(Here’s the second Cover 9@9 blog for 2023. Every Wednesday at 9 a.m., we will drop the Cover 9@9 blog on the Atlanta Falcons.)

1. The no-spin zone: The Falcons will have a busy offseason after finishing 7-10.

They put a bow on their fifth consecutive losing season with a two-game win streak after getting eliminated from the playoffs. Their draft position is eighth.

Before they move on to free agency, they must make some internal decisions.

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.

The signings include:

WR Josh Ali 6-0 200 Kentucky PS-’22

RB B.J. Baylor 5-10 202 Oregon State PS-’22

OLB Quinton Bell 6-4 251 Prairie View A&M PS-’22

DL Amani Bledsoe 6-4 280 Oklahoma PS-’22

ILB Dorian Etheridge 6-3 230 Louisville PS-’22

CB Javelin Guidry 5-9 191 Utah PS-’22

TE Tucker Fisk 6-4 273 Stanford FA-’22

CB Matt Hankins 6-1 182 Iowa PS-’22

OL Jonotthan Harrison 6-4 300 Florida PS-’22

WR Ra’Shaun Henry 6-3 190 Virginia PS-’22

ILB Nate Landman 6-3 238 Colorado PS-’22

DB Dylan Mabin 6-1 196 Fordham PS-’22

DB Jamal Peters 6-2 220 Mississippi State FA-’22

TE John Raine 6-2 230 Northwestern PS-’22

FB Clint Ratkovich 6-1 220 Northern Illinois PS-’22

CB John Reid 5-10 187 Penn State PS-’22

OL Justin Shaffer 6-4 317 Georgia PS-’22

OL Tyler Vrabel 6-6 319 Boston College PS-’22

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:

Home opponents:

NFC South: Panthers, Saints and Buccaneers

NFC North: Vikings and Packers

AFC South: Texans and Colts

NFC East: Commanders

Road opponents:

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.