Falcons' Ra'Shede Hageman walks onto the field at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Dec. 11, 2016 during their game against the Rams in Los Angeles.
Photo: Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images
Photo: Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images

Falcons are desperate for talent, so Hageman is back

The Falcons decided they didn’t want Ra’Shede Hageman around anymore back in September 2017. He had mostly underachieved in three seasons with the team. But they let Hageman go after he faced an NFL suspension related to a domestic-violence arrest in DeKalb County. 

Now the Falcons have decided they want Hageman around again. He signed a free-agent contract Friday after being out of the league for two seasons. The Falcons said they are giving Hageman another chance because he accepted responsibility for his actions and learned from his mistakes. 

Hopefully Hageman really has grown and changed. We’ll see how it goes. There’s no doubt the Falcons have changed since he left. We can see how that’s going. 

Hageman was an appendage for a good team in 2017. Now he might be a key piece for a team that missed the playoffs in 2018 and is thin along the defensive line. It’s the kind of deal an organization does when it is so confident in its decisions that it can afford to take the hit to its reputation, or so needy for talent that it can’t afford to pass up a potentially good value despite the hit. 

The Falcons are the latter. This offseason they had to finesse their tight salary cap just to sign a collection of lower-tier free agents. Now they’ve signed a player with baggage that also includes a DWI arrest in June 2018. ESPN reported that Hageman faces a two-game ban from the league for that arrest. 

Bringing back Hageman is a sign of the desperate posture the Falcons will take into this week’s draft. Perhaps the urgency will provide clarity for Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff. Or maybe the Falcons’ co-team builders will make collaborative mistakes while trying to fill big roster holes with college prospects. 

The offensive line still looks iffy. It can be hard to predict how that group will come together with three new starters, but based on track record and talent, I don’t see a good one. It’s possible the Falcons can get by with a pair of average-at-best guards. It’s a big leap of faith to rely on right tackle Ty Sambrailo, who has a small sample of being good. 

The defensive line looks similarly suspect. Tackle Grady Jarrett is a star, but it gets shaky after him. Hageman is a mystery, and new addition Tyeler Davidson is just a guy. Edge rusher Takk McKinley has potential, but Vic Beasley is an underachiever. 

The Falcons said they will find help in this draft. Dimitroff said there’s a “unique” group of linemen, with “seven to 10” offensive linemen likely to be selected in the first round. Quinn says some of those offensive linemen will be ready to “play right off the bat.” 

Maybe that’s true. Dimitroff, Quinn and their player personnel departments have put in the work evaluating prospects. They have more information than any outsider. 

But it’s fortuitous for the Falcons that, in a year when they have a pressing need for ready-made linemen, they say this draft happens to have a lot of them. I know that Dimitroff’s history of drafting linemen, especially on offense, is so-so. I also know that because Dimitroff and Quinn have publicly declared there are good linemen in this draft, they are under pressure to identify and draft them. 

There’s weight on the duo after last season’s 7-9 flop. They aren’t saying that, of course. Dimitroff said the Falcons are “in a really good place” for the draft because they took care of their depth issues in free agency. Quinn, also citing free agency, said he doesn’t feel more pressure to do well with this draft. 

“We were as specific as we could be through the free agency to find what we felt were the best fits for our style, identity, the physicality that we were looking for,” he said. 

That was a day before the Falcons signed Hageman. He’s a big, physical player who didn’t play that way all the time in his first go-round. Hageman’s final season with the Falcons was his best, but he was a bust as a second-round pick for Dimitroff in 2014. 

The Falcons could afford to let Hageman go in 2017. They’d just been to the Super Bowl. Hageman wasn’t so good that the Falcons were willing to wait out his suspension and take the PR hit. 

The Falcons are taking that hit now. They aren’t Super Bowl contenders anymore. They are a mediocre team desperate for talent.

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About the Author

Michael Cunningham
Michael Cunningham
Michael Cunningham has covered the Hawks and other beats for the AJC since 2010.