Question of the Week: Of the players on a short-term deal in 2022, who are you bringing back in 2023? 

Scott Bair, Tori McElhaney and Ashton Edmunds answer. 

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Everyone's favorite offseason series has returned! Huzzah!

As a refresher, the 'Question of the Week' series is one you can count on to drop into your feed every Wednesday of the offseason. We'll take a few breaks here and there for tentpole moments like the first week of free agency and the NFL Draft, but we'll be your constant companion as the 2023 offseason unfolds. 

The premise of this series is simple. Every week the AtlantaFalcons.com editorial staff will ask ourselves one question. The question can be a micro look at individuals or a macro look at the organization and the league at large. There is no stipulation as to which question we ask. We'll choose a question each week and Scott Bair, Ashton Edmunds and I (Hi, it's Tori McElhaney) will answer the question. 

The thought behind this writing exercise is to get everyone thinking, Scott, Ashton and I included. This series is at its best when we're all bringing different thoughts and ideas to the table. So, without further ado, let's dive into the first of many offseason questions. 

RELATED CONTENT:

Even though it feels like the start of the new league year is far away, March will be here before we know it. And the start of the new league year kicks free agency off. For the last two years, the Falcons have not been in the position to acquire big-name players during the first wave of free agency. They've filled out their roster with veteran free agents on short-term deals. That will change a little bit in 2023 with more money towards the cap available to the Falcons this offseason. 

However, it should be noted that there are still opportunities in Atlanta for some of these players who only signed a one-year deal with the Falcons in 2022. A few showed their value this past season, but did they do enough for the Falcons front office and coaching staff to keep them here? That's what we're looking into this week. 

So, if you're in the position to keep a player who was on a short-term deal in 2022 a little longer, who are you keeping around, and why?

AF_20230101_ARIatATL_MG_23510

Scott: Isaiah Oliver

The veteran defensive back has been a Falcon his entire career, so he might seem like an odd choice. Considering context, Oliver fits. 

He signed a one-year deal, a pretty cheap one as a matter of fact, to re-up with Atlanta last offseason while recovering from a torn ACL. There was no guarantee Oliver would find old form, which was solid while playing for Dean Pees and in the slot. 

He had to prove himself again, and chose to do so while rehabbing with a team that believed in him and that he felt comfortable with. He was never forced into heavy action before he was ready, with the team giving him a cameo in the preseason finale before shelving him on short-term IR to start the season. He eventually resumed his role as the primary slot cornerback – the team was purposeful in not pushing his rehab pace – and started playing better towards the end of the season. 

During a Week 17 win over Arizona, Oliver finally looked all-the-way back. His effort featured nine tackles, a sack and two passes defense was dubbed outstanding by Pees.

"That was as good of a performance from a defensive back as I've been around in a long, long time," Pees said. "Just really proud of him. Especially coming back from injury and stuff like that. Just couldn't be prouder of the guy."

Pees was Oliver's biggest champion – Arthur Smith has great respect for him, too – and there's at least some uncertainty whether he'll fit what the new defensive coordinator wants out of a slot cornerback. That might influence whether he'd be retained, but he's talented and versatile and could be an impact player with a full offseason without having to rehab an injury. I'd keep him, and put a multiyear pact on the table to make that happen.

AF_20230108_ATLvsTB_BM5_3849

Tori: MyCole Pruitt

Pruitt was one of the nicest surprises of 2022 for me. Truth be told, I didn't pay him much attention when the Falcons picked him up early in training camp. As far as tight ends went, it's hard to look past Kyle Pitts. However, when Pitts suffered a season-ending knee injury with a month and a half left to go in the season, we were forced to look past him. What we found when we did was the asset Pruitt can be. 

This is a guy who has a history with Arthur Smith and works well in his tight-end-friendly system. Pruitt got his start on the practice squad before being brought up to the 53-man roster in October, where he remained for the rest of the year. 

He had solid production in the games thereafter, too, finishing the season with 16 catches for 150 yards. Oh, and four of those 16 catches? They were touchdowns.

From the time he was brought up in October until the end of the season in January, Smith often thought of Pruitt as an unsung hero in run blocking, too. Smith said a few times there are things Pruitt did on the field that no one would ever know the full extent of how much it truly helped this offense at times. That should be rewarded. 

The Falcons will get Pitts back in 2023, but that doesn't take away the need for depth, and Pruitt played that role as well as anyone in 2022. So much so that I think it warrants him returning to Atlanta on another short-term deal at least.

AF_20230101_ARIatATL_BM1_7874

Ashton: Rashaan Evans

Evans finished as the Falcons' leading defender with 159 tackles, two sacks, and one forced fumble. The fifth-year linebacker also had the eighth-most tackles in 2022. Statistically, Evans had the best season of his career thus far.

Former Falcons defensive coordinator Dean Pees said in early January that Evans is "everything that I knew I had in Tennessee, and he was everything when he got here." Pees also noted Evans' leadership on the field and how that was often reflected in his play. 

"He's a physical player. Plays downhill. (He) tries to really play like a linebacker like you want him to play," Pees said. "He has a physical presence. That's what you want (in) a linebacker, because that's what you want your defense to be. He's that kind of guy. He's into it. He loves football. He's very attentive. All of those things. He's been a great addition."

Evans also showed versatility with his ability to defend the run and pass. His physicality and agility made him a threat as the Mike linebacker on defense. Not to mention, his familiarity and experience with both Arthur Smith and Dean Pees from when they were all with the Titans, contributed to his overall impact on the field.

Additionally, Evans is still relatively young in his career and re-signing him as a veteran presence on defense would be beneficial for the Falcons. Certainly, Evans has made a strong case to return for the 2023 season.

Join us as we take a look back at our favorite photos on defense from the 2022 Atlanta Falcons season.

AF23_GroupsTradition_1920x1080

Purchase Group Tickets for the 2023 Atlanta Falcons Season

Related Content

Advertising