It has been a little while dove into the Bair Mail-bag in a while. Has anything happened since then?
Like, oh, I don't know, the addition of a defensive coordinator? And an assistant head coach? And maybe a whole week spent coaching the Shrine Bowl? And plenty of mock drafts and free agency speculation?
So, yeah. There's plenty to discuss in this Friday mailbag. We'll get to a number of topics important to you, including an intriguing one we don't often discuss.
What are the Falcons going to do with Kaleb McGary? We'll hit on that first, followed by the prospect of importing a quarterback (and at what price), the Ryan Nielsen hire and why defensive line is such a pressing need it needs upgrades and fortification at multiple spots.
Let's get into all that in this Friday Bair Mail:
Genaro Espinosa from Mexico
One of my favorite players of the Falcons last season was Kaleb McGary. Granted, Jake Matthews and Chris Lindstrom are already cornerstones on the OL for the years to come, but the improvement Kaleb had was such a pleasant surprise. There is a reason his (Kaleb's) fifth season was rejected in the first place, but considering the great season he had, would you consider a contract extension, or a Franchise Tag is on the works for him?
Bair: The official 2023 franchise tags just came out this week. They're steep for offensive linemen -- $18.2 million for the franchise tag and $16.6 million for the transition tag. I think the franchise tag is a bit high for McGary., considering the amount of total cap space available. The transition tag intrigues me, as a failsafe so you could at least have a right to match an offer sheet. Maybe you do, maybe you don't, but the option's there. Both of them should be placeholders at best to extend the window to work out a long term deal.
In my opinion, it'd be better to work out a contract extension, preferably before free agency opens. I'd want McGary back. He's a good guy and a good player.
Does McGary want that, or is it better for him (or maybe the team, depending on value) to test the open market? I think there's room to reward McGary in a reasonable manner while maintaining the continuity essential to quality offensive line play. McGary didn't talk about his desires heading into free agency, but I believe he liked it here and enjoys playing with star guard Chris Lindstrom. They make an excellent duo and it's worth keeping a good thing going.
One thing to watch out for here: positional investment. What percentage of your salary cap do you want invested in a single position group? Jake Matthews gets paid well. Chris Lindstrom seems set for a deserved, pricey extension. They still need a left guard. And McGary will be operating at a premium? That's a lot of cash in one spot, especially when they've got to spend and draft defensive talent and depth.
GM Terry Fontenot has some tough choices to make this offseason and putting proper value on McGary is one of them.
Barry Wynn from Rex, Ga.
Hey Scott. You have been a busy man. According to Ian Rapoport he had a source tell him that the Ravens plan to use the franchise tag on Lamar Jackson. It would be an exclusive tag preventing him from signing with another team. So, any speculation on the Falcons signing him would be worthless. So, any other route would have to be taken by the Falcons if they decided not to make Ridder the starter to begin the season. I would rather start Ridder or draft a guy and save the money to build the team. What is your take?
Bair: I have seen that NFL Network report where Ian Rapoport said his sense is that the Ravens will give Lamar Jackson an exclusive franchise tag. That makes total sense. It establishes trade leverage and ensures that other teams can't lure him away with a bonanza offer sheet.
As that relates to the Falcons, they've got Desmond Ridder under contract. Marcus Mariota is, too, but it's hard to imagine, at this point, him sticking around in 2013. Who will they pair Ridder with? That investment will communicate the team's plan for 2023. They could go out and get a higher-priced free agent or trade acquisition who is a starter, but that will cost.
To your point, Barry, having a quarterback on a rookie deal allows you to do so much from a team building perspective. In my opinion, though, I wouldn't draft a QB unless it was in the first round. You already have a Day 2 quarterback on the roster and he's both pretty good and in early developmental stages. If you're sticking with Ridder while giving him a competitive nudge, I think you go with a veteran backup who has started some.
There will be plenty of options like that. I think (don't laugh) Sam Darnold could be an interesting one. Plenty of arm talent, with underwhelming results thus far looking to kickstart a career. If he's awesome and wins the job, great. If not, go with Ridder. Taylor Heinicke might be another option. Maybe Jacoby Brissett. Those types of veterans could push Ridder all summer but could be a backup if the Cincinnati product takes control this season and becomes a long-term solution at the position.
Daron Walker from Milton, Ga.
My question is this.... Why Ryan Nielsen? The ATL DC job is a good one. High draft capital, lots of room on the salary cap, indoor stadium, a good young talent base. I understand Mr. Smith's position on familiarity of Nielsen but dang there was some really proven DCs with great resumes out there. Vic Fangio and Lovie Smith to name a few. These are guys that have proven to turn defenses into elite groups.
Bair: Even Vic Fangio and Brian Flores had to start somewhere. Someone needed trust and belief in them to let them call plays for the first time. Whomever did that put their faith in the right place.
Smith has that belief in Ryan Nielsen or he wouldn't have made this hire. The reason why he gets credit for Cam Jordan's and Trey Hendrickson's development is because those guys have given it. Nielsen is excellent creating pressure, upper tier at an area where the Falcons have historically struggled.
Nielsen has talent, just like the other coordinators interviewed in Flowery Branch. After that it's all about fit. Smith said that was a major component in his hiring. He has to prove himself as a defensive coordinator and play caller. But, in terms of an assistant ready to make the jump, the 43-year-old is as ready as anyone. There's some uncertainty with every hire, including this one. We'll know soon enough if this was the right call or not.
Christopher Duke from Covington, Ga.
I understand that we have major holes at multiple positions, however, if I see one more mock draft of us NOT selecting an EDGE rusher, the term frustration will be merely an understatement. We can't sit here and believe that pass-rusher is not the most important need for us. We've been severely lacking at getting to the QB for the past few years now. Your thoughts?......
Bair: I'm right there with you, Christopher. Improving pass rush talent is essential to the Falcons improving overall. There's a deep draft class at edge rusher; there's some good interior options in free agency. The Falcons simply must add to both spots.
I suggested the Falcons add Clemson's Myles Murphy at No. 8 overall in my first NFL mock draft. I think I'll continue to center around that as we push forward, with some other options mixed in. I'm doing one of those things a week pretty soon, so I have to mix it up. Mostly for my sanity.
A good defensive front features stability a linebacker and a heavy rotation up front, where fresh bodies come in waves to attack, attack, attack. That's what Nielsen's defensive lines have done in the past. That's what I expect they're do here in Atlanta. Nielsen needs more talent, added to incumbents like Grady Jarrett, TaQuon Graham and Arnold Ebiketie.
Scouts in Atlanta huddle up with coaches to see what they're looking for in talent need to run their system, then go out and find the best match, along with other factors. That will happen here this spring as they quest to find upgrades along the defensive front.
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