrod Neasman (UFA)

Who could stay: AJ Terrell, Kendall Sheffield, Isaiah Oliver, Jaylinn Hawkins

Potential targets: The Titans have a trio of defensive backs that will be on the free agency market: Desmond King, Tye Smith and Chris Milton. King seems the most likely to find a spot in Atlanta because he fits the Falcons’ needs better than the other two. In his free-agency rankings, Sheil Kapadia said King will be viewed “by most teams as a nickel or a hybrid defensive back who can also be an option in the return game.” That’s something the Falcons will need if they part ways with Dennard and Wreh-Wilson. Smith and Milton didn’t do nearly as much for the Titans as King did, but the Falcons just need to find a piece or two behind Terrell, Sheffield and Oliver.

Like Urban with the defensive ends, there are some role players among the free-agent defensive backs who could gain more playing time by joining a team in need. The 49ers’ Ahkello Witherspoon did not have a starting role until late in the season when injuries piled up. Like Urban and other names on this list, he did well with the opportunities he was given. Witherspoon may be looking to sign a one-year contract knowing he can get some quality tape for 2022 free agency. Witherspoon isn’t a well sought-after name, but that could be good for him and the Falcons if they are on each other’s radar.

Finally, let’s take a look at safety Earl Thomas. When the Ravens released Thomas in 2020, there were rumors that the Falcons could be interested in acquiring the veteran safety. However, when asked about it directly, then-head coach Dan Quinn said the Falcons were fully stocked at safety. And at the time, they were. Allen, Neal and Kazee were all healthy and were being deployed in a three-man rotation. The Falcons did not need Thomas.

If none of those three names is in the safeties room in 2021, the Falcons may need a veteran to push the group. But would it be wise for that veteran to be Thomas? Probably not.

Thomas has to prove to any teams looking at him that he is worth the investment and that he has learned his lessons. Thomas has been known to miss walk-throughs and to show up late. He got into an altercation with safety Chuck Clark before being released by Baltimore in August.

The only one stopping Thomas from playing in this league is Thomas. If he sees the error of his ways and comes back to the league a changed man with something to prove, a one-year deal would be something to consider.

The Falcons had to deal with Takk McKinley’s Twitter antics throughout 2020 until they released him a week after the trade deadline, though this coaching staff wasn’t in Atlanta to deal with that. Based on his recent history, Thomas probably isn’t worth it.


 

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6 minutes ago, Goober Pyle said:

When the Ravens released Thomas in 2020, there were rumors that the Falcons could be interested in acquiring the veteran safety. However, when asked about it directly, then-head coach Dan Quinn said the Falcons were fully stocked at safety. And at the time, they were. Allen, Neal and Kazee were all healthy and were being deployed in a three-man rotation. The Falcons did not need Thomas.

:rolleyes: :doh:

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I think with Quinn gone. The possibility of us signing Thomas are slim and none..... emphasis on none.

There is a reason every single team passed on him....even with teams beading safeties and the fact that other teams veteran players strait up vetoed him.....that says something.

Smith talked about building a culture of accountability......Signing Thomas would undo any of that message.

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16 minutes ago, falconsd56 said:

I think with Quinn gone. The possibility of us signing Thomas are slim and none..... emphasis on none.

There is a reason every single team passed on him....even with teams beading safeties and the fact that other teams veteran players strait up vetoed him.....that says something.

Smith talked about building a culture of accountability......Signing Thomas would undo any of that message.

The problem isn't not signing Thomas per se. It's the idea by the Falcons FO that we were fine at safety, and the by the dumb*** author of this article apparently

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1 hour ago, falcons007 said:

My offseason Secondary wish list.

Aj, Surtain, King, Marcus Williams of Marcus Maye... 

Does anyone think, if we can some how resign Keanu, that it makes more sense to bring in Maye since they have a great deal of familiarity with one another from their time at UF together?

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10 hours ago, FalconFanSince1969 said:

Yes please on King. Absolutely not on the rest of that garbage. A cap strapped team signing free agent rbs? straight up stupid.

I have never liked signing FA RBs. Even in this new football where it’s more pass happy, backs still age a lot faster than anywhere else and bring a bigger price tag with them. I would much rather draft one and then bring in a few as UDFAs as depth guys.

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12 minutes ago, Ezekiel 25:17 said:

I have never liked signing FA RBs. Even in this new football where it’s more pass happy, backs still age a lot faster than anywhere else and bring a bigger price tag with them. I would much rather draft one and then bring in a few as UDFAs as depth guys.

College kicks out a massive amount of athletic running backs of all types   It's madness to sign a FA running back, at least to the crazy money they command.

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3 minutes ago, Herr Doktor said:

College kicks out a massive amount of athletic running backs of all types   It's madness to sign a FA running back, at least to the crazy money they command.

Especially in this era where RBs have been de-valued.

There is a VERY GOOD chance this will be another year where the first back won’t get picked until late first early second again. That’s going to push a lot of good players down and some out of the draft entirely so financially and health wise(fresh legs) it makes little to no sense to carry UFAs. 

Even more so for teams up against the cap. 

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