The Atlanta Falcons knew the 2020 NFL season was crucial for the current structure of the Falcons organization. They needed to make key moves in the offseason to be able to win now.
Mixed with a combination of low cap space and bad contracts, the Atlanta Falcons were forced to make moves and part ways with longtime players. Falcons parted ways with two former first-rounders in Desmond Trufant and Vic Beasley; along with a running back and tight end who were both staples in this Atlanta Falcons offense.
So while we parted ways with guys who were integral parts on our team, the Falcons made three keys moves to acquire new guys as replacements. Here are their grades.
Hayden Hurst: A-
The closer we came to the free agency period, the more likely we knew that Austin Hooper was not going to stay with the Atlanta Falcons. Looking to reset the tight end market, the Atlanta Falcons were not in the position to splash the cash on the young tight end and I commend the team for folding on Hooper.
When looking at the stats side by side, it’s clear that Austin Hooper takes the nod on this one. However, given the offense that Hurst was forced to play in, as well as playing behind fellow second-year tight end Mark Andrews, there is just cause for the obvious stat gap between Hurst and Hooper. Where Hurst really stands apart from Hooper is his run blocking abilities. Given the offense that is run in Baltimore, it is easy to see why they drafted him and hold his value so high.
Nonetheless, I give this trade an A- (Atlanta Falcons gave up a second-round pick) because ultimately the Falcons would have been forced to draft a tight end to replace Hooper and Hurst was the best option to give the Atlanta Falcons a chance to win now. Hurst and Hooper have a lot of similarities in their play in both size and speed. Also, given that Matt Ryan will be providing balls to Hurst, I see no drop off at the tight end spot and Hurst will have a viable option restart his career.
Dante Fowler: B+
The acquisition of Hayden Hurst was quickly forgotten once the Atlanta Falcons truly got their guy. Dante Fowler has been heavily linked with the Falcons all offseason because of the familiarity between head coach Dan Quinn and Fowler in their days at the University of Florida.
Fowler will be the guy forced to replace Vic Beasley. Vic Beasley has had a disappointing career as an Atlanta Falcon, excluding his phenomenal 2016 campaign. Both Fowler and Beasley were taken in the top 10 in the 2015 NFL Draft, however, Fowler was forced to miss his entire rookie season due to an ACL tear during offseason workouts.
I give this signing a B+ simply because Fowler has had a rough start to his career after being taken number three overall. It took a change of scenery and a more stable organization to get Fowler back to the levels that were expected from him. Like most fans, I’m hoping that the familiarity between Quinn and Fowler will allow Fowler to replicate the success he had in 2019.
Fowler ended the season with nearly 60 combo tackles, 40 solo, and 16 quarterback hits. Beasley has never come close to any of those numbers through the entirety of his career. Fowler also made a huge impact on pressuring the quarterback. On 48 blitz packages, Fowler applied pressure to the quarterback 35 times in 2019. A much, much bigger impact than Beasley’s 18 for 35 attempts.
Todd Gurley: B-
Todd Gurley will probably the biggest high profile signing this offseason for the Atlanta Falcons and one that may be the most ridiculed. There is absolutely no question that Gurley is a huge upgrade over Devonta Freeman. We are all aware of how dominant Todd Gurley was from 2015 to 2018. Gurley also managed to score 10+ touchdowns in four of his five career seasons in the NFL with Los Angeles.
Atlanta Falcons fans are also aware of his persistent knee problems that have hurt his play ever since the Rams lost to the Eagles in late 2018. Having only a combined amount of carries of 14 in the NFCCG and Super Bowl, bleed into 2019 when the Rams were holding back on his carries in order to protect him in the long run. 2019 saw Gurley’s worst year in his career in terms of overall carries, yards, attempts per game and in relative terms both receiving yards in total and yards per game.
However, even with Gurley having a down year in 2019, he had more yards than Freeman at 852, more touchdowns than freeman at 12, and most importantly, started more games. When taking into consideration the health of Gurley, the Falcons have also been hurt with injuries at the running back spot with Freeman and his backups missing multiple games a season.
I give Gurley a B- simply because with a one year deal for $6 million, Gurey has a chance to prove that he can still play to high levels while really no cost to the Falcons. They improve a much needed running back position with a guy who could go off at any moment. The only issue is the knee.