McKinley has played in 45 games and made 21 starts. He has 16.5 sacks, including a high of 7.0 in 2018. Last year, he tried to play through an injury and finished with 3.5 sacks before shutting it down and getting surgery.
The Falcons need McKinley to recover from his third shoulder surgery and turn in his best season as a pro. The team is hoping that new defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi can unleash McKinley and turn him into a sack master.
"I like where we are right now with our additions and our adjustments in our (defensive) line coaches," Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said on Tuesday. "Being able to focus on that and get more and more rush is important for us."
Heck, Lupoi, who was hired as the defensive line/run game coordinator (defensive ends), might be the biggest offseason pickup.
Lupoi, 38, was the Browns’ defensive line coach last season. Before joining the Browns, Lupoi spent five seasons on the staff at Alabama under Nick Saban.
The Falcons know they’ll have to improve from within and getting McKinley rolling is offseason project No. 1.
The Falcons don’t have enough money to be a real player in free agency and they know they can’t count on a rookie to be a plug-and-play guy, unless they trade up to get Ohio State’s Chase Young.
McKinley, the competitor, should want to prove that he’s worthy of that fifth-year extension.
He’s been relying too much on his bull-rushes and spends too much time on the ground.
Lupoi must teach him how to use other moves like the cross-chop to keep the offensive linemen’s hands off of him and them mix things up to make a change a pace with his bull-rushes.
The Falcons know the key to San Francisco’s push to the NFC title last season was a relentless pass rush. They went from 4-12 to 13-3 and a trip to the Super Bowl.
“They’ve got a full-package defensive pass-rush deal,” Dimitroff said. “I think a lot us look at teams like that and when we try to determine how we can continue to learn from them. Like everyone, it’s a cyclical league and everyone is learning from everyone.”
The Falcons, who have to let three of their own players reach free agency, likely won’t have enough money to land free-agent defensive end Robert Quinn.
“There aren’t that many of course,” Dimitroff said defensive end free agency market. “It will be interesting to see. ... That’s an expensive position.”
2. What to do with Freeman? I asked Dimitroff about Devonta Freeman, and he started to speak about Wes Schweitzer.
The Falcons are going to cut Freeman or restructure his contract. They could move forward with a committee of Qadree Ollison, Brian Hill and Ito Smith.
“We feel that we have a really good pool of players there,” Dimitroff said.
The running back position is deep, and there’s at least one mock draft that has the Falcons selecting Georgia running back D’Andre Swift.
“We’ll continue to look,” Dimitroff said. “That doesn’t preclude us from continuing to look in the draft and free agency. We know how important the run game is in this league. We know how important it is for our offense to thrive.”
The Falcons need to use their top pick for defensive or offensive line help and get the running back later. Freeman was a fourth-round pick.
“You can get some very valuable football players at a very good value coming to your organization,” Dimitroff said. “We’ve had some success with that with running backs in the past, as have a lot of teams. I think it’s a good and solid (draft) from a depth standpoint.”
Former Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm discusses his decision to go pro and how is expects to perform at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. (Video by D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC)
3. Fromm has been working on his mechanics. Former Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm said his mechanics were off last season. He's been working on his footwork and his throwing base in Mobile, Alabama with David Morris.
4. Franchise-tag history. The Falcons have seldom used the franchise tag to retain players. The team has only used the tag — which allows the team negotiating rights to a potential unrestricted free agent — three times, all during Dimitroff's tenure as general manager.
5. Hooper by the numbers. Falcons tight end Austin Hooper will have plenty of suitors in free agency.
New England, Green Bay, Dallas, Jacksonville, Carolina and Washington are teams who are trying to upgrade their tight end position.
Carolina moved on from Greg Olsen. Washington parted ways with Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis retired. Jacksonville is trying to land Hayden Hurst.
6. NFL Network NFL combine schedule. Here's the schedule (all workouts will be televised on the NFL Network):
• Thursday, (4-11 p.m.): Tight ends, quarterbacks and wide receivers
• Friday, (4-11 p.m.): Place-kickers, special teams, offensive linemen, and running backs
• Saturday, (4-11 p.m.): Defensive linemen and linebackers
• Sunday, (2-7 p.m.): Defensive backs
7. Georgia connections. Thirty-two of the 337 players invited to participate at the combine have a tie to Georgia. That's the highest concentration of Georgia talent since 2015 (37 players). In 2011, there were 31 players.
This is the breakdown of positions for this year's combine:
• Quarterbacks: 17, including Georgia's Jake Fromm and Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa
• Wide receivers: 55, including Liberty's Antonio Gandy-Golden (from Paulding County) and Tennessee's Marquez Callaway (of Warner Robins)
• Tight ends: 20, including Georgia's Charlie Woerner (of Rabun County)
• Running backs: 30, including Georgia's Brian Herrien and D'Andre Swift
• Offensive linemen: 52, among them is Georgia tackle Andrew Thomas — a potential top-10 draft pick — and Clemson's Tremayne Anchrum (of Powder Springs)
• Special teams: 12, Georgia's Rodrigo Blankenship (of Marietta) leads a group of place-kickers and special-teams players
• Defensive linemen: 46, among them Auburn's Derrick Brown (of Sugar Hill)
• Linebackers: 44, including Virginia's Jordan Mack (of Lithonia)
• Defensive backs: 61, including Georgia's J.R. Reed and Wake Forest's Essang Bassey (of Columbus)
8. Draft dates. The Falcons hold the 16th pick in 2020. The team is set to make eight picks overall — four among the top 100 — when the NFL draft is held April 23-25 in Las Vegas.
9. Dimitroff happy for Andy Reid. Chiefs coach Andy Reid is receiving a lot of love from around the league for guiding his team to the Super Bowl title.
“Way back, I don’t want to age him, but I remember being a neophyte in this business working the three-cone drill with him,” Dimitroff said. “It was great to see people like that get the opportunity to win a Super Bowl. He’s always been a championship coach and a championship leader.”