The NFC South's offseason grades are in – at least the ones Jonathan Jones from Sports Illustrated compiled – and the Falcons scored fairly high.
Jones gave your beloved Dirty Birds a B+. That's certainly better than average but it's … it's not great, Bob. Put another way, on a 4.0 scale the Falcons' grade would come in at a 3.3.
And if you're wondering how the Falcons fared in comparison to their divisional counterparts, Jones didn't give them the lowest grade in the NFC South, but they didn't get the highest one, either. That honor goes to the New Orleans Saints, the defending NFC South champs.
As we all know, the Falcons finished the 2017 regular season with a 10-6 mark, made the playoffs and came up a few yards short of advancing to the NFC title game when they lost 15-10 to the Eagles in the divisional round.
So, what did Jones base his grade on?
During the offseason, the Falcons lost five notable contributors from 2017, including wide receiver Taylor Gabriel, defensive end Adrian Clayborn, defensive tackle Dontari Poe, tight end Levine Toilolo and fullback Derrick Coleman.
To partially offset those losses, Jones notes that the Falcons added three crucial additions in free agency – cornerback Justin Bethel (above), tight end Logan Paulsen and guard Brandon Fusco. Personally, I would have also noted the additions of defensive tackle Terrell McClain and safety Ron Parker. I think those two players will end up paying big dividends at some point. But, hey, these aren't my grades.
As far as what improved the most for the Falcons during the offseason, Jones writes that "the Falcons replaced what they lost in the offseason, and the franchise improved at cornerback and at receiver" through the draft and free agency.
"But thinking outside the box here – more than anything, Atlanta improved on its championship window by inking quarterback Matt Ryan to a five-year, $150 million contract extension," Jones writes. "Ryan now has a cap hit of $17.7 million in 2018 and just $22.8 million next year before jumping to $31.8 million in '20 (but by that time every top quarterback will cost a team at least $30 million per year).
"Now look at Atlanta's core group of defensive players. Desmond Trufant, Robert Alford, Keanu Neal, Vic Beasley, Deion Jones and De'Vondre Campbell are all signed through at least 2019. A manageable quarterback cap hit plus smart contracts from the front office in recent years means space for free agents when needed."
And keeping that core of talent together – at least through 2019 – is huge in the uber-competitive NFL, which is all about creating parity. And that's also a testament of the fine job Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff and his staff have done.
It also makes me scratch my head and wonder that B+ wasn't at least an A- at the end of the day. Jones obviously believes the Falcons have some trouble spots.
And that's a nice segue into some of the areas where the SI.com writer believes the Falcons have work to do.
"The Falcons have a great mix of veterans and young players, deep at positions they need to be and filled holes where necessary this offseason," Jones writes. "So I'll go outside of the box again and say that Julio Jones's relationship with the front office needs work. The star wideout – possibly the best receiver in the NFL and probably the most complete receiver in the NFL – wants a new contract even though he has three years left on a deal he signed in 2015 that made him the second-highest paid receiver at the time.
"Well … now he's the eighth highest-paid receiver, and his average annual salary is nearly $3 million less than top-paid Antonio Brown. And though everyone within the Falcons organization believes the two sides will bridge this wide gulf, what if it doesn't? What if Atlanta starts the season against Philadelphia without its best offensive weapon? But it's not time to worry yet."
No, not yet. Training camp kicks off in four weeks, and that's still a lot of time for both sides to work things out.
Jones concludes his remarks by putting on his fortune-teller hat and playing the role of Nostradamus by projecting what he believes Falcons fans can expect in 2018 in the always-tough NFC South (as well as Year 2 under offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian). You can read it here with the rest of the NFC South grades, if you're so inclined.