6 Free Agents the Atlanta Falcons should look at now that the draft is over
Free agents for the Atlanta Falcons following the draft
The Atlanta Falcons have had an extremely productive offseason, but there are six guys in free agency they should take a look at to help them get to the next level. Atlanta has brought in some amazing players this offseason, starting with safety Jessie Bates, defensive linemen Calais Campbell and David Onyemata, and edge defender Bud Dupree. They have also addressed some starting roles with up-and-coming players like Kaden Elliss at linebacker, Jeff Okudah at cornerback and Mack Hollins and Scotty Miller at wide receiver.
The Falcons even had a very good draft haul that includes running back Bijan Robinson, left guard Matt Bergeron, defensive lineman Zach Harrison and projected nickel corner, Clark Phillips. However, there are still holes on the roster where depth could be added at a minimum. There are still spots on the roster where adding a veteran at a reasonable salary could give the Falcons a real shot not just at winning the division and making the playoffs but getting relatively deep into those playoffs.
When looking at the depth chart and roster graphics above, the obvious holes on the roster at this time are at wide receiver, a veteran to actually compete at left guard and not just have Hennessy or Mayfield compete there, a true swing tackle, a mentor/rotational reserve at edge defender or even a starter there, and a veteran linebacker who could come in and compete for a starting role. The Falcons could look at any of the following players to compete with the current roster and potentially elevate it not just from a depth perspective but as a starter.
WR Sammy Watkins, competing for the No. 2 WR role
Projected contract: 1 year, $1.5 million
The Atlanta Falcons could use a true No. 2 wide receiver in their offense. While Mack Hollins and Scotty Miller are currently the competitors for the role, adding in veteran competition is a smart move. Sammy Watkins never lived up to his billing as the No. 4 overall pick by the Buffalo Bills back in 2014, but he has still had a relatively productive career with 364 receptions, 5,384 yards, and 34 touchdowns over his career. A combination of injuries and poor quarterback play has hurt his production throughout his time in the NFL.
However, Watkins now has the experience to at least lead a group of young wide receivers as a mentor while he competes for playing time as a No. 2 in the offense. His 6-foot-1, 211-pound frame would be a unique addition to the Falcons' wide receiver corps that has multiple large guys, and multiple small guys, but no one in the middle. Having that speed option who can still create big plays is something missing in this offense, and Watkins at a minimum would upgrade from Miller as a No. 3 wide receiver in the offense.
OL Dalton Risner, competing for the starting LG role
Projected contract: 1 year, $2 million
While the Falcons have left their left guard position to be competed over by a converted left tackle in Matt Bergeron, a converted center in Matt Hennessy, and a converted right tackle in Jalen Mayfield, they should consider a natural left guard for competition in Dalton Risner. He started the last four seasons for the Broncos at left guard playing in a similar scheme to what the Falcons run in Atlanta based around inside and outside zone blocking and play-action passing schemes.
Risner is more of a pass blocker than a run blocker and has shown proficiency there averaging a 71.4 Pro Football Focus pass-blocking grade during his time in the NFL. He's also improved in that grade every year and has allowed a total of 10 sacks, 22 hits, and 68 hurries over his first four seasons. That is over 2,157 pass-blocking snaps. So while the numbers may look high, that's less than a one percent sack rate, a one percent hit rate, and a three percent hurry rate. 95 percent of the time, the quarterback doesn't have to worry about his left guard allowing pressure. That is worth bringing in for the competition.
OT Isaiah Wynn, competing for the swing OT role
Projected contract: 1 year, veteran minimum
The Atlanta Falcons starting group of offensive linemen all look pretty solid. However, there is a need for depth behind Jake Matthews at left tackle. Outside of Matthews at left tackle, the options should he get hurt don't look very inspiring. There's a rookie in Matt Bergeron who should play guard, a 2022 undrafted free agent with no game experience in Tyler Vrabel, and a street-free agent from the Cardinals named Joshua Miles who has no competent experience there.
Isaiah Wynn would be a massive depth upgrade for the Falcons as a left tackle and gameday swing tackle should Matthews or starting right tackle Kaleb McGary get hurt during a game. The Falcons could bring in the former Georgia Bulldog and New England Patriot and have a real upgrade behind Matthews and McGary. Germain Ifedi is the only other swing tackle option on the roster, and trying him at left tackle in case of emergency would be a recipe for disaster. Wynn would be a perfect fit for this role and could benefit from being in a less demanding situation than New England.
EDGE Justin Houston, competing for the EDGE mentor role
Projected contract: 1 year, $2.5 million
The Falcons could use someone to help them develop Arnold Ebiketie and DeAngelo Malone, the second-year talents that they took on the second day of the 2022 NFL Draft. There's a ton of talent in those two, and with mentorship, they could end up being much better than they were as rookies. Both guys are primed for second-year jumps, but adding Justin Houston could help them with pass rush plans, hand usage, and snap timing, weaknesses in their game.
Houston at this point is still a competent pass rusher and bringing him in will allow the Falcons to have another veteran rotational guy with Bud Dupree and Lorenzo Carter. He could potentially end up being the Falcons leading pass rusher with his talent, but the Falcons would need to have an extremely varied pass-rushing attack for that to happen. Houston shouldn't be too expensive as he's on the downside of his career. This would be like signing Dwight Freeney before the 2016 season.
EDGE Leonard Floyd, competing for a starting EDGE role
Projected contract: 1 year, $2.5 million
While the Falcons could look for a mentor for the young group, they could also look into a true starting edge defender to force DeAngelo Malone, Bud Dupree, and Lorenzo Carter into pure rotational roles. Leonard Floyd would be a very interesting addition to the team. Floyd was an extremely good pass rusher for the Rams last year collecting 9 sacks, 12 hits, and 33 hurries on 481 pass rushes, a rate of one pressure per 8.9 snaps, which would have been the best for the Falcons during the 2022 season.
He's used to playing with talented interior defensive linemen, but Grady Jarrett should make that transition easier for him. Add in David Onyemata and Calais Campbell, and Floyd should have an overall upgraded group to work with than what he had with the Rams. Floyd could come right in and be the primary edge rusher while also being a mentor for guys like Malone and Arnold Ebiketie, allowing the Falcons to truly build a pass rush from all angles.
LB Zach Cunningham, competing for a starting LB role
Projected contract: 1 year, veteran minimum
Zach Cunningham is a unique player because when he's healthy, he has shown that he can be a competent all-around linebacker in any system. He's able to shed blocks and can play above average in coverage and even add a blitzing option on the interior. However, he's been dealing with injuries for the last two seasons that have limited his production and play on the field. The Falcons should consider bringing him in on a prove-it deal to enhance the depth in that unit.
Even if Cunningham can't win the starting job from Troy Andersen or Kaden Elliss—who are slated to be the starters, he could be that depth piece that would see action should either of them get hurt without much drop-off. He could also lead a special teams unit that will try to stay at the top of the pack. The Falcons are building something in Atlanta, and getting guys like Cunningham to be depth and special teams pieces is one way to continue building it the right way.
All advanced stats are courtesy Pro Football Focus or Football Outsiders. All traditional stats are courtesy of official team websites, NFLGSIS or CFB Stats. All RAS and athletic testing numbers are courtesy of DraftScout.com and Kent Lee Platte's RAS Football website.