Having waited for the chance to spend money, the Falcons are spending money. Adding good players is the way to make a team good. Guessing you knew that already.
That said, free agency is – at least to this observer – usually the lesser part of an offseason. A team can add needed parts. Not all, and maybe not many, of those parts will be difference-makers. For a free agent to join your team, his old team must first deem him inessential.
Jessie Bates, the safety signed away from Cincinnati, could make a difference. David Onyemata, the defensive tackle who left New Orleans, should be a win-win: Saints get worse, Falcons get better – and defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen, also hired away from NOLA, gets to work with a guy he knows well.
Taylor Heinicke just became the floor for Falcons quarterbacks: If he’s needed as a starter, the team will still have a chance. Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary, Round 1 draftees in 2019, have new contracts. That should ensure that a pretty good offensive line gets no worse. Jonnu Smith arrives from New England at the cost of a seventh-round pick, and we live in a time where NFL teams can’t have too many tight ends.
If the Falcons do nothing else this offseason, they should be better than they were in 2022, when they weren’t far from being the best team in a bad division. They went 7-10 while being outscored by 21 points. In 2021, they’d gone 7-10 while being outscored by 146 points. Not all 7-10s are equal.
But the Falcons will, we can be assured, do something else this offseason. They’ll draft some folks. Nothing they’ve done the past few days closes any avenues. Nobody spends the No. 8 pick on a safety, and the Falcons were duty-bound to add a veteran QB. They can still take a pass rusher in Round 1. Or they could take a quarterback.
Apologies for becoming a bore, but the NFL has two kinds of teams – those who have a franchise quarterback and those who want one. For the Falcons, Desmond Ridder might be that guy. He also might not. The belief here is that Ridder’s four starts weren’t so promising as to make the Falcons say, “That’s it. He’s it for us.” The belief is that the Falcons shouldn’t consider the QB question answered.
Backing away from Lamar Jackson wasn’t unreasonable. He’d have cost a ton of money – 26-year-old MVPs aren’t cheap – plus two Round 1 picks. Signing Heinicke doesn’t mean the Falcons can’t accommodate Anthony Richardson, say. Heinicke is guaranteed only $6.32M on a two-year deal. Ridder’s base salary for 2023 is $870K.
The partnership of Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith has been in place for two years. Over that time, the Falcons have overreached only when Deshaun Watson became available. Even that failed pursuit wasn’t a howling mistake. It forced a severance with Matt Ryan, which had to happen sometime.
This is the offseason Fontenot/Smith have awaited. Ryan and Julio Jones are off the books. There’s no need to pinch pennies, though there’s not yet a reason to splurge.
The Falcons aren’t one player from the Super Bowl. They have, however, added enough good players – Cordarrelle Patterson, Kyle Pitts, Drake London, Tyler Allgeier, maybe Arnold Ebiketie, possibly Ridder, now Bates and Onyemata – that the playoffs aren’t beyond question, especially in the NFC South.
The biggest question this front office must answer: Will this draft be the Falcons’ best chance to land their QB of the next 10 years? If so, they need to do what’s necessary to land one of the top four quarterbacks.
If they believe Ridder is on a par with those four, they can spend the No. 8 pick on the long-sought edge rusher. Remember, though: Ridder was taken with the 74th pick last spring; Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud, Will Levis and Richardson should go among this year’s first 10.
Free agency has arrived, and this team hasn’t tipped its hand. That’s fine. We’ll know more soon enough. They’ve got Ridder. They’ve got Heinicke. But in their heart of hearts, do the Falcons believe they can win big with those quarterbacks? I’d be a tad surprised if the answer is yes, but maybe that’s just me.
The above is part of a regular exercise, written and curated by yours truly, available to all who register on AJC.com for our free Sports Daily newsletter. The full Buzz, which includes more opinions and extras like a weekly poll and pithy quotes, arrives via email around 1:30 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
FAQ: How do you sign up? Go to the AJC.com home page. Click on “newsletters” at the top right. Click on “Sports Daily.” You’ll need to enter your email address. Thanks in advance, folks.
About the Author