Editor's note:This story is a part of the Falcons Breakdown series, which evaluates each position group and how it will it look for next season.
When a new regime takes over an organization there is a certain sense of loyalty that is lost. It's just the way businesses are ran. When a new leader comes in, they - more likely than not - want to bring in their own people. We saw that happen within the Falcons organization in 2021 when Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith took over. It's something we will continue to see in the next year to two years as the new duo in charge continues to lay the foundation for what they want to build.
Some times, this loyalty is lost at the player level, too. But there is one player in particular who has never, ever given the Falcons a reason to not be loyal to him.
That player is Grady Jarrett.
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Jarrett has one year left on his contract with the Falcons, but there are a number of reasons to believe that Jarrett is someone this new regime would want to build around. And that process starts now, because 2021 showed it has to.
Last season was one of Jarrett's most unproductive seasons statistically. There's a reason for that, though: Opposing offensive lines could double - even triple - team Jarrett play after play simply because they felt as though Jarrett was the only threat. If they could mitigate Jarrett's explosiveness by building a wall in front of him, they could limit pressure put on their quarterback. And by the end of 2021, it didn't matter where Dean Pees put Jarrett. Without anyone else across Atlanta's defensive front able to affect the quarterback, all resources were put to stopping Jarrett.
"There have been times where we've put him outside, tried to rush him from outside, to try to keep him away from the big guys inside," Pees said. "...The thing you have to be able to do is you have to have somebody to put next to him."
That's what the Falcons have to find in 2022.
Primary 2021 production
Grady Jarrett: 17 games | one sack | one fumble recovery | 12 QB hits | 59 combined tackles (three for a loss) | overall defensive PFF grade 67.2
Tyeler Davison: 12 games | no sacks | no QB hits | 30 combined tackles (three for a loss) | overall defensive PFF grade 46.3
Marlon Davidson: 11 games | one sack | one interception | one fumble recovery | one QB hit | 21 combined tackles (one for a loss) | overall defensive PFF grade 55.1
Ta'Quan Graham: 13 games | no sacks | two QB hits | 15 combined tackles (two for a loss) | overall defensive PFF grade 47.3
Jonathan Bullard: Nine games | no sacks | one QB hit | 21 combined tackles (none for a loss) | overall defensive PFF grade 56.7
Anthony Rush: 10 games | no sacks | one forced fumble | one QB hit | 19 combined tackles (one for a loss) | overall defensive PFF grade 56.5
Mike Pennel: 10 games | no sacks | no QB hits | 21 combined tackles (none for a loss) | overall defensive PFF grade 49.0
Jarrett, Davidson, Graham, maybe Rush
Jarrett is someone the Falcons could continue to build around. Davidson and Graham are recent draft picks. Rush - who the Falcons acquired midseason - may have done enough in 2021 to warrant another year in Atlanta.
Who's on the chopping block
Davison, Bullard, Pennel
Davison still has one more year left on his three-year, $12 million contract. So, he won't be a free agent until 2023. The Falcons could still part ways with Davison this offseason, though. However, it's important to note that Davison carries a cap hit of $4.9 million and a dead cap value of $1.2 million per Spotrac. As for Bullard and Pennel, they'll both be free agents this offseason. It seems like a normal step to take to part ways.
Biggest offseason question
If the Falcons have to find someone to put beside Jarrett to take some of the pressure off of him, who could that be and how do the Falcons acquire him?
This is the biggest question of this position group, yes. But it's also one of the most important questions the entire team will face. Pass rush - or better yet, lack of pass rush - is a problem. We'll get more into pass rush when we break down the outside linebacker position, but this is an interior problem, too. The Falcons have to find someone to take some of the pressure off of Jarrett. If Jarrett is someone they want to build around, they have to give him some help.
"The thing is that we just need more. We need to develop pass rushers," Pees said. "That'll help Jarrett if all of this pressure isn't necessarily put on him."