The Atlanta Falcons have a young safety group with a ton of potential — if Dean Pees will start the younger guys instead of focusing only on the veterans they bring in. The Falcons are losing a couple of starters at the position due to free agency, but they have a pair of guys who can come right in and start in their place. The Falcons have options in free agency and the draft, as well, if they choose to continue to upgrade the talent at the position.
S Jaylinn Hawkins: 2 years, $2.238 million left on his contract
S Richie Grant: 3 years, $6.675 million left on his contract
S Luther Kirk: 1 year, $705,000 left on his contract
Jaylinn Hawkins was ballhawk during his time with the defense. He only played 49 percent of the snaps on defense, but his ability to be around the ball and create clutch turnovers was needed.
Richie Grant is another player who the Falcons have been bringing along slowly. He only played 25 percent of the snaps, but in 2022, he should be playing closer to 100 percent as the leader on the back end. Hawkins and Grant or solid, but bringing in depth and competition should definitely be a focus.
Unrestricted Free Agents:
S Duron Harmon
S Erik Harris
S Shawn Williams
The Falcons had all three of these veterans under contract for minimum salary benefit contracts that were reduced cap hits. Atlanta could bring back any of these three guys for the same kind of contract, but they should only look at them as depth and not starters. Duron Harmon played more of the free safety role in 2021, but was average. Erik Harris was solid as a strong safety and nickel throughout the year as well. But, the Falcons should be focusing that role on Richie Grant moving forward.
The Falcons need to determine what route they truly want to go with their safeties. Do they trust the combination of Jaylinn Hawkins and Richie Grant? Or do they think they need another year of one stopover or two to start for them? Options for that could end up being Devin McCourty or Kareem Jackson depending on the price. That or they could end up bringing back Erik Harris or Duron Harmon to be the starter next to one of Hawkins or Grant.
Potential Future Need
If the Atlanta Falcons don’t trust either Jaylinn Hawkins or Richie Grant at safety for the long-term, a long-term starter is needed. This draft has a ton of great prospects. One of those being Kyle Hamilton from Notre Dame. He’s a special player who could be available at No. 8 despite being arguably the best player in the draft in 2022. Players like Jaquan Brisker or Lewis Cine at the top of the second round could also be great options for the Falcons defense and Dean Pees.
What the Plan Should Be Moving Forward
The Falcons should have Richie Grant start at one safety spot while Jaylinn Hawkins should compete with a draft pick or someone who is re-signed along the lines of a Duron Harmon. Adding depth via the draft is never a bad idea, either.
However, Grant has shown in his time on the field that he should start. Hawkins has as well. However, it’s time for the Falcons to really show investment into the position instead of relying on fifth round draft picks and letting them move on after their rookie deal.