In addition to making the declaration that Desmond Ridder is the quarterback of the future, the Falcons have five big decisions to make.
Here’s a look at the decisions:
2. Re-sign Rashaan Evans? Linebacker Rashaan Evans led the defense with 159 tackles. He played last season on a one-year, $1.75 million contract.
He earned a raise, assuming that the Falcons are staying with the 3-4 defense that Dean Pees ran.
Evans’ market value was set at two years, $9 million by Spotrac.
3. Re-sign Kaleb McGary? Coach Arthur Smith and offensive line coach Dwayne Ledford’s messages started to resonate with Kaleb McGary halfway through the 2021 season.
After not getting his fifth-year option picked up over the past offseason, McGary came to training camp in the best shape of his career. He also was healthy for the first time to start the season.
He was a big part of the Falcons’ success in rushing for 159.9 yards per game, which ranked third in the NFL.
He played 1,051 offensive snaps and received an 86.6 (B-plus) from Pro Football Focus. He allowed six sacks, but the Falcons didn’t put him in bad situations with a lot of five- and seven-step dropbacks.
In 2021, he played 986 offensive snaps and gave up nine sacks and had a 62.6 (F).
His market value has been set at four years, $70.9 million by Spotrac. He may be able to get more if the Falcons let him get to the open market.
4. Re-sign Lorenzo Carter? Outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter played all 17 games for the Falcons.
He finished with 58 tackles, four sacks, an interception, six tackles for loss, 12 quarterback hits and a fumble recovery. Carter returned an interception and blocked a punt for touchdowns.
Carter had a strong year. He improved his missed tackle percentage dramatically. He missed 13.8% of his tackles with the Giants in 2021, according to Pro Football Reference.
Last season, he missed only 1.7% of his tackle attempts. So, he was assignment sure, and if the Falcons can get more push in the middle of the defense, Carter has shown that he can find his way to the quarterback.
He played last season on a one-year, $3.5 million deal.
5. Re-sign Olamide Zaccheaus? The Falcons value Olamide Zaccheaus’ professionalism and versatility.
He was the team’s second-leading receiver and brings value as a backup returner.
Zaccheaus caught a career-high 40 passes for 533 yards (13.3 yards per catch) and three touchdowns. The yardage total also was a career high, and the three touchdowns tied his high mark set in 2021.
In the final four games, with Ridder at quarterback, Zaccheaus was targeted 17 times and caught eight passes for 55 yards and a touchdown.
6. Find more cornerbacks: When Casey Hayward went down and needed right shoulder surgery, Darren Hall was given a shot at right cornerback.
Hall, a fourth-round pick in 2021, started nine games but was replaced late in the season by Cornell Armstrong. He spent the last two weeks working on the scout team.
Hayward, of Perry, wants to return and play one more season in the NFL. He will turn 34 in September.
Cornerback/safety Isaiah Oliver has been valuable as a nickel back and played some safety late in the season. Bringing him back is a no-brainer.
Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC
7. Reserve/future signings: The Falcons signed 18 players to reserve/future contracts Monday, according to the team.
The contract gives the team the claiming rights for the player next season. Only players not on an active roster at the end of Week 17 are eligible. They will count against the 90-man roster when it is announced.
8. Defensive rankings: After Pees vowed to change the culture, the defense finished in the bottom half of the league in four key categories: total yards allowed (362.1, 27th of 32), rushing yards allowed (130.2, 23rd), passing yards allowed (231.9, 25th) and points scored (22.7, 23rd).
However, Pees believes the defense made progress over the last nine games.
“Where they’ve come this year from the beginning of the year to now, I’ve never had a defense do that,” Pees said. “In this last nine games, we’ve given up an average of 314 yards a game and 19.7 points a game, which would be fifth in the NFL right now. Unfortunately, that’s not the way it is because we played the first eight games and we weren’t that way.
“We went from 28th in the league in (the) red zone to 14th. We ended this year in second-half points, second in the league behind Buffalo by one-tenth of a point. I’d say that’s a pretty good tribute to those young men.”
Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter
9A. 2023 opponents: In addition to the six NFC South games, the Falcons are set to play the NFC North (four teams), AFC South and the last-place teams in the NFC East, NFC West and AFC East.
Here’s a look at the Falcons’ opponents:
NFC South: Panthers, Saints and Buccaneers
NFC North: Vikings and Packers
AFC South: Texans and Colts
NFC East: Commanders
NFC South: Panthers, Saints and Buccaneers
NFC North: Bears and Lions
AFC South: Jaguars and Titans
NFC West: Cardinals
AFC East: Jets
9B. Tale of the tape: Here’s how the Falcons ranked at the end of the regular season. Progress is being measured by how many categories the Falcons are in the top half of the league, 16th or better:
21.5 (24) Pts/Game
318.6 (24) Total Offense
159.9 (3) Net Rush Yds/Game
158.8 (31) Net Pass Yds/Game
29:48 (27) Possession Avg.
23.1 (23) Opp Pts/Game
362.1 (27) Opp Tot Offense
130.2 (23) Opp Rush Yds/Game
231.9 (25) Opp Pass Yds/Game
-4 (24) Turnover Differential
9C. Offseason depth chart: We’re still working on the offseason depth chart with so few players under contract for 2023 and a long list of potential free agents.
It was surprising that the Falcons didn’t extend some contracts in-season.
In the middle of the playoff race, the quickest way to boost morale is to sprinkle some cash in the locker room.
D. Orlando Ledbetter, Esq is the award-winning Atlanta Falcons beat writer for the newspaper, has been on the staff since 2003. Every day D. Orlando strives to provide inside in the Falcons and the NFL. He finds the most joy in providing insight into the team, the coaching moves, the offseason business moves, the draft and the games.