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Bair Mail: On potentially drafting C.J. Stroud, free agency and the value of re-signing Kaleb McGary

Tori McElhaney tackles your questions as she takes over the mailbag for Scott Bair. 

Well, the Kansas City Chiefs are your Super Bowl champions. And with their win, we officially enter into the offseason... for everyone.

We're two weeks away from the Combine and a month away from the start of the new league year. So, you know what we call this dead period in February? Speculation Season (yes, I am trademarking that).

So, let's get to the speculating.

Will S. from Summerville, Ga.

Hi Tori, welcome back. Can you make a prediction? Which of our free agents will be re-signed and which will move on? Thanks!

Yes, if you're reading this you are reading the thoughts and opinions of Tori McElhaney. Hello again!

OK. Let's start with who I would like to re-sign. Personally, I think there is value in bringing back MyCole Pruitt, Bradley Pinion, Isaiah Oliver, Colby Gossett and Rashaan Evans. When it comes to Pruitt, Pinion, Gossett and Oliver, I think they did enough to stay in Atlanta longer. Pruitt stepped up in Kyle Pitts' absence, Pinion was reliable throughout most of 2022. Gossett was an important (and often used) depth piece within the offensive line. And Oliver? I'd like to see what he could do working with Jerry Gray to be honest, especially if the Falcons are going to carry over a few nickel packages into 2023.

Then, there's Evans. And look, I get it: Evans is a Dean Pees guy. They were together in Tennessee and it likely played a part in why Evans produced like he did last year in Atlanta. However, I believe Evans could provide value in what Ryan Nielsen wants to do with the Falcons, too. The production and leadership is there with Evans. And let's be honest, too: Inside linebackers? They're expensive. And with so many needs on the defensive line, I think by prioritizing Evans in free agency you're then able to prioritize different levels of the defense in free agency and the draft (i.e. literally everywhere else: edge rusher, interior and secondary depth).


Now onto the second part of your question: Who am I letting walk. Honestly, I think there's an argument to part ways with Lorenzo Carter. That may anger a few readers, but I don't truly know how someone like Nielsen feels about Carter, his 2022 production and how he fits in what the new defensive coordinator wants to do. Could the Falcons keep him as key depth piece on another short-term deal? Absolutely. Will they want to do that, particularly if they find themselves pumping money into this specific position? Maybe not.

I also think the bottom part of the roster has the ability to churn at an accelerated rate. So, you're looking at players like Damiere Byrd, Germain Ifedi, Anthony Firkser, Chuma Edoga, Abdullah Anderson, Khadarel Hodge. Though they all played a role for the Falcons in 2022, I am not sold on them having anything similar waiting for them in 2023 in Atlanta.

Now, I know what you're thinking: "Tori, umm... What about Kaleb McGary?"

I'm glad you asked. He gets his own section.

Atlanta Falcons tackle Kaleb McGary #76 in action during the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, GA on Sunday, January 8, 2023. (Photo by Kyle Hess/Atlanta Falcons)

Mark S. from Hegins, (I assume) Pennsylvania (?)

I know McGary had his best year, but I would let him walk and try and find a Day 2 draft pick for that position and possibly bring in a vet to hold down the line until the rookie can start or win that position.

I just can't see spending a ton of money at that position when I really believe that there are some really good linemen in this year's draft....your thought on moving away from McGary?

This is hard, because as the weeks have gone on, I've found myself on Team McGary. I think if this is the beginning of January, I agree with you that he moves on. And I felt that way for similar reasons to you: Go draft someone, bring in a vet on a short-term deal, don't spend the money on McGary when you're (hypothetically) already paying Jake Matthews and Chris Lindstrom a large portion of your cap. How can you justify putting that much money into one position group when there are so many needs elsewhere, too?

I don't know if I agree with my January self anymore, though, because I like the idea of keeping McGary around for a number of reasons. First off, I want this 2022 offensive line to stay together as much as possible. I really do. The connection McGary and Lindstrom have is pretty special when you watch it, and when you talk to them about it.

I also think there's a way to negotiate the contract where (hypothetically, again) you are paying Lindstrom and McGary at different intervals over the next three to four years in a way that works for your long-term salary cap health. Essentially where you don't have both guys taking up too much of the salary cap percentage in one singular year. I think that is doable.

In my opinion, McGary was one of the best - if not the best - stories of the 2022 season. I am not ready to see that story end just yet.

Chrystian P. from Canton, Ga.

I have been looking at mock drafts, and I ran across Cynthia (Frelund)'s one where C.J. Shroud fell to 8th and she has the Falcons taking him. What would you make of the Falcons drafting a QB if they have the opportunity? I personally just want them to take the BPA no matter what because forcing a pick because of a need can never be a good deal.

I would only do it if Arthur Smith and Co. absolutely fall in love, head over heels love, with Stroud. I don't mind the Falcons drafting a quarterback, but I would much rather see the Falcons draft a defensive player in the first round. Whether it's an edge rusher, a cornerback or an interior lineman, I am fine with any of those choices in the first round. But a quarterback? I'm not sold on that move just yet, even if Stroud is there at No. 8.

Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback C.J. Stroud (7) during a NCAA college football game against the Arkansas State Red Wolves on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022 in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Emilee Chinn)

If I am being honest with you (and I can be honest here, right? This is a safe space?), I want to see Desmond Ridder be given the reigns of the offense in 2023. I thought the growth we saw from Ridder in just four games was exponential. He still has a ways to go, to be sure, but why not give him a longer shot to go out and be the guy?

Now, does this cancel out the need to bring in a quarterback? No. Not by any stretch of the imagination. But I do think it changes the way you look at building out the room.

I'm not clamoring for Stroud at No. 8. I'm clamoring for a player that could come in, on Day 1, and make a difference in the way this 2023 Falcons team operates. I'm not ready to say right now that the player to do that is Stroud.

Call for questions

I'm passing the proverbial mailbag baton to Ashton Edmunds for Wednesday's installment of Bair Mail. So, y'all make sure he has some good questions to choose from! You can submit said questions here.

Join us as we take a look back at our favorite photos of our rookies from the 2022 Atlanta Falcons season.

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