General manager Terry Fontenot will look to take some of that money with him into the season in case the team needs to make any emergency signings, but it still wouldn’t be a surprise to see a veteran added before week one’s bout with the Philadelphia Eagles.
It would make sense for the Falcons to look to players who are familiar with the coaching staff and scheme, minimizing the difficulty of any transition. On offense, this is likely to be players who have played for head coach Arthur Smith.
Outside of entry-level roles, Smith has spent his career with the Tennessee Titans. He briefly worked with the defense, but his expertise lies on offense, and that’s the reason that Arthur Blank hired him. With that in mind, let’s look at some available free agents who have been coached by Smith.
Kelly, a 31-year-old offensive tackle, would barely have registered on the Falcons’ radar a month ago. Unfortunately, though, news has broken since then that swing tackle Matt Gono is likely to face extensive time on the sideline. While the exact diagnosis is unclear, the Falcons will have to look elsewhere for their primary backup to Jake Matthews and Kaleb McGary.
Kelly was taken in the fifth round of the 2012 NFL Draft by the Philadelphia Eagles and largely spent time as a backup to Jason Peters and Lane Johnson, two of the top players at their respective positions.
He was traded to the Titans prior to the 2016 season and earned significant playing time over the next five seasons, filling in at both left and right tackle. He started all 16 regular-season games and the AFC wild-card round loss to the Baltimore Ravens in 2020, with Arthur Smith as his offensive coordinator.
Kelly would be a reliable addition to the Atlanta Falcons offensive line and would give the team more veteran experience and leadership. He finished 2020 with a Pro Football Focus grade of 65.9, narrowly better than McGary’s 64.3 grade, and could help push the incumbent.
Once considered a transcendent talent, Chance Warmack looked as if he’d be a building block on any offensive line for a decade.
Mike Mayock, the former NFL Network draft analyst, and current Las Vegas Raiders general manager, even went as far as to call him the best player in the 2013 NFL Draft. So when the Tennessee Titans selected him with the 10th overall pick, it looked like a steal.
His NFL career never really took off, though. Despite starting 46 out of 48 games, the Titans declined his fifth-year option and he has been forced to sign short-term, low-level deals with the Philadelphia Eagles and Seattle Seahawks in recent years.
Warmack spent time working with Smith while Smith was an offensive line assistant in Tennessee. He’s been a below-average starter for much of his career, but has scheme familiarity and could be available for close to the veteran minimum.
With experience at both guard spots, he’d allow the Atlanta Falcons to take it slow with Jalen Mayfield’s transition and provide a safer option if (or when) the Josh Andrews experiment fails.
It’s easy to forget that Dion Lewis has been a productive running back when healthy.
The late, great Chris Wesseling of NFL Media summed up his breakout season perfectly. “The most explosive satellite back of the Bill Belichick era, Lewis forced 43 missed tackles on 85 touches — good for the highest Elusive Rating ever recorded by Pro Football Focus.”
Now, we’re almost six years since he said that, but Lewis’ skillset could make him the perfect backup to Mike Davis. Davis was brought in as a jack-of-all-trades, who is equally adept at running, catching, and blocking.
If he were to miss time, though, the team would be looking to Qadree Ollison and Cordarrelle Patterson to pick up the slack.
Lewis was marginalized once Smith took over the offense, touching the ball just 79 times in 2019 before departing in free agency.
The Atlanta Falcons don’t have a Derrick Henry substitute, though, and Lewis has shown his versatility with 155 rushes and 59 catches in 2018. He’d be a low-cost option who could maintain the offensive identity.