2022 Atlanta Falcons Offseason: Breaking Down the Special Teams Unit

Atlanta Falcons special teams leader Younghoe Koo
Photo Credit: Jim Dedmon/USA TODAY Sports

For the better part of the season, the Atlanta Falcons had one of the best special teams units in the NFL. Younghoe Koo, Thomas Morstead and Josh Harris didn’t miss a kick attempt or have a bad punt the entire time Morstead was with the Falcons. Harris was a second-team All-Pro. Koo was his steady self the entire season with his only misses from 45 and 50 yards.

Under Contract:

P Dom Maggio: 1 year, $705,000 left on his contract

The Falcons re-signed their practice squad punter for the cheap heading into the offseason. Dom Maggio didn’t play a game for the Falcons outside of the 2021 preseason. He’s a decent punter, but the team would be better off finding more talented options than Maggio is.

Unrestricted Free Agents:

K Younghoe Koo

P Thomas Morstead

LS Josh Harris

If the Falcons do anything with their salary cap space, it should be to keep this talented unit together. Younghoe Koo is one of the most reliable kickers in the NFL. As a holder and punter, Thomas Morstead has shown that he’s exceptional and should be in the long-term plans of the team. Josh Harris finally got recognized for the consistent job he does this year.

Current Need

Currently, the Falcons have none of their solid unit — that’s been together for most of the season — under contract. Ideally, just re-signing all of them is the right move. Thomas Morstead should be consistent again for at least another couple of seasons, and Koo is showing no signs of regression. Josh Harris has been consistently one of the better long snappers in the NFL, regardless of who is punting or holding.

Potential Future Need

Even if the Atlanta Falcons do re-sign the entire special teams unit, Thomas Morstead and Josh Harris are getting up there in years. Having the future in mind, the Falcons could look at younger options. However, those positions are low-value in terms of both money and draft investment league-wide. So, not too much investment isn’t required to keep good veterans around.

What the Plan Should Be Moving Forward

The goal should be to keep together the unit of Younghoe Koo, Thomas Morstead and Josh Harris together for the next three or four years until one of them shows any signs of regression. If they do, then replace them with quality players on low-cap contracts until you find their long-term replacement.

2022 Atlanta Falcons Offseason: Breaking Down the Safety Situation

Atlanta Falcons safety Richie Grant
Photo Credit: www.atlantafalcons.com

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.

Under Contract:

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.

Current Need

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.

2022 Atlanta Falcons Offseason: Breaking Down the Cornerback Situation

Atlanta Falcons cornerback A.J. Terrell
Photo Credit: Dale Zanine / USA Today

Cornerback could be a strength for the Atlanta Falcons in 2022. The Falcons have one of the best corners in the NFL in A.J. Terrell to build around, but outside of him, there are some solid corners who can be solid role players within the coverage schemes Dean Pees deploys. The big focus for the Falcons will be trying to increase the length at the position and trying to see if they can continue to get more solid man coverage cornerbacks for the roster.

Atlanta Falcons Cornerbacks Under Contract:

CB A.J. Terrell: 2 years, $8.453 million left on his contract and a potential fifth year option

CB Kendall Sheffield: 1 year, $2.73 million left on his contract

RS/CB Avery Williams: 3 years, $3.0 million left on his contract

CB Darren Hall: 3 years, $3.424 million left on his contract

CB Cornell Armstrong: 1 year, $965,000 left on his contract

DB/CB Lafayette Pitts: 1 year, $1.035 million left on his contract

CB Corey Ballentine: 1 year, $895,000 left on his contract

CB Dee Alford: 1 year, $705,000 left on his contract

The Atlanta Falcons have a lot of talent locked in cheaply at cornerback for the 2022 season. This includes the Falcons No. 1 corner A.J. Terrell. The PFF All-Pro is arguably the best cover corner in the NFL. Darren Hall and Avery Williams are great fits for the Pees scheme.

Cornell Armstrong, Lafayette Pitts, and Dee Alford were all futures contracts who can compete for roster spots that fit into the scheme. Corey Ballentine is a former starter for the Giants who can potentially be that Fabian Moreau in 2022 for Atlanta.

Unrestricted Free Agents:

CB Fabian Moreau

CB Isaiah Oliver

Both of these cornerbacks should be brought back for different reasons. Fabian Moreau should be a cheap option who could continue to compete for depth with the Falcons even if he misses out on the starting role. Isaiah Oliver was Dean Pees preferred nickel back before the Falcons lost him due to injury. If they can bring him back on a prove-it type deal for a year and he stays healthy, it would give the Falcons someone who could really elevate the defense in 2022.

Current Need

The Atlanta Falcons have a solid need for a second cornerback even if the Falcons re-sign Fabian Moreau. Potential options for the Falcons in free agency are guys like Jason Verrett, Casey Heyward, and for a more long-term option Carlton Davis. These are all talented starting options, but they could end up being just out of the price range. Depending on overall cost, the Falcons should at least consider all three of these options.

Potential Future Need

The long-term need for a cornerback across from A.J. Terrell is there. However, the team could see it as filled if Darren Hall or Avery Williams drastically improve their coverage abilities. That’s unlikely, but the team could end up liking the idea of having Isaiah Oliver come back for a year and then seeing what they have. However, they could also see someone like Sauce Gardner or Coby Bryant or Andrew Booth as their future starter across from Terrell long term.

What the Atlanta Falcons Plan at Cornerback Should Be Moving Forward

There’s a lot of potential on this unit. However, moving forward, the Falcons should cut Kendall Sheffield for the cap space it would bring. After that, considering a free agent for around the same money Sheffield was going to make is an avenue to consider. If they can’t get one of those, drafting someone at any point in the draft to compete with Darren Hall and Avery Williams at right cornerback is the move to make. At nickel, bringing back Isaiah Oliver is the move.

2022 Atlanta Falcons Offseason: Breaking Down the Linebacker Situation

atlanta falcons linebacker
Credit: The Falcons Wire

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.

Under Contract

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

Foye Oluokun

Daren Bates

Emmanuel Ellerbee

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.

Current Need

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.

Atlanta Falcons Receivers: Breaking Down the 2022 Situation

Calvin Ridley, a key player in the Atlanta Falcons receiving corps
Photo Credit: atlantafalcons.com

The Atlanta Falcons receivers group is arguably one of the worst in the 2021 NFL season. They have the least yardage of any wide receiver corps in the league. At tight end, it’s almost the reverse. They have generational talent Kyle Pitts as the starter and quite a few reserves that help out with blocking and can catch short routes as above average No. 2 tight end options. When it comes to groups that need an almost complete makeover this off-season, it’s this one.

Under Contract:

WR Calvin Ridley: 1 year, $11.116 million left on his contract

WR Frank Darby: 3 years, $2.973 million left on his contract

TE Kyle Pitts: 3 years, $26.927 million left on his contract and a potential fifth year option

Kyle Pitts is obviously going to be the primary option for the Atlanta Falcons group of receivers moving forward. He’s the only tight end 21 years or younger in NFL history to gain over 1000 yards. He’s a physical freak and as his routes and catching get more refined, he’s only going to be more impactful. Frank Darby is a very good long-term reserve option for the Falcons as a fourth option in the passing game and is under contract for very little money.

Calvin Ridley is the most unique situation in the NFL as he’s currently under a mental health leave from the league. Should the Falcons want to move on because they aren’t sure he’s in it for their team, they should trade him for the most value they can. It would free up cap space in the amount of $11 million. If he’s ready to go for the Falcons, he’d instantly be an option for No. 1 receiver. Ridley could lead the passing game and mentor Pitts to be an even better player than he is.

Exclusive Rights Free Agents:

WR Chad Hansen

WR Austin Trammell

TE Parker Hesse

TE John Raine

When looking at the exclusive rights free agents the Atlanta Falcons have in the receivers group, this looks like a few guys who can provide a little depth for the camp roster. The only person in this group who could be a regular contributor moving forward is Parker Hesse. Hesse is a good fit for the long-term blocking role in Arthur Smith’s offense. He’s shown abilities as a short-yardage outlet for the Falcons as a rookie and could continue a similar role for the team moving forward.

UPDATE: The Falcons re-signed Hesse, Raine, Hansen and Trammell on 1/10/2022.

Restricted Free Agents:

WR Olamide Zaccheaus

WR Christian Blake

TE Jaeden Graham

Restricted free agents are an interesting situation for the Falcons. While Christian Blake is an obvious non-tender option due to lack of production and lack of talent overall, Jaeden Graham and Olamide Zaccheaus had impacts during their first three years with the team. Zaccheaus and Graham should both be brought back, but ideally, they re-signed for under the original tender offer.

Unrestricted Free Agents:

WR Tajae Sharpe

WR Russell Gage

TE Hayden Hurst

TE Lee Smith

The biggest names from this group in terms of talent and production are Russell Gage and Hayden Hurst. Gage has proven to be a talented third or fourth receiving option in the offense and a good possession receiver needed for those tough third downs. Hurst has shown to be a solid blocker and a good fit for the Arthur Smith offense, but might be looking for a more expanded role in another offense. If the Falcons can get either guy back on a reasonable contract, they should do so.

Tajae Sharpe has been a decent fit for the Falcons as a tertiary receiver and possession guy, but he’s only shown that his value is as a veteran minimum player. If he comes back for that, bring him into camp. Otherwise, let him walk. The same can be said for Lee Smith. He’s been a good blocker, but not much else for the Falcons during the 2021 season.

Current Need

The Falcons need more playmakers moving forward regardless of who’s on the roster for 2022. As much as the team and fans love Kyle Pitts, he can’t do it on his own. Bringing in a competent and talented option to play as the No. 2 to him or even a No. 3 role to him and Calvin Ridley should be a priority for the future. Free agent options to consider that would fill that role include Allen Robinson, Allen Lazard, Juju Smith-Schuster, A.J. Green and Emmanuel Sanders.

At tight end, the Falcons could consider bringing in options that might be able to mentor Kyle Pitts while also working in a similar tight end/wide receiver setting. Jimmy Graham, Zach Ertz and Jared Cook are names that spring to mind that may not break the bank while still providing what is needed. Outside of that, going bargain options for a blocking tight end makes the most sense.

Potential Future Need

In this situation, the potential future need is the same as the current need. The Falcons don’t have a hard contract situation to deal with at this position, but the Calvin Ridley situation brings forth a lot of questions. If Ridley does come back to the Falcons and signs long-term, this would help the Falcons have their No. 1 option settled for the future and remove what this need is.

What the Plan Should Be Moving Forward

The plan moving forward should first be to figure out what Calvin Ridley wants to do. If he wants to be in Atlanta, keep him and set him up long term to be the No. 1 guy. If he doesn’t, trade him for assets that can be used moving forward. If he doesn’t, the Falcons biggest need in this group is a true, playmaking No. 1 wide receiver. And whether they address it in the draft or free agency is to be determined.

Once that situation is determined, figure out the rest of the Atlanta Falcons receivers group and tight end group to complement the strengths and weaknesses of the No. 1 and Kyle Pitts. Having multiple options out there, the Falcons could go in a plethora of directions. What they end up doing isn’t fully up to them due to the Ridley situation, though.