Early Bird Report: How Drew Brees' return could impact the Saints' offseason

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On Tuesday afternoon, Saints quarterback Drew Brees posted on Instagram that he would be returning for his 20th season in the NFL.

This news obviously has both far-reaching implications for the NFL as well as the Falcons, who play the Saints twice each season as members of the NFC South. Brees has given Atlanta plenty of competitive games over the years, and he can't be counted out regardless of his age.

So, what does his return mean for the Saints' immediate future and, by extension, the Falcons'? ESPN's Mike Triplett provided a thorough rundown of the ripple effect Brees' decision could have on the Saints' roster. Backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is an unrestricted free agent, and Triplett believes he's the "odd man out" in New Orleans with Brees returning, and he thinks Taysom Hill could be the quarterback the team chooses to retain as a backup.

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Depending on the contract Brees, who is an unrestricted free agent as of now, signs with New Orleans, the team could have some choices to make with a handful of quality players.

"Until now, the Saints have used that creative cap management to keep reloading their roster year after year, re-signing core veterans such as Michael Thomas, Cameron Jordan and Terron Armstead to lucrative extensions while adding a few key free agents," Triplett writes. "That's going to get harder now that their spectacular 2017 draft class is eligible for contract extensions. We could see holdouts this offseason from guys such as running back Alvin Kamara (one year left on his deal), cornerback Marshon Lattimore (two years left) and right tackle Ryan Ramczyk (two years left).

"The Saints also need to decide how many of their unrestricted free agents to keep this year. That list includes G Andrus Peat, S Vonn Bell, CB Eli Apple, LB A.J. Klein, DT David Onyemata, CB P.J. Williams and WR Ted Ginn Jr., among others."

To read the rest of Triplett's explainer for ESPN, click here.

Here are some other articles for Falcons fans to check out today:

Pro Football Focus: Viable low-cost free agents at each position

It remains to be seen how much money the Falcons will have to play around with in free agency this season as well as how many holes they need to fill after making some decisions regarding their own personnel. If Atlanta does need to keep a close eye on the salary cap, they could be looking to add some players who won't command top dollar but still could provide needed value. Pro Football Focus has compiled a list of players they believe could be helpful for teams who can't afford to break the bank.

If Atlanta chooses not to resign tight end Austin Hooper, PFF has an idea of someone who could potentially fill that role at a lower cost: Tyler Eifert.

"Eifert's 2019 season didn't have the upside of what we saw in 2015 when Eifert earned a receiving grade of 89.7 and caught 13 touchdown passes, but he was a solid option at tight end on limited snaps. The Cincinnati Bengals used him almost exclusively in passing situations — just 80 of his 491 snaps came as a run blocker — and he put up respectable numbers with a 65.8 receiving grade and 43 receptions for 436 yards on that bad Bengals offense. The physical toll of all those injuries may have sapped some of Eifert's athleticism, but he still makes some sense as a cheaper alternative to guys like Hunter Henry, Austin Hooper and Eric Ebron for a team in need of a receiving threat at the tight end position."

To see the rest of PFF's list of low-cost options in free agency, click here.

ESPN: Projecting the offseason for NFC teams

The Atlanta Falcons figure to have a busy offseason ahead of them. Not only are a number of notable veterans set to hit free agency, but the team will have to get creative to gain some extra cap space if they want to add a few players who are on the open market.

In projecting the offseason, ESPN's Bill Barnwell took a spin around the NFC to look at what each team could do. He had five predictions for Atlanta, which started by clearing out some additional cap space.

"The Falcons don't have much room to work with as they try to rebuild their defense," Barnwell writes. "What's even worse is that they don't even really have all that much flexibility to create room; after converting $12.5 million of Matt Ryan's $20.5 million base salary into a bonus in January, there's no other massive salary they would feel comfortable turning into a signing bonus for space. The best Atlanta can really do is convert $10 million of Julio Jones' $11.2 million base salary into a signing bonus, which would free up $7.5 million in room."

Along with clearing up cap space, Barnwell believes the Falcons shouldn't be afraid to let Pro Bowl tight end Austin Hooper leave in free agency. Despite his production in recent seasons, the former third-round pick would likely be too expensive for a team that needs to invest some assets into the defense, Barnwell argues.

Next on Barnwell's list for Atlanta is finding a top-tier pass rusher, which should not come as a surprise to anyone. After announcing their intentions to let Vic Beasley hit free agency, the Falcons are expected to address the edge position in some way this offseason. Another addition on the defensive line could benefit the Falcons, according to Barnwell. He thinks finding an impact nose tackle to pair with Pro Bowler Grady Jarrett would go a long way, although Tyeler Davison performed well in that role in 2019 and could be someone the Falcons try to bring back next year.

And finally, although Devonta Freeman remains on the roster, Barnwell believes the Falcons should look at drafting a running back. If the team decides to clear up some cap space by parting ways with Freeman, Atlanta could turn its attention to what is a pretty strong and deep crop of runners in this year's draft class.

ESPN: Playoffs are Falcons owner's standard

After a two-year postseason drought, the Falcons want to continue playing football past December. Atlanta ended the 2019 season with six wins in its last eight games, and Falcons owner Arthur Blank is optimistic that the corrections made last year will carry into 2020. But, as he told ESPN's Vaughn McClure, the standard for the upcoming season is to reach the playoffs.

"Yep," Blank told McClure when asked if the playoffs are the standard. "I can definitely say that's right."

The Falcons will likely retool their roster in the coming months through free agency and the draft, but it's clear that Blank is ready to make another run at the postseason.

To read the rest of McClure's discussion with Blank, click here.

Pro Football Focus: Top 101 players from 2019

Despite a down year, some of the Falcons' best players continued to dominate their competition. None more so than receiver Julio Jones, who has staked his case to be among the very best in NFL history to play the position. Jones caught 99 passes for 1,394 yards, coming just six yards shy of reaching 1,400 yards for the sixth-straight season. No other receiving in league history has ever reached that threshold for more than four straight seasons. In their ranking of the 101 best players of the 2019 season, Pro Football Focus had Jones at No. 25.

"Julio Jones had something of a down year in 2019, yet he still ended the season with 1,394 yards and 99 receptions from 149 targets. Jones had the third-best PFF receiving grade among wide receivers (90.3) and gained 2.44 yards per route run, the fifth-best mark in the league. This represents the first season in the last five in which Jones didn't lead the NFL in that yards per route run category. Though this season wasn't quite his best, Jones was still among the very best players in football at any position — that's how good his very best play is."

Coming in just behind Jones on the list was fellow Pro Bowler Grady Jarrett. The disruptive defensive tackle put together a career year for Atlanta, finishing with 7.5 sacks and 12 tackles for a loss. He ranked 27th on PFF's list, his highest finish ever. Left tackle Jake Matthews was the only other Falcons player to make the list, earning the No. 96 spot.

To see the full PFF ranking of the top 101 players from 2019, click here.

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