The Atlanta Falcons linebacker situation is complicated. It was somewhat a strength for the Atlanta Falcons during the 2021 season. Between Deion Jones, Mykal Walker and Foye Oluokun, the Falcons group had 365 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, four sacks, 16 pass deflections, four interceptions and a fumble forced. That being said, money may end up breaking up the Falcons grouping from 2021 and cause one of the three primary linebackers to play for another team.
Deion Jones: 2 years, $38.524 million left on his contract
Mykal Walker: 2 years, $2.278 million left on his contract
Dorian Etheridge: 1 year, $705,000 left on his contract
Rashad Smith: 1 year, $705,000 left on his contract
Jordan Brailford: 1 year, $895,000 left on his contract
Deion Jones was solid, but had a lot of moments that were disappointing both in tackling and in coverage. His film made it look like he didn’t want to tackle or play in coverage at times. He missed open field tackles due to lack of effort. It might be time to send Jones away to let someone better come in. Mykal Walker could be that guy. The Falcons could save a ton of money by trading away Jones as well.
Dorian Etheridge, Rashad Smith and Jordan Brailford were on the practice squad or on special teams all year. They did a good job with their limited roles and playing time, but there wasn’t a large enough sample size even in the preseason to give a fair evaluation.
Unrestricted Free Agents
The Falcons have a pair of talented reserve linebackers and special teams players available in free agency in Daren Bates and Emmanuel Ellerbee. However, the guy to talk about is Foye Oluokun. The NFL leader in tackles also had a forced fumble and three interceptions this past season. He’s the best linebacker on the Falcons and they should let Deion Jones go to bring back Oluokun.
The Falcons need to focus on re-signing Foye Oluokun for the long term. He’s worth the roster spot more than any other free agent the Falcons have available this offseason. Oluokun is the guy they need as a starter at middle linebacker, and he showed why during the 2021 season. He would likely cost somewhere around the $50 million, five year deal that Eric Hendricks signed with the Vikings.
Potential Future Need
If the Falcons can’t keep Oluokun, they should find a starter in the draft. However, if they can re-sign him, they should focus on depth and look to draft a couple solid reserve linebackers in the draft that have potential to eventually beat out Mykal Walker for a starting role. The draft would be a great spot for the Falcons to build the linebacking corps this season due to the large amounts of great fits available.
Atlanta Falcons Linebacker Plan Moving Forward
First and foremost, the Falcons should trade away Deion Jones and re-sign Foye Oluokun for the long-term. With the pick they get from Jones and an additional higher pick in the draft, they should look to take a depth long-term replacement like Channing Tindall, Quay Walker or even someone like Darren Beavers or Christian Jones. Free agent options are scarce unless the Falcons decide to take a chance on someone who has been average or bring back a guy like De’Vondre Campbell.