Falcons pass on free agency to keep building through the draft

General manager Thomas Dimitroff and coach Dan Quinn need to have a T-shirt made for Falcons fans that reads: “Keep calm. Free agency is for teams with major holes.”

The co-team builders are comfortable with their roster and have repeatedly stated that they plan to take care of their own players.

The Falcons did sign guard Brandon Fusco to a three-year, $12.75 million deal to become their starting right guard.

They also released tight end Levine Toilolo and defensive end Derrick Shelby and allowed wide receiver Taylor Gabriel, defensive tackle Dontari Poe and defensive end Adrian Clayborn to enter free agency.

Gabriel signed with Chicago, Poe with Carolina and Clayborn with New England.

The key focus for the Falcons, while they need a tight end and a fullback, is to grant a lucrative contract extension to quarterback Matt Ryan.

“I believe Dan and I have spent a lot of time together with our coaching staff and our scouting staff,” Dimitroff said. “We are focused on understanding that we are going to have to make some significant moves to continue to add people and sign new people to new deals.”

The Falcons also secured restricted free agents free safety Ricardo Allen and reserve guard Ben Garland with $2.9 million second-round tenders.

They also re-signed kicker Matt Bryant, cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson and reserve offensive tackle Austin Pasztor.

“It’s a creative offseason for us,” Dimitroff said. “There (were) some difficult moves to make. “

Dimitroff has used free agency in the past to drastically improve the team.

In his first season, he signed running back Michael Turner and that helped propel the team to the playoffs in 2008.

He added cornerback Dunta Robinson in 2010.

More recently, the Falcons added center Alex Mack in 2016 to help stabilize the offensive line. Poe was a key free-agent signing last offseason.

But now that they have a strong roster flushed with young starters on defense, the Falcons are trending toward building through the draft.

Quinn is pleased with how things are progressing.

“Thomas and I are now going into our fourth year together,” Quinn said. “We have a really clear vision of how to feature the guys in the very best way.”

The Falcons believe they have to answer for losing Gabriel on their roster in either Marvin Hall or Reggie Davis. They also could add a receiver in the draft.

The biggest hole to fill is replacing Poe, who received a three-year, $27 million deal from the Panthers. He played 868 snaps last season, the second-most of defensive linemen behind Grady Jarrett, who played 870.

Clayborn led the team in sacks with 10.5 (including the playoffs). He played 576 snaps, the third-highest total along the defensive line.

The Falcons are counting on Takkarist McKinley, last year’s first-round pick, to pick up the slack at defensive end.

The Falcons are heavily scouting the defensive tackles in the draft.

“I’ve had a chance to look at a few,” Quinn said. “It’s definitely a group from what our staff tells us, is one that has depth and have a lot of the traits that we are looking for. At defensive line you better have enough initial quickness to beat a guy to the punch. The defensive tackles, the big guys that have that kind of initial quickness are difficult to block.”

Finding the replacement for Poe is key.

“That’s important for us in Dan Quinn’s defensive philosophy, we need to make sure that we can shoot the gap,” Dimitroff said. “It’s important to see how explosive these guys are off the mark.”

Also, the Falcons let returner Andre Roberts and backup running back Terron Ward become free agents.

They plan to adhere to their team-building plan.

“That’s where our focus is, continue to hopefully sign the players that are going to help us get back to being a championship football team,” Dimitroff said. “I could not ask for a better partner than Dan Quinn through this entire process. We are really honed in on the moves we need to make inside the organization and outside, potentially.”

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