The Atlanta Falcons have been consistently linked with signing defensive reinforcements.
With just under $9 million in cap space after the Julio Jones trade, the Atlanta Falcons have an opportunity to upgrade multiple spots if they wish.
Approaching preseason, most of the potential impact players have been signed. Melvin Ingram, who optimistic fans felt might be brought in to help the pass rush, recently signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Richard Sherman’s future is up in the air after troubling off-field issues.
There are still big names available, with Justin Houston among them, but scheme fit will be important for any player brought in. On offense, we looked at players with links to head coach Arthur Smith.
On the other side of the ball, it makes sense to look at free agents who have played for defensive coordinator Dean Pees before. The legendary play-caller has decades of experience, but those players still in the league will have likely worked with him at the Baltimore Ravens or Tennessee Titans.
If the Atlanta Falcons are interested in a genuine upgrade to their defensive line then they should look no further than Casey. The five-time AFC Pro Bowl selection could be an excellent mentor to Marlon Davidson, the second-round pick who missed much of his rookie season.
Both players have the versatility to line up at defensive end and defensive tackle and would help take some pressure off Grady Jarrett.
Casey spent nine seasons with the Tennessee Titans, racking up 51 sacks and 84 tackles for loss, along with 2.5 sacks and two tackles for loss in five postseason games. He had 12 sacks and 16 tackles for loss in his two seasons under Dean Pees, both of which saw him named to the Pro Bowl.
He was traded to the Denver Broncos in 2020, but a torn bicep ended his season prematurely and the team released him in the offseason. He was set to earn $11,874,750 this season, but will likely have to settle for far less at this stage, with the season fast approaching and salary-cap space at a premium.
At 31, he may not have many big paydays left, but the Falcons could offer him a short-term deal and the opportunity to be a key defensive contributor with a familiar coordinator.
It seems like a long time ago that Kenny Vaccaro was one of the most promising young safeties in the NFL. After an impressive rookie season in Rob Ryan’s aggressive New Orleans Saints defense, expectations were high. He struggled to maintain that level of performance, though.
While there were more good seasons than bad, he never became a player who could be counted on consistently.
There’s plenty to link Vaccaro with the Atlanta Falcons. The fanbase will be well aware of him thanks to five years with a division rival, but it runs deeper than that. General manager Terry Fontenot was a pro scout in New Orleans when Vaccaro was drafted, just months before his promotion to director of pro scouting.
Furthermore, Vaccaro played under Pees for two seasons with the Titans. He started 29 regular-season games and three postseason games in that time.
While the Atlanta Falcons have a number of options at the position with Duron Harmon, Erik Harris, and Richie Grant, Pees is no stranger to rolling out three safety sets. A player like Vaccaro, who can roam around the box could be valuable. At 30, he’s not a long-term option, but he could be a cheap, valuable depth piece.
It’s honestly pretty surprising that we haven’t heard more about Correa to the Falcons. The linebacker was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft while Pees was the defensive coordinator. When Pees joined the Tennessee Titans in the same position, the team traded for Correa shortly before the season began.
Correa was an underwhelming player in Baltimore, struggling to earn playing time on a talented defense. His two years under Pees’ leadership in Tennessee proved more fruitful, though.
His defensive snaps increased and he was on the field for 30-40 percent of plays. While he still struggled at times, he was able to have the most productive two-year stretch of his career, with 8.5 sacks in the regular season and a further two in the playoffs across.
Correa wouldn’t fix the Atlanta Falcons pass rush, but he could be an upgrade to what the Falcons were likely to get from Barkevious Mingo, who was released amid troubling legal allegations. He’d be a natural fit for the defensive scheme, having played in it for the majority of his professional career.
He’d also likely be available for the veteran minimum of $990,000, a figure that he agreed to earlier in the offseason with the Kansas City Chiefs before they cut him.