The Falcons are entering into a very busy (and very different) offseason. With nine draft picks (at the current moment) and over $50 million in cap space, Atlanta is on the verge of one of the most pivotal offseasons of Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith's time in Atlanta.
It poses to be so busy, in fact, that you may need a road map prior to each tentpole moment to help you navigate the busyness.
That's why the 'Offseason Checklist' is here. New lists will drop in periodically throughout the offseason to keep you up-to-date on what the Falcons are doing and what they should be prioritizing at that particular time. We've already highlighted the first phase of the offseason, now we move onto phase two.
Filling out the remainder of the coaching staff
The Falcons have their defensive coordinator, hiring former Saints defensive line coach and co-defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen last month. Nielsen has already held his introductory press conference, detailing not necessarily how he wants the defense to look but the toughness in which he wants them to play with. The Falcons have also hired Jerry Gray to act as the Falcons associate head coach/defense.
Outside of that, though, the staff still needs filling out.
Let's start with the defense: When Dean Pees retired and Nielsen was hired, the Falcons parted ways with outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino, defensive line coach Gary Emanuel and secondary coach Jon Hoke. All of those positions have yet to be officially replenished. The only holdover from Pees' staff within a position coach role is that of inside linebackers coach Frank Bush, who acted as defensive coordinator when the Falcons staff coached in the East-West Shrine Bowl a couple weeks ago. Outside of Bush, though, the Falcons still have some work ahead to build out its defensive staff.
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On the other side of the ball, the Falcons don't have nearly as much work to do to fill out the staff. The only position even under discussion is that of quarterbacks coach. Charles London took a job with the Titans as the new passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach in Tennessee. His departure leaves the Falcons without a quarterbacks coach, though that may not be a big deal for the Falcons. Their offensive staff is already loaded with individuals who can take on the responsibility of developing a quarterback (whoever that quarterback may be). With Arthur Smith calling plays for the offense and the Falcons having two former quarterbacks already on staff (Dave Ragone as the offensive coordinator and T.J. Yates as the wide receiver coach), it's not out of the question that the Falcons wouldn't even mind not backfilling the position. Either that, or moving Yates to quarterbacks coach and backfilling the wide receiver coaching position instead. Both ideas could be options for the Falcons.
Either way, there are not as many moving pieces to keep track of offensively as there will be defensively in the coming weeks. Keep the eyes peeled for coaching moves and decisions, though. As we've already seen two weeks into February, this month is one in which coaching staffs are finalized. Everyone wants all hands on deck when the NFL Combine gets here at the end of the month.
And with that being said...
Prepping for the NFL Scouting Combine
We're about 10 days away from the start of the NFL Combine, and though there is little news coming out right now about draft prospects, the work going on behind closed doors is excessive as the 2023 Scouting Combine inches closer.
Because of the Falcons role at the Shrine Bowl last month, as well as London being the Falcons representation at the Senior Bowl prior to his departure for Tennessee, connections, evaluations and conversations have been had with prospects for weeks now. As one of the two coaching staffs actively participating in coaching the Shrine Bowl, the Falcons had the unique opportunity to actively coach up and get to know some of these players, whether they were on their own team or not, and whether they received a Combine invite or not.
Take a guy like Stephen F. Austen's BJ Thompson for example. The edge rusher turned a lot of heads while playing for the Falcons and the East team at the Shrine Bowl. Of the 319 players invited to the Combine, though, Thompson was not one of them. However, he is someone evaluators may have wanted to see more of. Good thing the Falcons got to know him a bit in Vegas, no?
Then, there's the other end of the spectrum, think a guy like cornerback Terell Smith who did play in the Shrine Bowl but was on the West team, a team coached by the Patriots. NFL.com analyst Bucky Brooks had the Minnesota defensive back as one of his top-five standouts from the Shrine Bowl, as did PFF analyst Michael Renner. Unlike Thompson, Smith was invited to the Combine. Defensive backs work out on Friday, March 3. Would the Falcons want to put a star beside Smith's name to remind themselves to catch up with him again in Indianapolis? The thing about the Combine is that, well, they can if they want to.
Can't forget the start of the league year is right around the corner
There are some keys dates to keep in mind as the next few weeks roll on.
Let's start with Feb. 21 through March 7. This is the window in which teams can put franchise tags on players.
The Falcons have never really been an organization to extend a franchise tag to players, having only done so a few times in the organization's history. However, it should be noted that it is an option for Atlanta, as it is all teams.
These dates should be important for one player in particular in Atlanta: Kaleb McGary. The Falcons chose not to extend McGary's fifth-year option to him like they did Chris Lindstrom last offseason. McGary then went out and had his best year by far as the starting right tackle for the Falcons. His 91.2 run blocking grade ranked him second among league tackles in 2022, per PFF.
Because of the way this offensive line played together in 2022, it may prioritize the Falcons working to keep this group together in 2023. That includes McGary, but he's going to be expensive. The franchise tag for an offensive lineman was set to $18.24 million this year. The Falcons are already paying Jake Matthews significant money after extending his contract last year. The plan may also be to extend Chris Lindstrom in the near future, too.
Do the Falcons want to pump so much money into the offensive line in order to keep McGary? That's what they'll have to decide in the coming weeks.
Related, any unrestricted free agent not tagged by March 7 can hit the free agency market and begin negotiation with any team on March 13. This is the first day of the "legal tampering window." Then comes March 15. That's the day the new league year starts, and when teams can officially sign players. (It's also the day Ted Lasso returns to your TVs, but I digress).
Mark these dates on your calendar. They'll be important days for the Falcons.
Join us as we take a look back at our favorite photos of our home, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, during the 2022 Atlanta Falcons season.