The Atlanta Falcons will need to make a few moves this offseason to better ready themselves for the year ahead. Here are their five biggest offseason needs.
2017 was a strange, but solid year for the Atlanta Falcons. The team had to deal with the aftermath that was 28-3. The ever-present reminder that the 2016 NFC Championship team blew the biggest lead in Super Bowl history could have wrecked this bunch. While it didn’t, as the Dirty Birds were able to get back into the NFC playoffs, Atlanta was far from being championship caliber in 2017.
Though the defense improved under first-year defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel, the offense regressed under new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. Atlanta would go 10-6 in 2017, good enough for the No. 6 seed in the NFC playoff picture. The Falcons would upset the No. 3 Los Angeles Rams in the wild card round before losing on the final play in the divisional round versus the eventual Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles.
Overall, there is great reason to be very optimistic about the 2018 Falcons. They inherit a third-place schedule and bring back virtually everybody on their coaching staff. Atlanta was the only team to make the NFC playoffs the last two years and could be the only one to make it three years in a row. However, the team needs to be very careful with how it addresses its roster this offseason.
Atlanta only has $14,792,712 in available cap space. That’s good enough for 28th in the league. The Falcons could end up losing several key players on their roster including defensive end Adrian Clayborn, wide receiver Taylor Gabriel and defensive tackle Dontari Poe in unrestricted free agency. Here are the five areas of need the Falcons need to address this offseason, either through the 2018 NFL Draft or free agency.
Though the Falcons defense has become more balanced in the first three years of the Dan Quinn era, one would argue that its strength has been in the secondary the whole time. Atlanta has two Pro Bowl level players in the back-end of its defense in safety Keanu Neal and cornerback Desmond Trufant. Guys like cornerback Robert Alford and safety Ricardo Allen certainly have great playmaking ability as well.
However, Atlanta is about to enter another trying offseason where the money just might not be there. One position group that could be effected is safety. While Allen and Neal are the projected starters for the Dirty Birds at safety in 2018, what happens should one of them succumb to injury? Atlanta could lose its hybrid linebacker/safety in Kemal Ishmael to free agency.
Ishmael has played all five of his NFL seasons out of Central Florida with the Falcons. He just completed a one-year, $2 million contract to play for the 2017 Falcons. Though he has been usurped on the depth chart by a star in the making in Neal, Ishmael is both a technically sound and versatile player in the secondary. He can drop back into coverage, as well as play up in the box in eight-man fronts very well.
That being said, it’s better to be looking for a strong safety than a free safety this offseason. The free safety market is bare. Odds are that Lamarcus Joyner goes back to the Los Angeles Rams and Atlanta has no shot at drafting Minkah Fitzpatrick out of Alabama in the upcoming draft. If Ishmael comes back on a similar deal, there could be a place for him, but not a penny more.