The Atlanta Falcons may have lost the Super Bowl. They may have blown a 25-point lead. They may never recover psychologically from a day like that one (the fans are still feeling it the most though, I imagine). But as opposed to recent Super Bowl losers like the Carolina Panthers and San Francisco 49ers, I don’t see the Falcons reeling for long after their heartbreaking win.
Because unlike those teams, and even unlike the 2013 Denver Broncos, Atlanta reached the Super Bowl well before they peaked.
(The Broncos peaked in 2015 but only after totally retooling their defense.)
There are at least 6-7 players who are the clear future of the Falcons defense: Deion Jones, Desmond Trufant, Vic Beasley, Keanu Neal, Grady Jarrett, and Robert Alford. There are so more who could also help (De’Vondre Campbell, Jalen Collins) but honestly those first six alone compile one of the youngest, most exciting defensive cores in the NFL. Atlanta may have finished 27th in points allowed and 25th in yards allowed last year, but that was with a lot of first, second, and third-year players. Trufant was already among the best at his position, but Beasley joined the elite in 2016, while Jones and Neal seem destined to carry the same title by 2017.
Now stop me before I remind you that the Falcons had the best offense in the league last season.
While the offense should get worse, they’ll probably only “regress” to being a top-5 offense instead of the very best. They’ll score a couple fewer points per game, but they’ll allow perhaps 5-6 points less than they did in 2016 too. To me that adds up to Atlanta being a better team than they were last season, when they finished a collapse/OT short of a championship.
They don’t have a ton of cap room, but they have some with only a few priority re-signings. Moving on from some of the older, less-skilled defensive players should just make more room for the young guys. That’s not a bad thing. Will the Seattle Seahawks be looking to poach any of Dan Quinn’s castoffs?
I thought that boat was supposed to be going the other way, but now it’s Quinn who just went to the Super Bowl, not Pete Carroll.
Impending Free Agents
Dwight Freeney, OLB/DE
Freeney plans to return for a 16th season and the Falcons may be his most logical destination. They’re already a contender and he flat out said he would most likely return to Atlanta. He recorded just three sacks last season but in very limited action and it sounds like he just wants to hang around a team that might win a Super Bowl. If he wants to do that in Seattle, he’d probably have to take an even bigger paycut.
Courtney Upshaw, LB/DT
Upshaw is a “name” because of his time at Alabama but he hasn’t been more than a role player in the NFL. The Falcons moved him from linebacker to defensive tackle and he recorded 23 tackles and 0.5 sacks. He only played for $1.25 million last season and he’s likely to return to Atlanta on a similar contract.
Tom Compton, OT
Dave Choate of The Falcoholic told me that Compton was “just a body” but that others had a higher opinion of Compton than he did. I can’t imagine that being “just a body” will deter the Seahawks on its own, however. What is Bradley Sowell?
In five seasons, Compton has made 11 starts, including nine for the Washington Redskins in 2014. He’s also played some guard. He’s pretty athletic for a big guy, so if it’s a one-year, $1.5 million deal, I could see the Seahawks get involved ... as sad as that sounds to most of you. It’s essentially replacing Garry Gilliam with someone far less experienced but at the price they’re willing to pay for a rotational right tackle.
Kemal Ishmael, S
Ishmael could be the low-key steal for safeties this year. A seventh round pick out of Central Florida in 2013, Ishmael had 49 tackles and two passes defensed in limited action last season. In 2014, he had 96 tackles and four interceptions. Obviously Quinn asked him to do some different things when he arrived in 2015, and that decreased his presence on the field, but maybe not his impact when he was on the field. He is a wonderful fit athletically for what Carroll likes though: 1.53 10-yard split, 10’3 broad jump, 35.5” vertical.
There’s something to watch out for there, but would Seattle have enough of a role and enough money to draw him away from another team? Most likely he re-signs with the Falcons but perhaps the market for him is bigger than we know given the attraction to S/LB “hybrids” and the possibilities with Ishmael.
Others: QB Matt Schaub, DE Jonathan Babineaux, G Chris Chester, WR/KR Eric Weems, FS Dashon Goldson, TE Jacob Tamme, LB Philip Wheeler, LB Sean Weatherspoon, FB Patrick DiMarco, WR Aldrick Robinson, LB LaRoy Reynolds, TE Levine Toilolo, LB Paul Worrilow
Potential Cap Casualties
Adrian Clayborn, DE
Tyson Jackson, DE
Brooks, Reed, DE
I didn’t identify many players who Atlanta could release that are of any note, and three of the legit notable cuts were defensive ends. Releasing these three players would free up about $10 million in cap space. Run defense aside, these three combined for seven sacks. Jackson is just abysmal at this point in his career and it’s amazing how much he’s earned for being a run-stopping defensive end simply because he was the third overall pick in an awful class.
Tyson Jackson has made over $73 million in his career. He has recorded a sack nine times total.— Field Gulls (@FieldGulls) March 7, 2017
Andy Levitre, G
Levitre has had an up-and-down career, and he struggled in his first season after being traded to the Falcons (2015) and signing a four-year, $23.25 million deal. But he played much better in Atlanta’s Super Bowl season, potentially because of the addition of Alex Mack at center. The Falcons probably don’t want to lose Levitre, but could consider it if they don’t feel he’s worth his full $6.6 million cap hit. If he hits the market, Levitre seems like a guy who the Seahawks may target, much like Jahri Evans in 2016. I still consider that a big “If.”
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