NFL free agency: Falcons receive positive grades

The Atlanta Falcons have made a number of moves in free agency thus far.

Atlanta has added the following players: tight end Hayden Hurst, outside linebacker Dante Fowler, running back Todd Gurley, wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, offensive lineman Justin McCray and linebacker LaRoy Reynolds.

The team also brought back kicker Younghoe Koo, punter Ryan Allen, defensive tackle Tyeler Davison, fullback Keith Smith, offensive lineman John Wetzel, cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson and safety Sharrod Neasman who were all on the roster in 2019.

Here's a look at how several media outlets have graded the Falcons' moves:

  • Grade: A
  • Comment: "Sometimes a pairing is too good not to happen. Sources told Pro Football Network'sTony Pauline on Feb. 4 that Dante Fowler Jr. "wants to play in Atlanta for the Falcons." Fowler agreed to terms on a three-year, $48 million contract with the Falcons on Wednesday, per ESPN's Josina Anderson. Atlanta did an exceptional job in acquiring Fowler on two fronts. First, the Falcons lacked a true edge presence. The team's defense tied for 29th with 28 sacks last season. The Dolphins were the only team with fewer sacks. "Fowler set a career high last season with 11.5 sacks after he bet on himself by signing a one-year deal with the Los Angeles Rams. The Falcons also secured a significant win regarding the reported contract numbers. At $16 million annually, Fowler's agreed-upon deal is significantly cheaper than those signed by Frank Clark ($20.8 AAV) and Dee Ford ($17.1 AAV) last season. Thirteen different edge-rushers will make more annually throughout the life of their contracts than Fowler."
  • Grade: B+
  • Comment: "Traded a second-rounder for TE Hayden Hurst in a quick response to losing Hooper. Cutting RB Devonta Feeman freed up the cap space for OLB Dante Fowler and RB Todd Gurley."
  • Grade: B+
  • Comment: "Gurley's 2019 was weird. He spent more time behind the line of scrimmage than almost any other running back (partially a function of the Rams' running style), faced a ton of eight-man fronts and struggled to get north and south as frequently. That said, he also averaged almost four yards per carry and scored 12 touchdowns. Assuming his knee condition is manageable moving forward, this would appear to be a steal since we're operating in the same world where Bill O'Brien traded DeAndre Hopkins for David Johnson and a handful of picks. Gurley is still one of the most exciting athletes in football and will be paired with a more dependable quarterback and weapon set offensively. That percentage of eight-man fronts should decrease if Atlanta rebounds this year (though, in 2019, Devonta Freeman faced almost the exact same number of stacked boxes)."
  • Grade: Below average
  • Comment: "The Falcons were in a tough spot with their cap situation entering free agency, and while they made smart decisions by cutting Devonta Freeman and not even attempting to bring back Austin Hooper and Vic Beasley, it was questionable to sign Dante Fowler Jr. for as much as they did. Fowler had a career year in 2019 by producing a 73.4 pass-rush grade, but he saw a high percentage of his pressures come as unblocked or from a cleanup (50.7%, fourth highest rate) and ranked just 40th in win rate as a result. "Atlanta also did nothing to improve its secondary. Cutting Desmond Trufant helped with the Falcons' cap situation but created an even bigger need in their secondary. Injuries hindered Trufant's 2019 campaign, but he's still been the sixth-most valuable cornerback since he entered the league in 2013 — it's a bigger loss than most think. Trading for Hayden Hurst was not a bad move by any means. Considering what Hooper received in free agency, it might even be considered an upgrade. Hurst can actually win in single coverage — an area Hooper struggled in — as he has produced a top-10 receiving grade on such plays over the past two seasons."
  • Grade: C
  • Comment: "The Falcons dumped Devonta Freeman to save cap space only to grab another veteran durability risk of a former highest-paid NFL running back."
  • Grade: C-plus
  • Comment: "Gurley didn't even make it 24 hours as a free agent before finding his new team. He'll remain one of the NFL's highest-paid running backs for 2020, as just $2.5 million of the roster bonus he received from the Rams contains offset language. He will collect $5 million from the Rams and $6 million from the Falcons for a cool $11 million. Given how much Atlanta has invested in its offensive line, this is a logical and smart landing spot for Gurley to rebuild his value. "The Falcons certainly needed running back help after cutting Devonta Freeman, but they should have filled this position in the draft. I don't love the idea of using $6 million on a running back given the limited cap space they have to replenish their defense. Because this is a one-year deal, even if Gurley breaks out and returns to form, they will probably talk themselves into giving him a new contract next offseason."

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