While Falcons have remained silent, other NFC teams are getting better

It has been more than two months since the Falcons followed a Super Bowl season with an ugly meltdown in the red zone at Philadelphia, a playoff failure that served as a fitting summation of the season's chronic underachievement.

There’s a saying in sports: If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse. It follows that the Falcons couldn’t go into this offseason believing they were suddenly going to morph back into the team that dazzled Atlanta and the rest of the NFL in 2016. They needed at least one lineman to strengthen the defensive front. They needed at least one guard to improve run blocking. They needed a dependable tight end to fill a void that has been present since Tony Gonzalez retired. They needed a fullback to throw a block in short-yardage situations.

Two months ago.

Still waiting for most of the fixes.

If you're not getting better, you're getting worse.

The offseason isn’t nearly complete yet. But the outset of free agency has made it pretty clear the Falcons don’t plan on any earth-moving signings, and if they’re going to get better, it’s going to be because of: 1) the draft; 2) significant improvement from existing players.

There’s risk in this. Sometimes existing players don’t get better. Sometimes rookies aren’t ready to contribute at a high level. It’s true that free agency has its perils, but proven veteran commodities tend to be a safer, albeit more expensive, fix.

Problem: The Falcons are somewhat hamstrung by the salary cap. They’ve known for a while what re-signing quarterback Matt Ryan will cost them. That will be confirmed when Ryan signs a contract extension, likely next week, that’s expected to pay him near $30 million per season. The front office also did a nice job last year locking up cornerback Desmond Trufant and running back Devonta Freeman to long-term deals, preventing both from becoming unrestricted free agents this month.

There are other significant players with expiring contracts soon: Grady Jarrett, Jake Matthews and Tevin Coleman in 2019; Deion Jones, Vic Beasley and Devondre Campbell in 2020. It’s the price for drafting well.

But seemingly every important NFC team around the Falcons is getting better. The Falcons’ biggest move has been the signing of guard Brandon Fusco, a relatively cost-efficient move (three years, $12.75 million) for a player who has started 80 of 83 games over seven seasons.

But they’ve already lost defensive tackle Dontari Poe (who signed with Carolina) and end Adrian Clayborn (who signed with New England). That’s a hit to the defensive line.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the NFC ...

South Division rivals: Carolina lost guard Andrew Norwell (Jacksonville) but added Poe, who helped the Falcons significantly improve their run defense in 2017; New Orleans signed cornerback Patrick Robinson, convinced Drew Brees to stay in town (he had more lucrative offers elsewhere) and free-agent defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh is scheduled for a visit; Tampa Bay added defensive tackle Beau Allen from Philadelphia.

Philadelphia: The team that ended the Falcons' season and won the Super Bowl acquired defensive end Michael Bennett from Seattle and signed Haloti Ngata to make up for Allen's loss.

Minnesota: The Vikings filled their biggest need by signing quarterback Kirk Cousins after taking a run at Brees. They're also talking to free-agent interior lineman Sheldon Richardson. They should be contenders again.

Los Angeles: The Rams had the league's new hip offense under coach Sean McVay last season and they've strengthened their defense, trading for cornerbacks Marcus Peters (19 interceptions in three years with Kansas City) and Aqib Talib (five-time Pro Bowler). Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is giddy.

San Francisco: The 49ers had a ton of cap space and may have overpaid for players, but they've made the team significantly better. Former Minnesota running back Jerick McKinnon (four years, $30 million), an Atlanta native and former Georgia Southern quarterback/tailback, will flourish in Kyle Shanahan's offense. Ex-New York Giants center Weston Richburg (five years, $47.5 million) will stabilize the offensive line. Richard Sherman (three years, $27.5 million, but only $7 million guaranteed) provides some leadership, although it's uncertain how he'll rebound from a ruptured Achilles that ended his 2017 season.

Green Bay: The Packers surprisingly let wide receiver Jordy Nelson go, but signed tight end Jimmy Graham and defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson.

The Falcons will be battling all eight of those teams for playoff berths. Five of them -- Philadelphia, Green Bay, New Orleans (twice), Carolina (twice), Tampa Bay (twice) -- comprise eight of the Falcons’ 16 games.

With Fusco signed, it’s logical general manager Thomas Dimitroff and coach Dan Quinn will draft a defensive lineman early in the draft. They may also need to draft a tight end. Signing or trading for a proven veteran and potential mentor to Austin Hooper would’ve been safer. They also still need a fullback.

Still a lot of holes. Still a lot of time. But everybody else seems to be getting better, and the Falcons look like they’re standing still.

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