Falcons, Fontenot shrewd in first wave of free agency

General manager Terry Fontenot at the NFL Combine
General manager Terry Fontenot at the NFL Combine / Stacy Revere/GettyImages

The Atlanta Falcons and general manager Terry Fontenot began the 2023 NFL new league year with the most cap space available to spend in years. Falcons fans were hopeful that Fontenot would spend somewhat big, but also spend wisely. Fontenot has not disappointed, bringing in several key players as well as retaining some of their own.


On the offensive side of the ball, the Falcons have re-signed two players in tackle Kaleb McGary and fullback Keith Smith.

The Falcons and McGary agreed to terms on a $34.5 million deal over three years. McGary was expected to earn much more after a much improved 2022 season, which makes this re-signing by Fontenot impressive.

Atlanta agreed to a one-year deal with Keith Smith, as Smith has been solid and durable during his time in Atlanta. Smith has been with Atlanta since 2019 and has not missed a single game during his tenure with the Dirty Birds.

Also Read: 3 Reasons why the Atlanta Falcons won't trade for Lamar Jackson.

The Falcons also extended standout Guard Chris Lindstrom. Lindstrom has continued to improve year after year in Atlanta after being drafted in 2019. Lindstrom and the Falcons agreed to a five-year, $105 million deal which sees Lindstrom as the highest-paid guard in the league. This move was expected as the Falcons could not afford to lose him as he is one of the best interior offensive linemen in the NFL.

In a move that solidified the expectations for Desmond Ridder to be the starter going forward, the Falcons signed quarterback Taylor Heinicke to a two-year, $20 million deal. This addition makes sense as the Falcons chose not to go after Lamar Jackson, and Heinicke being from Atlanta.

The thought is that Heinicke will provide competition for Ridder, but Ridder is still expected to be the starter at quarterback for Atlanta come September. Nonetheless, Heinicke impressed during his time at Washington and can step in to win games if need be.

Another addition to the offense that was not a free-agent signing was acquiring tight end Jonnu Smith in a trade with the Patriots. The Falcons landed the former Titan, who has familiarity with Arthur Smith's system, for just a seventh-round pick. The thought of Kyle Pitts and Jonnu Smith being on the field simultaneously is a nightmare for opposing defenses.

Jonnu Smith played his best ball thus far while in Tennessee when Arthur Smith was the offensive coordinator. In the 2019 and 2020 seasons, Smith caught 76 passes for 887 yards and 11 touchdowns, with eight of those scores coming in the 2020 season. It is clear to see that Jonnu Smith had his best seasons to date when Arthur Smith was on the Titans coaching staff.


Fontenot and the Falcons splashed a little more cash on the defensive side of the ball. New defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen brought in some former Saints, which may take some time to get used to. However, bringing in those players make sense as Nielsen used to coach for New Orleans, and not weaken our rivals while strengthening our roster.

One of the former Saints the Falcons brought in is Kaden Elliss. Elliss is an outside linebacker and is versatile. The Falcons signed Elliss to a three-year, $21.5 million contract. Ellis tallied 67 combined tackles as well as seven sacks last season.

The Falcons also signed former Saints defensive lineman David Onyemata. Onyemata, 30, brings loads of experience and will be a thorn in opposing offenses' sides next to Grady Jarrett. Onyemata finished last season with five sacks and 36 tackles. The Falcons signed Onyemeta on a $35 million contract that spans over three years.

The Falcons re-signed outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter to a two-year deal. Last season, Carter totaled four sacks and 58 tackles for the Falcons. Carter will return as a rotational piece and depth for Ryan Nielsen.

The Falcons continued to add to their linebacker room by signing Tae Davis to a one-year contract. While this is not the most exciting signing, we can expect Davis to contribute heavily on special teams and rotate occasionally/provide backup for Mykal Walker and Troy Andersen.

The most notable addition on defense is safety Jessie Bates. Bates agreed to terms with the Falcons on a four-year, $64 million deal. Bates, 26, will bring experience and much-needed help at the safety position for Atlanta.

Bates has been one of the best in the league at his position over the past few seasons. During his five years with the Bengals, Bates tallied 461 tackles, defended 43 passes, and caught 14 interceptions. Last season, Bates made four interceptions and defended eight passes.

Special Teams

A move that may go unnoticed or not receive as much attention is the re-signing of punter Bradley Pinion. The Falcons resigned Pinion to a three-year, $8.65 million deal. Pinion averaged almost 46 yards per punt last season in Atlanta on 62 punts, with his longest punt being 73 yards.

The Falcons also re-signed long-snapper Liam McCullough to a one-year deal.

Fontenot making signings that improve the team

So far this offseason, Terry Fontenot as not disappointed. Fontenot has not dished out any team-hindering contracts and has improved the team with every player he has brought in. This has been quite the change from the last two off-seasons, when the Falcons and Fontenot had practically no cap space to work with thanks to the previous regime.

The Falcons have improved their roster just by adding a few key players, and it will be interesting to see which route they choose to take in the upcoming NFL draft in April.

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