NFL free agency primer: Falcons' team needs, key dates, list of free agents, completed deals

Posted Mar 13, 2018

When the clock strikes 4 p.m. on the East Coast on Wednesday, free agency will officially begin in the NFL.

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – When the clock strikes 4 p.m. on the East Coast on Wednesday, free agency will officially begin in the NFL.

This is an exciting time for teams and fan bases around the league as bidding wars break out and improvements are made by clubs who hope to compete for the Lombardi Trophy in the fall.


With free agency just around the corner, Falcons fans may be looking for a refresher on the league timeline, which Falcons players are set to hit free agency and what moves the team has already made. Luckily, we’ve compiled all of that information.

Oh, and be sure to check out or Falcons Free Agent Tracker, which will drop at the start of free agency and will be updated throughout the coming weeks with any moves the team makes.


What the Falcons have done to date

Here are the moves the Falcons have announced prior to the start of free agency on Wednesday:


The official start of free agency and timeline

Beginning Monday, teams are permitted to contact and enter into contract negotiations with the agents of players who will become unrestricted free agents at the start of the new league year, which begins at 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday.

This time, known as the 48-hour legal tampering period, allows teams to contact agents, but no contracts can be signed until the beginning of the new league year.  

At 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday, all 2017 contracts will expire and teams will be free to officially sign players who have become unrestricted free agents. The trading period for 2018 will also officially begin at the start of the new league year, allowing teams to announce and send any trade agreements to the league office.


Falcons’ team needs heading into free agency

Nobody outside of the team’s headquarters in Flowery Branch can say for sure what the Falcons’ plan is heading into free agency, but there are a few positions that it makes sense for them to target. It’s important to note, however, that the Falcons have limited cap space available and likely won’t make many big splashes in free agency.

Defensive line: Potentially losing Adrian Clayborn, Dontari Poe, Ahtyba Rubin and Courtney Upshaw would create a need for both talent and depth along the defensive line. This is a position that could be addressed in the draft, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them sign a cost-effective player on the defensive line.

Fullback: With Derrick Coleman expected to hit free agency, the Falcons may look to add a fullback in free agency or the draft.

Offensive guard: The Falcons don’t have a glaring hole at offensive guard with Andy Levitre and Wes Schweitzer returning, but many feel it’s a position that could be upgraded or provided with some additional depth.

Tight end: There’s no need to hit the panic button with Austin Hooper, who continued to make strides in Year 2, but Levine Toilolo will be released at the start of the new league year leaving the need for a veteran to be added at the position.

Wide receiver: Taylor Gabriel is one of the Falcons’ more notable free agents, leaving a potential void at the third receiver position. His speed will be hard to replace, but there are some fast receivers expected to be on the market who the Falcons could pursue.


List of Falcons’ unrestricted free agents

Adrian Clayborn, DE - Clayborn recorded a career-high 9.5 sacks in 2017, including a franchise-record six sacks in the Falcons’ win over the Cowboys – one shy of the NFL single-game record.

Derrick Coleman, FB - Coleman signed a one-year deal with the Falcons prior to the start of last season. The fullback position isn’t nearly as prominent in today’s NFL as it was in previous decades, but the Falcons have often been among the teams that utilize a lead blocker in the backfield.

Taylor Gabriel, WR - The 26-year-old receiver was re-signed prior to the 2017 season, and he once again proved to be a unique part of Atlanta’s offense. In his two seasons with the Falcons, Gabriel caught 68 passes for 957 yards and seven touchdowns.

Kemal Ishmael, LB - A versatile defender who has transitioned between safety and linebacker during his career, Ishmael started one game for the Falcons in 2017 and recorded 13 tackles with one sack.

Dontari Poe, DT - One of the primary free-agent signings for the Falcons last offseason, Poe agreed to a one-year deal with Atlanta for the 2017 season. Poe recorded 23 tackles and 2.5 sacks in 2017.

LaRoy Reynolds, LB - A leader in the locker room, Reynolds began the season on injured reserve but was a key figure on special teams when he returned and recovered two fumbles on punt coverage during the postseason.

Andre Roberts, WR - The Falcons signed Roberts to a one-year deal last offseason to serve as the team’s primary kick and punt returner. Roberts led the league with 38 kickoff returns in 2017 and his 860 kickoff return yards were the third-most in the NFL.

Ahtyba Rubin, DL - The 31-year-old defensive tackle was active for 10 games during the 2017 season, recording 15 tackles and two tackles in the playoffs.

Jordan Tripp, LB - After Reynolds was placed on injured reserve to start the 2017 season, the Falcons signed Tripp to a one-year contract. Tripp was active for three games while battling injuries of his own. The 26-year-old linebacker has two starts in his four-year NFL career with 11 tackles.

Courtney Upshaw, DL - In his two years with Atlanta, Upshaw started five games and was active for 26 contests, primarily providing depth on the defensive line. The 28-year-old recorded 32 tackles, two sacks and two forced fumbles in his two seasons with the Falcons.

Sean Weatherspoon, LB - Weatherspoon spent his first five seasons in Atlanta after the Falcons selected him with the 19th overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. Another vocal, veteran presence in the locker room, Weatherspoon was active for two games in 2017 and recorded one tackle.


List of Falcons’ restricted free agents

Ricardo Allen, S - Allen was signed to a one-year contract as an exclusive rights free agent for the 2017 season, and he will be a restricted free agent this offseason. Allen started 45 games for the Falcons over the past three years, recording 212 tackles and six interceptions in that time. The Falcons have placed a second-round tender on Allen.

Ben Garland, OL - Garland started five games for the Falcons last season, including both playoff games, and he was a primary contender for the vacant right guard position prior to the season. The Falcons have placed a second-round tender on Garland.

Terron Ward, RB - A reliable third running back during his time in Atlanta, Ward was active for 14 games in 2017 and gained 129 yards on 30 carries.

Nick Williams, WR - The 27-year-old receiver played in one game during the 2017 season, catching three passes for 30 yards.


List of Falcons’ exclusive rights free agents

Sharrod Neasman, S - Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2016, Neasman played in 11 games for the Falcons in 2017 and forced one fumble. As an exclusive rights free agent, Neasman will only be free to sign with another team if the Falcons decide to release him.

Please Note

The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed on represent those of the individual authors. Unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions or policies of the Atlanta Falcons’ organization, front office staff, coaches and executives. The writers’ views are formulated independently from any inside knowledge and/or conversations with Falcons officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.