Atlanta Falcons: Linebacker top priority after Justin Durant, William Moore cut

Feb 7, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Denver Broncos inside linebacker Danny Trevathan (59) strikes a pose during the second quarter against the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50 at Levi
Feb 7, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Denver Broncos inside linebacker Danny Trevathan (59) strikes a pose during the second quarter against the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50 at Levi /

Now more than ever, the Atlanta Falcons’ top priority is to bolster their group of linebackers.

Dan Quinn has begun an overhaul of the linebacker position with the release of outside linebacker Justin Durant. It appears one of the Atlanta Falcons’ biggest decisions this offseason is to restart at the position.

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The release of safety William Moore came as no surprise, but parting ways with Durant was jarring. It seems his consistent injury problems gave head coach Dan Quinn no alternative but to find a replacement.

Durant, as well as fellow 2015 free agent acquisition Leonard Hankerson, have departed Atlanta, bringing into question some of the signings under a year ago. Credit to Quinn; he’s not afraid to move on when he feels it isn’t working out the way he had hoped.

But now the Falcons have work to do.

There are a number of deficiencies across the roster, but none is larger than the issues along the front seven. The pass rush was unacceptable in 2015, and Quinn will be determined to begin the transformation over the coming months. But it’s not just getting after the quarterback, also dropping into coverage. Shoring up the group of linebackers will help that.

The Falcons will almost certainly be looking to address the issue in both free agency and the draft. While we don’t know with any certainty which players will reach free agency and who will be re-signed, we can still highlight possible targets for a month from now.

You only have to look at the Super Bowl champions to find defensive talent. The Broncos rode their defense all the way to the Lombardi Trophy, but there’s no way they can keep all of their talent together. A wild spending spree in free agency over the past few years has span their salary cap out of control, and letting talented players walk is the only option.

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Von Miller isn’t going anywhere. But the Broncos will have to pay up to earn his signature, and it could even result in them designating the franchise tag on him. This will likely open the exit door for linebackers Danny Trevathan and Brandon Marshall.

Both players are just 26-years-old, and would be excellent additions at inside linebacker for the Falcons. There will be competition for their signatures, which could force the Falcons out of the race. But if bringing either to Atlanta is a possibility, it’s one Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff should jump on.

If they turn to the draft, potential prospects include Reggie Ragland, Jaylon Smith and Myles Jack, although all three are expected to go in the first round, possibly before the Falcons pick at No. 17.

There’s plenty of buzz about Bruce Irvin, who could be an option at outside linebacker should he hit the market. Irvin was heavily linked with the Falcons last offseason, with the possibility of him reuniting with Quinn then looking legitimate. It seems a long shot, but don’t rule it out.

It will be tough to land either three of the pending free agents, but the Falcons would be wise to add to the linebacker corps in free agency to take pressure off the draft.

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And that’s when the attention must turn to the pass rush. Adding a young defensive end to pair with Vic Beasley is crucial, and is the next step to turning the fortunes of the Falcons’ defense around.

What do you think, Falcons fans?