2022 Atlanta Falcons Offseason Preview


Coming off a somewhat disappointing 7-10 season, the Atlanta Falcons are going into Arthur Smith’s second year with some big questions that need answering. There were struggles on both sides of the ball, having scored the fifth least TDs and allowed the second most TDs. Kyle Pitts and A.J. Terrell are looking like the future of either side of the ball, but there’s not too much promise behind them. However, possibly the biggest problem for the Falcons is that they sit $5M under the cap. And have the player with the league’s largest cap hit of 2022 on the roster. And the Calvin Ridley situation is still up in the air. And the team totaled a league-worst 18 sacks, which is 11 behind the second-worst team. GM Terry Fontenot has a lot of work ahead of him.


2022 Free Agents

* denotes played significant snaps

Age is reflected when the season starts

Offense

TE Lee Smith (35)*

RB Cordarrelle Patterson (31)*

TE Hayden Hurts (29)*

WR Russell Gage (26)*

WR Olamide Zaccheaus (25)*

WR Tajae Sharpe (27)*

QB A.J. McCarron (32)

C Josh Andrews (31)

G Colby Gossett (27)

TE Jaeden Graham (27)

QB Josh Rosen (25)

Defense/Special Teams

P Thomas Morstead (36)*

LS Josh Harris (33)*

S Erik Harris (32)*

EDGE Steven Means (32)*

FS Duron Harmon (31)*

CB Fabian Moreau (28)*

EDGE Dante Fowler Jr. (28)*

K Younghoe Koo (28)*

LB Foyesade Oluokun (27)*

CB Isaiah Oliver (26)*

LB Daren Bates (32)

EDGE Brandon Copeland (31)

DL Jonathan Bullard (29)

LB Dorian Ethridge (24)

 

Roster Overview

The biggest offseason question for Atlanta isn’t with their impending free agents; it’s with the aforementioned Calvin Ridley. The 2018 first round pick stepped away from football indefinitely after Week 7 for mental health reasons, and the situation hasn’t cleared up since then. Fontenot has said the Falcons are preparing for everything, which has led many to speculate that Ridley could be on the trade block. After a stellar 2020 campaign, placing top 10 in yards, touchdowns, 1st downs, and yards-per-route-run (Y/RR), getting a first round pick for him isn’t out of the question, and considering the multitude of problems elsewhere on the team and the emergence of Russell Gage as a legitimate receiving option, Atlanta could very well accept that trade.


Some good news for Atlanta is that all 5 starters on the offensive line return for 2022. Some bad news is that 3 of their starters graded in the bottom 10 at their respective positions, per PFF. Those 3 players are RT Kaleb McGary, C Matt Henessey, and LG Jalen Mayfield, who was one of the worst all-around offensive lineman in the league last year. While this trio has been in the league for a short time, the NFL can take a shorter time to replace them. Matt Ryan was pressured at an alarming 39% rate, and his passer rating dipped 23 points when pressured last season, so fixing pass blocking is imperative for the Falcons. This year’s offensive lineman free agent class features some high-end talent, but some of the best fits for Atlanta are projected to be franchise tagged or resigned (plus their cap situation is not very forgiving), so OL help will likely be prioritized in the NFL Draft in a class that has 20 linemen in CBS’ top 150 prospects.


Defensively, things don’t change much for the Dirty Birds. Pass rush will be a focal point, as an already poor EDGE unit loses nearly 75% of its pressure production to free agency. Dante Fowler Jr. is as good as gone if his asking price is too high and Steven Means will be 32 by the start of next season, so resigning him to anything but a one-year deal is probably out of the question. The EDGE class in this year’s draft is shaping out to be one of the better ones, so snagging one early could be in the cards for Atlanta. In the secondary, A.J. Terrell was the cream of the crop at a young age, but otherwise, there’s a lot to be concerned about. The safety duo of Erik Harris and Duron Harmon are free agents, as well as the team’s leading tackler linebacker Foyasede Oluokun and starting cornerbacks Fabian Moreau and Isaiah Oliver. Some of these players will likely be retained on cheap deals, but Oluokun is one who might test the free market after his breakout year. Some mid-to-late round flyers and/or cheap free agent pickups will likely be the plan for Fontenot and Co., but having a cornerstone guy like Terrell lowers some tension in the backfield.


Specialist starters Younghoe Koo and Thomas Morstead are both on the market after proving to be reliable commodities. Koo is a fan favorite and will likely be kept away from potential suitors.

 

Potential Cap Casualties

As much as many Falcons fans want to start the post-Matt Ryan era, it will likely have to wait until next offseason, as his cap hit is a league-leading $48.6M. Though cutting him would save the team $8M, it would be best for the team to ride it out one more year because his 2023 savings are much more lucrative and his succession plan isn't in the works yet. Plus, his play isn’t bad enough to be a liability. Another keystone player that could be, but likely isn’t, on the chopping block is defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, who would provide $16M in cap savings if released. The only way he sees the door is if Atlanta is ready for a full rebuild; if that’s the case, then Jarrett, whose last year on contract is next year, could be on his way out.


Some more realistic potential cap casualties include nose tackle Tyeler Davison, who is already splitting run down snaps with rookie Mike Pennel, and running back Mike Davis. Cornerback Kendall Sheffield and Jalen Mayfield, will likely be looked at as options to free up space as well. Numerous players have savings of less than $1M, which can collectively add a good amount to the cap space.

Free Agency/Draft Fits

Atlanta could free up some cap space by cutting players, but it won’t be enough to sign a superstar. Internal guys like Cordarrelle Patterson, Russell Gage, and Foyasede Oluokun will likely be priorities to resign in free agency. Seasoned guys like Lauvent-Duvernay Tardif, A.J. Cann, or Ike Boettger could be quick, cheap fixes along the offensive line. Some short term fixes along the defensive line may include a player like Pernell McPhee or Jordan Evans. The theme for this year’s Falcons free agency pickups is short-term. Atlanta is on a collision course for a major rebuild, and there will be few players picked up this year that will be along for that voyage.


The Falcons hold four picks in the first three rounds, including a first, two seconds, and a third. A lot can change between now and April 28, but the first pick in 2022 for Atlanta will go towards one of a few areas: pass protection, pass rush, or secondary. Granted, wide receiver could be in the mix too, but Ridley is still on the roster, so he will be treated as such. Purdue EDGE George Karlaftis is a popular pick for the Falcons in early mock drafts. He’s been overshadowed by guys like Hutchinson and Thibodeaux, but he has top talent written all over him. The clear cut offensive tackle frontrunner is Alabama’s Evan Neal, but chances are he’ll be taken earlier on. Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum, who is touted as a generational prospect at the position, could very well fall to Atlanta. His addition could kick Matt Hennessy to left guard, which would be an upgrade over Mayfield. Texas A&M’s Kenyon Green would also be a good fit for Atlanta, as he’s played basically every position across the offensive line.


Past the first round, positional variety increases for the Falcons. Clemson cornerback Mario Goodrich and Alabama cornerback Josh Jobe are two prospects that would add depth to the secondary. Wide receiver could play a role earlier on, with a guy like Georgia WR George Pickens, who’s shown elite talent when on the field, up for grabs. Oklahoma EDGE Nik Bonitto could be a sneaky pick if he falls to the second or third round, coming off a stellar last two seasons. Atlanta may also take a crack at a rookie punter if Morstead isn’t able to be retained, potentially targeting guys like Georgia’s Jake Camarda or SDSU’s Matt Araiza.

 

Conclusion

2022 is shaping out to be a lame duck season for Matt Ryan, if he isn’t out beforehand. There is a lot of young talent that will shape the future of the Atlanta Falcons, giving a glimmer of hope for fans who have endured mediocrity over the past few years. With Tampa Bay poised to be a dominant figurehead for seasons to come, Falcons fans might have to wait patiently for their turn. However, things change fast in the NFL, and if the stars align, Atlanta could be a surprise playoff contender next season.





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