We're heading into a new period of the offseason which will usher in more team activities. Rookie minicamp begins this weekend, and OTAs will follow at the end of the month.
Last week, we spent a lot of time discussing the rookie class. This week, we're going to take a look at the veteran presence we will see out on the field this month.
What's your reaction to the Grady Jarrett extension? How important was that move for the Falcons?
Tori: I have said this in a previous "Question of the Week" that I originally thought the Falcons would work from the inside out during this year's draft. So, my thought process was that the Falcons would prioritize offensive linemen, defensive linemen and edge rushers over skill players like receivers, quarterbacks and running backs. Well, now we know why they did the latter, not the former. A big part of this decision I believe lay in the fact the Falcons were planning on extending Jarrett, which is another important move not just of this offseason but for the future as Jarrett will now be in Atlanta until 2025 under the new contract.
I wrote a bit more about my thoughts re: Jarrett’s extension in my post-draft observations. I recommend you read that for my two cents.
Kris:One of the most important parts of having a successful "transition" period for NFL teams looking to return to prominence is having talented veterans who represent the team's values or ethos, in the Falcons' case. Jake Matthews and Grady Jarrett are both great examples of that, as they are both among the best in the league at their respective positions and also have the respect of the team off the field; just ask Dean Pees what he thinks about Grady Jarrett. Resigning Jarrett helped the Falcons free up some cap space and keeps a talented veteran who will help accelerate the Falcons' transition.
Scott: One part of all this Jarrett extension talk that gets forgotten: Grady deserved the pay day he got. He's worth that type of money given his talent, production and leadership. He earned it. That's important to note. He provides quality services, and will serve a vital role in getting this young defensive front in a better spot. He will, however, probably have to wait another offseason cycle to get some serious help up front. That will be good use of the Falcons' dollar, adding interior threats and a deep bench of edge rushers to keep the double-, occasionally triple-teams away. The Falcons will have to make do with the new edge rusher additions, hoping they pan out and that the interior play better in a second season together.
Which new free agent are you most excited to see when OTAs begin?
Tori: Casey Hayward. I think signing Hayward to play opposite AJ Terrell was one of the best moves the Falcons made this offseason. I have been looking forward to seeing this pairing in action for a while because I think it's going to be a pretty dang good one. Perhaps I am hyping this duo up too much, but they're who I am most excited to see in 2022.
Kris: Rashaan Evans. Losing Foye Oluokun hurt for those in the Falcons organization. Arthur Blank was public about how disappointed he was that the Falcons could not re-sign Oluokun, the NFL's leading tackler in 2021. Evans is a former first-round pick familiar with Dean Pees' system from playing in Tennessee and has a lot to prove on a one-year deal. He fills a position of need for the Falcons, and if he plays well in 2022, he could cash in next season, similarly to how Cordarrelle Patterson did.
Scott: I'll take the easy way out here and say Marcus Mariota. The veteran quarterback has tons of talent, and was the No. 2 overall draft pick for a reason. I still have some Raiders connections, and folks there raved about Marcus as a dude and someone with some real ability. Can he thrive in Arthur Smith's scheme? I think so, even with some possible trouble spots along the offensive line. He's super mobile and has some receiving options in play with Kyle Pitts and Drake London in the pattern. This is Mariota's big chance to establish himself as a starter. It'll be interesting to see what he does with the opportunity.
What else do the Falcons need in free agency now that the draft is over?
Tori: I am totally cool with seeing the Falcons gather more veterans on the line of scrimmage. I'm talking about both the offensive and defensive lines, but I personally would like to see a couple more true interior offensive linemen brought in. I think grabbing Justin Shaffer in the draft was a nice start, and one can't forget picking up Germain Ifedi and Elijah Wilkinson in free agency. Both have experience at tackle and guard, but I think it wouldn't hurt to get another true veteran guard or center before training camp.
Kris: I agree with Tori. The Falcons should bring in more competition at guard, center, and even at right tackle. Outside of the offensive line, the Falcons could look to bring in another receiver. Drake London gives the Falcons receiving corps a significant upgrade, but having another threat out wide would help open the field for him and Kyle Pitts. Olamide Zaccheus could fill that role, but bringing in competition would significantly help the passing game.
Scott: The Falcons set out to add pressure players this offseason. That was a good goal, and they got quite a few on the defensive side. While the Falcons should let those guys play and develop, I still think a veteran presence could help the entire room. They don't have an edge rusher with more than four years experience and could use another option in the group who could help bring the group along while having an opportunity to play and produce. Carlos Dunlap comes to mind. Maybe Jerry Hughes. Maybe someone like that to provide some perspective off the edge.
Securing the bag, one rep at a time—the Falcons are back for 2022 and hard at work.