The dust has started to settle after a dizzying flurry of moves by the Falcons in the first phase of free agency.
The only question that must be answered: Are the Falcons better than they were before the start of free agency on Monday?
Before the gathered masses at the NFL scouting combine, the Falcons announced they were going to let three players test the free-agent market.
Tight end Austin Hooper, linebacker De’Vondre Campbell and reserve guard Wes Schweitzer would be allowed to set their worth on the open market. The Falcons said they hoped to retain all three, but really they couldn’t keep them.
In the past, the Falcons made it a point of extending contracts of players they wanted to retain. But because quarterback Matt Ryan, wide receiver Julio Jones, left tackle Jake Matthews and defensive tackle Grady Jarrett had big-money deals on the books, the Falcons had to use the market value approach.
The Falcons had already announced that defensive end/linebacker Vic Beasley would not be re-signed.
The move backfired as the Falcons lost all three players, with Hooper going to Cleveland for a four-year, $42 million deal, Schweitzer to Washington for a three-year, $13 million deal and Campbell to Arizona for a one-year deal that’s worth up to $8.5 million.
In addition to the four players, the Falcons, in another money-saving move, cut their top cornerback in Desmond Trufant, who was quickly snapped up by the Detroit Lions on a two-year, $21 million deal. They also released running back Devonta Freeman, a two-time Pro Bowl player, tight end Luke Stocker and reserve tackle Ty Sambrailo.
The Falcons’ major moves were to add running back Todd Gurley, defensive end Dante Fowler and tight end Hayden Hurst. They had previously signed defensive end Steven Means, fullback Keith Smith and defensive end Tyeler Davison.
After Gurley was released by the Rams on Thursday, the Falcons signed him on Friday to a one-year, $5 million deal.
The Falcons agreed to a three-year, $48 million deal with Fowler, who will essentially replace Beasley. Hurst, a former first-round pick, who has two years left on his contract at $3.5 million, will attempt to replace Hooper.
Fowler, 25, was recruited to the University of Florida by Falcons coach Dan Quinn, who got to know his family during the process. Quinn was the defensive coordinator, and used Fowler in a variety of positions.
Fowler had 11.5 sacks with the Los Angeles Rams last season and has 27.5 sacks over 63 career games.
The Falcons finished with 28 sacks last season, which was tied for 31st (out of 32 teams) in the league. Only Miami (23) had fewer sacks. Pittsburgh led the league with 54 sacks.
The Falcons picked up Hurst, a former South Carolina standout, in a trade with the Ravens on Monday. The Falcons also received the Ravens’ fourth-round (143rd) pick in the 2020 NFL draft, but gave up their second-round pick (55th overall) and a fifth-round pick (157th) in this year’s draft to get Hurst.
The Falcons contemplated drafting Hurst in the 2018 draft, but he was selected by Baltimore one spot in front of their pick, wide receiver Calvin Ridley. Hurst played in 28 NFL games and has made just four starts for the Ravens. He’s caught 43 of 62 passes for 512 yards and three touchdowns.
“Hayden is a talented, emerging player in this league and a high-character individual for whom we have a lot of respect," Baltimore general manager Eric DeCosta said. “We are grateful for the contributions he made to our team and for the role he played in our success the past two seasons. We feel this is a mutually beneficial deal, and we wish Hayden the very best in Atlanta.”
Hurst became expendable because of the Ravens’ depth at the position. They have Mark Andrews, who made the Pro Bowl last season, and Nick Boyle, one of the NFL’s best blocking tight ends.
Signing Gurley, a popular player during his three seasons with the Georgia Bulldogs, will also be a popular move for a team that played to a nearly half-full Mercedes-Benz Stadium down the stretch last season.
The Falcons can now turn their attention to other spots on the roster and start preparing for the draft.
Cornerback, left guard/center, linebacker, defensive end and kick returner appear to be the needs.
The Falcons are high on cornerbacks Kendall Sheffield, who played nickel and some left cornerback last season, and Isaiah Oliver, who played right cornerback. They also have Jordan Miller, who has to serve a four-game suspension for violating the performance-enhancing drug policy.
Cornerbacks C.J. Reavis and Chris Cooper are on the roster.
Ohio State’s Jeff Okudah is the top-rated cornerback in the draft, but will not likely be available when the Falcons select. Florida’s C.J. Henderson, LSU’s Christian Fulton, Ohio State’s Damon Arnette and Mississippi State’s Cameron Dantzler will likely be available in the first round.
After the Hurst deal, the Falcons have six draft picks.
The Falcons will pick 16th overall in the first round. The also have picks in the second round (47th), third round (78th), two in the fourth round ( 118 and 143) and seventh round (228).
The draft is scheduled for April 23-25.
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART: Here’s a look at the Falcons’ updated depth chart:
WR 11 Julio Jones, 13 Christian Blake, 19 Devin Gray
LT 70 Jake Matthews, 75 John Wetzel
LG 73 Matt Gono, 77 James Carpenter, 64 Sean Harlow
C 51 Alex Mack
RG 63 Chris Lindstrom, 68 Jamon Brown
RT 76 Kaleb McGary
TE 81 Hayden Hurst, 87 Jaeden Graham, 85 Carson Meier
WR 18 Calvin Ridley, 83 Russell Gage, 17 Olamide Zaccheaus, 15 Brandon Powell
QB 2 Matt Ryan, 8 Matt Schaub, 6 Kurt Benkert, 16 Danny Etling
RB 30 Todd Gurley, 25 Ito Smith, 23 Brian Hill, 32 Qadree Ollison, 42 Craig Reynolds
FB 40 Keith Smith
DE Dante Fowler, 55 Austin Larkin
DT 97 Grady Jarrett,
DT 96 Tyeler Davison, 94 Deadrin Senat
DE 93 Allen Bailey, Steven Means, 50 John Cominsky
DE 99 Takk McKinley, 91 Jacob Tuioti-Mariner
LB 54 Foyesade Oluokun
LB 45 Deion Jones, 52 Ahmad Thomas
RCB 26 Isaiah Oliver, 43 Jamar Taylor, 39 C.J. Reavis
LCB 20 Kendall Sheffield, 28 Jordan Miller
NCB 37 Ricardo Allen, 34 Chris Cooper
SS 22 Keanu Neal, 35 Jamal Carter
FS 27 Damontae Kazee, 37 Ricardo Allen
K 7 Younghoe Koo
KO 7 Younghoe Koo
P 9 Ryan Allen, 9 Sam Irwin-Hill
LS 47 Josh Harris
H 9 Ryan Allen
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