FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – The Falcons released their first 53-man roster of the season, a document we've analyzed extensively since it dropped Tuesday around noon.
Instead of getting granular over surprise cuts or unforeseen inclusions on a fluid roster that will evolve as often as any in the league – Tori McElhaney already stuck the landing on that front -- let's analyze it from a broad view.
Take a few steps back. Look clearly at the roster as a whole. Rearrange it into an unofficial depth chart.
That's when it starts looking paper thin at several important spots.
We've been talking quarterbacks a ton lately, about who will be Matt Ryan's backup and how the Falcons season would spiral if the starter went down.
That's true of most any team. Here's where the Falcons are different. They're a key injury away from massive trouble in most position groups, able to field a competitive starting lineup with little to no injury protection behind it.
It's due to salary-cap issues and roster deficiencies inherited from a previous regime that, when combined, make enhancing this roster akin to walking though waist-deep mud.
Thomas Dimitroff oversaturated the dirt with massive contracts to a decent-sized selection and missed draft picks that could've retained roster depth on the cheap.
He didn't have to clean up the mess that left the 2021 Falcons handcuffed by a cap that also decreased, complicating things even further for a new regime that had to make some hard choices right off the bat.
Even by freeing up some cap space with the Julio Jones trade and contract restructures, they had to make a little go a long way.
Fontenot and Smith did a good job with it, adding midlevel veterans on short-term deals, but there's still a thin roster needing a good run of health.
While they aren't stacked at any position save inside linebacker, these Falcons have top-level talent. Calvin Ridley, Deion Jones and Grady Jarrett are elite. Matt Ryan's still got it. So does Jake Matthews. A.J. Terrell, Foye Oluokun and Chris Lindstrom are rising stars. Kyle Pitts could supernova as early as this year.
There's a segment of trustworthy talent in the next tier, including Russell Gage, Mike Davis and Hayden Hurst. Dante Fowler could join them by finding old form.
There are ways this team can regularly win and play better than the sum of its parts. It would be difficult, however, to thrive without individuals listed above for an extended stretch.
Fontenot and Smith have written initial chapters of a long book, one they hope will be filled with prolonged periods of sustained success. It'll take some time to get there. Let's not forget that.
Let's also recall the Falcons GM has made it clear the Falcons will not enter a full-scale rebuild. Declaring that you're in one excuses losing in the short term and, as Fontenot told me last month, it's "disrespectful" to those players, coaches and staff members putting their everything into winning each week.
That's admirable. It's also hard, and keeps the pressure on. Fontenot must keep drafting well and make smart financial decisions. Smith must find ways to win while developing talent that can help achieve greater ends in the future.
There's a clear plan in place here. It will take time to execute. They'll try to win a bunch in the interim, hoping health can help a relatively thin roster stay strong.
The Falcons' 2021 roster is constantly evolving and we've amassed all the players in one gallery that will be updated throughout the year.
Celebrate the return of Falcons football with a FREE kickoff party featuring special appearances by Jeezy, Pastor Troy, and Falcons Legend Michael Vick. Join current Falcons players and special guests as we kick off the 2021 season!
This event will be emceed by announcer Ryan Cameron and Falcons Legend Harry Douglas and will feature:
- Appearances by Calvin Ridley, Younghoe Koo, Mike Davis, Coach Smith and Terry Fontenot
- Special appearances by Jeezy, Pastor Troy, and Falcons Legend Michael Vick
- Performances by Falcons Cheerleaders and Freddie Falcon
- Giveaways and more!
Plus, gear up for gameday and shop our new Dirty Birds collection in-person at the Atlantic Station Team Store, located just across from the Atlantic Green.
Date: Friday, September 10 // Time: 7:00 pm – 9:00pm
Location: Outdoors in the Atlantic Green at Atlantic Station, near HOBNOB (245 18th St NW, Atlanta, GA 30363)