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.
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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.