Falcons 2023 Free Agency: Questionable & Unquestionable Moves

The Atlanta Falcons 2023 free agency has been a busy one. The team made more than 12 transactions in the first week and spent nearly two-thirds of their available cap space.

Falcons 2023 Free Agency Addition Kaden Elliss
Photo Credit: Michael C. Herbert/New Orleans Saints

The Falcons filled a gambit of needs and secured a few AP All-Pro players. However, not every move made was unquestionable. Some players got paid more than anticipated; others maybe shouldn’t have been signed, regardless of the money. We’ll examine the most questionable and unquestionable signings that kicked off the Falcons 2023 free agency.

Questionable – LB Kaden Elliss 3-year $21.5M ($10.16M gtd)

I promise this has nothing to do with him being from the Saints, although that is highly questionable. It’s about Elliss’ contract. Elliss had a very productive 2022 season, and when ex-teammate Pete Werner went down with an ankle injury, he successfully filled in for him as the WILL linebacker. Elliss recorded seven sacks, being used as a blitzer and lining up across the line.

Nevertheless, this is the first and only productive season in Elliss’ four-year career. Elliss suited up for 31 of 49 available games in his first three seasons, and recorded just one sack and four pressures. In my opinion, the Falcons overpaid for a player lacking consistent production and with the linebacker market price being as low as it is.

Elliss played for new defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen, so the impression with this signing is he’ll be able to use him in the same effective manner as the 2022 season. If he does, this signing could be worth the price.

Unquestionable – RG Chris Lindstrom 5-year $105M Extension ($63M gtd)

This extension was a no-brainer for Atlanta. The offensive line was an area of focus for the Falcons 2023 free agency plans, and the team wasted no time securing Lindstrom with a five-year extension. Those unfamiliar with Lindstrom’s game will balk at seeing a guard with an AAV of $21M, but he has earned every penny.

In 2021 Lindstrom was the only OG to play all 17 games and not allow a sack. Most recently, the 26-year-old got voted to the AP All-Pro Second Team. In his young career, Lindstrom has already cemented himself as an elite player while having the type of character you want in the locker room. Additionally, Lindstrom was Atlanta’s 2022 Walter Payton Man of the Year.

Lindstrom isn’t a free agent until 2029; he’s an authentic foundation piece already leaving an impressive legacy in Atlanta.

Questionable – QB Taylor Heinicke 2-year $14M ($6.32M gtd)

Of all the Falcons 2023 free agency critiques, this one may feel the most like nit-picking, but Taylor Heinicke got overpaid for a quarterback of his caliber. Heinicke got paid nearly double the guaranteed money that Gardner Minshew and Sam Darnold did, and he’s by no means twice the player.

Like the two aforementioned QBs, Heinicke is an ideal QB2 and does add value to the roster in his own right, but there’s no reason the Falcons needed to pay him what they did.

When the contract details broke, many thought it signaled that Desmond Ridder would at least be competing with Heinicke in some fashion come training camp. We quickly learned that wasn’t the case.

Heinicke said he was brought in to back up Ridder, uttering the most powerful public statement on Ridder’s status as QB1. A $3M overpay isn’t the end of the world, but it indicates that Terry jumped the gun a bit on this signing.

Unquestionable – RT Kaleb McGary 3-year $34.5M ($16M gtd)

This is the best value signing of the Falcons 2023 free agency period. After being a volatile player in his first three years, Kaleb McGary had a career year. In his fourth year, McGary put together his best performance as a pro.

By the end of the season, the question on everyone’s mind was what kind of contract a player with such inconsistent production should get. Fontenot elected not to use the franchise tag on McGary and let the market decide. That decision paid dividends almost immediately.

Teams sought the services of other right tackles, which allowed the Falcons to re-sign McGary well below market price at $11.5M AAV. Also, the contract is structured so the team has an easy out after year two that would save them $14.5M in cap space, as insurance for potential regression.

This deal was indeed a masterclass in GMing by Terry Fontenot, who never blinked during this challenging process

Unquestionable – DT David Onyemata 3-year $35M ($24.5M gtd)

Grady Jarrett finally gets some help. David Onyemata joins a Falcons defensive line that desperately needs bodies. Like Elliss, Onyemata comes from the Saints to play for his former defensive line coach and new DC, Ryan Nielsen. Onyemata recorded the second most sacks, TFLs, and QB hits of his career last season, so don’t let his age worry you; he still has plenty in the tank.

On top of filling a desperate need and having scheme/coaching familiarity, Onyemata signed a deal similar to Kaleb McGary’s. While Onyemata is getting more guaranteed money, the contracts are structured similarly, giving the Falcons some insurance. The team can move on from Onyemata after year two if he disappoints and save $10.5M against the cap — another excellent example of Terry Fontenot’s contract savviness during the Falcons 2023 free agency.

Closing Thoughts

The Atlanta Falcons 2023 free agency is up to 12 moves and counting, and they haven’t all been perfect. Elliss and Heinicke will have to prove that their contracts aren’t questionable deals and are more than worth the value. While other moves, like the addition of Onyemata and re-signings of Lindstrom and McGary, feel like unquestionable signings regardless of what happens.

Truthfully though, I don’t think the Falcons made any moves that will hurt them long-term or create the kind of cap-strangling issues from years past. One can only get a complete grade on a free agency class once they see the players transition to the field, and fans and analysts alike will have plenty of moves to evaluate.

Atlanta Falcons 2023 Free Agency Opening Week Recap

After dealing with historic dead cap for two straight years, the Falcons finally get busy in free agency under the Terry Fontenot regime.

Photo Credit: Shanna Lockwood/Atlanta Falcons

The Atlanta Falcons 2023 free agency period kicked off with more than ten transactions in the opening days. Terry Fontenot has spending money for the first time this offseason after alleviating Atlanta’s historic cap woes the previous two seasons.

The Falcons 2023 free agency has been distinct from that standpoint, but the moves have followed the same approach Fontenot has taken since his tenure began. Solidifying needs in free agency so the team can take the best players available in the draft. That’s not to say the Falcons 2023 free agency class isn’t packed with talent. It is. However, examining closely, it’s evident that no luxury signings occurred, and the team focused on building a foundation. 

Falcons 2023 free agency moves so far:

  • OG Chris Lindstrom, extension 5 yr $105M
  • RT Kaleb McGary, re-sign 3 yr $34.5M 
  • FB Keith Smith, re-sign 1 yr $2.35M deal
  • EDGE Lorenzo Carter, re-sign 2 yr $9M deal
  • P/KOS Bradley Pinon, re-sign 3 yr $8.65M deal 

Fans and analysts often called out the 2022 roster for its lack of talent, but a handful of players were more than worthy of re-signing and extending. The Falcons solidified the right side of their offensive line by extending All-Pro Chris Lindstrom and re-signing Kaleb McGary.

Lindstrom, who has been a top RG since entering the league and got named to the AP All-Pro 2nd-team in 2022, broke the bank. However, Fontenot secured McGary for well below market value on a team-friendly deal that gives Atlanta an easy out after two years.

Another dependable run blocker coming back is fullback Keith Smith. I thought the team might move on from Smith, but he returns after a solid performance in one of the top rushing offenses of 2022. 

Lorenzo Carter is currently the only re-signed player from the 2022 defense. Carter offers little as a pass rusher, but is sound in the run game and a good depth piece. He only commanded $5.25M in guaranteed money, and the team has a clean out after year one in which they could save $3.75M.

Of all the Falcons 2023 free agency moves, punter and kickoff specialist Bradley Pinion might be my favorite. Atlanta’s special teams were ranked 5th in DVOA last year, and re-signing Pinion keeps their specialist core intact for a few more seasons.

Signed/ Trade Acquisition 
  • S Jessie Bates, signed 4 yr $64M 
  • QB Taylor Heinicke, signed 2 yr $14M 
  • LB Kaden Elliss, signed 3 yr $21.5 
  • DT David Onyemata, signed 3 yr $35M 
  • TE Jonnu Smith, traded for pick 245 (contract detail pending)
  • LB Tae Davis, signed 1 yr $1.23M

(Contract details provided via OTC)

I mentioned earlier that the Falcons 2023 free agency class didn’t have any luxury signings, but Jessie Bates might be deemed one in the eyes of some analysts. While $64M is a lot for a safety, it’s not like Bates reset the market. He has the fourth largest contract among safeties. More importantly, Bates is a perfect fit for new defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen’s defense and high-end talent.

Speaking of fits for Nielsen, the Falcons were able to sign two former Saints defenders to three-year deals. Kaden Elliss cashed in by comparison to other linebackers on the market. Elliss is a non-traditional LB who is most effective as a blitzer; he exploded for seven sacks last year.

David Onyemata provides Grady Jarrett with legitimate help in the interior for the first time in his career. His deal is backloaded, which allows the Falcons to play with more money in the meantime and move on after two years if needed. 

The only player acquired via trade in the Falcons 2023 free agency class was tight end Jonnu Smith. Smith cost the Falcons their 245th pick, the lowest of their three 7th-round picks. The TE excelled in Arthur Smith’s offense before his lackluster stint in New England. He’s a solid addition to a TE room featuring Kyle Pitts.

The other offensive backup addition is quarterback Taylor Heinicke. Initially, Heinicke’s contract indicated that there might be an “open competition” to start camp, but the QB stated that he was here to back up Desmond Ridder. Heinicke isn’t a viable starter anyways, but he is a solid QB2 to have for a few games if your starter does go down.

The most recent signing the Falcons have made is linebacker Tae Davis, who looks to make an impact mainly on special team.

A New Era

The Falcons 2023 free agency has been unlike any other in almost a decade. The team filled many holes across its roster with quality, high-end talent. Not every signing is perfect; we’ll have to see if this core can help Atlanta push through the final stage of their rebuild and become a competitive playoff team. Until then, let’s look forward to the NFL draft and the rest of the offseason.

Senior Bowl Review: What are the Boys in the Trenches Grilling?

With this year’s Reese’s Senior Bowl in the books you’re probably thinking that you’ve learned everything you need to know about this year’s players and prospects, but I can assure I was out here at the Senior Bowl asking the tough questions that most shy away from, namely: what is your go to grilling meat and side? And what better group to survey than this years the OL and DL players?

The players didn’t disappoint, each came with their own unique answers. I must say, I wouldn’t mind sharing a meal with any of them. I did include one special guest who isn’t a trench player, but their answer definitely didn’t disappoint. With that being said. let’s see what the boys in the trenches from the Senior Bowl are grilling on their weekends

National Team, Cody Mauch OL NDSU:

Mauch was a standout this week and the first player I pitched this question to. His answer inspired me to keep polling the trenches. Cody told me, “You know, anytime we get to throw a steak on the grill is a good time for me. Medium Rare. Medium Rare.” Cody said he didn’t care what the side was, we also both agreed that’s the proper way to cook a steak and will not be hearing any arguments

American Team, Steve Avila OL TCU:

Avila was another player who had a strong week in the trenches for the OL and, while his answer wasn’t the best from the week, it definitely drew the best reaction. I asked Steve at a round table full of other guys in the trenches what his choice would be and almost immediately he said, “I love a good sausage.”

Which, of course, caused the entire table of young potential draftees to erupt with laughter and a few reminded him we were trying to keep this PG. Avila was great sport, and it was cool to see how guys who had just met each other were already showing that sense of brotherhood that many who have played the game talk about.

National Team, Isaiah Foskey DL ND:

The long-arm master kept his answer simple, “It’s chicken, but its jerked chicken. That’s fire, like not gonna lie that made me hungry right now.” He wasn’t concerned with what his side was, which might explain why he’s one of the leaner guys in the trenches. Going with chicken is a bold move in my opinion, but he saves it by going with jerked chicken specifically.

National Team, McClendon Curtis OL UTC:

I didn’t know a ton about Curtis coming into the week, but if there’s one thing I learned for sure, it’s that this man is a certified grill boss. “It’s gotta be between the tomahawk steaks and lamb chops. When we get on the grill it’s between those two. But also for my sides […] twice baked potatoes loaded or parmesan crusted asparagus. Gotta get it right every time. I don’t cook with nothing else but cast irons.” Curtis clearly doesn’t play around when it comes to the grill. His answer made me the hungriest by far.

American Team, Jalen Redmond OU DL:

Redmond attended my college’s rival, Oklahoma, but I can’t deny the impressive speed he showed in the the trenches this week. Seeing as we both attended school in the state of Oklahoma, I was curious to know if we would have similar grill takes and it turns out we did.

“I’m gonna throw some burgers on there, [but I’m] definitely a hot link guy, too. My side, I make some bomb baked beans. You ain’t never had none like mine. You know I put the little meat in there, I can’t tell you the secret… it’s something special, but not too special.” I tried to shake him down for the secret, but it’s a Redmond family recipe and Jalen wasn’t budging. Much respect.

American Team, John Michael Schmitz C UMN:

Most consider Schmitz the best OL player of the Senior Bowl, and I have to agree. The center out of Minnesota dominated the competition for the most part, and competed in every rep. I was eager to get his answer.

“Nothing beats my fiancé’s ribs, she cooks one of the best ribs I’ve ever had. She gets it from her mother. It falls off [the bone], but it also has that bit of tenderness to it.” Ribs is one of the hardest things to pull off on the grill, any BBQ master can attest to this, so I was pleasantly surprised to hear someone bold enough to say it.

Sounds like Schmitz found him a real one, and I wish him and his fiancé the all the best.


Like I said from the beginning, the boys in the trenches know how to eat and it was tough picking a winner, but I definitely had to give the nod to McClendon Curtis. Out of all the guys in the trenches, he had one of the most unique answers. He also gets bonus points for doing all the cooking himself. You can trust a man who knows his way around a cast iron.

Special (Teams) Entry, Adam Korsak P Rutgers:

Y’all know me, I’m a special teams guy, so you know I had to talk to Ray Guy Award winner and Melbourne, Australia native, Adam Korsak. No, Korsak hasn’t made his name in trenches and isn’t one of the biggest guys here, but Aussies are known for their legendary barbecue (spelt using the Queen’s English), so let’s see what Korsak is throwing on the barbie.

“Generally I do pork-chops, sausages, onions, bacon, mushrooms, and eggs all on the grill and just throw it all together like a big breakfast, English style. I like to grill in the morning, the breakfast stuff on the grill is good stuff.”

I mean, c’mon, who can deny that this man knows his way around the grill. Further strengthening my special teams agenda.

Closing Remarks

It was fun to get to talk with players on a more personal level and let them take a small break from the barrage of X’s and O’s being thrown at them all week. You could really see the guys relax and be themselves in these small moments. It’s important to remember that these guys are all human and just entering adulthood along with their professional careers.

They’re at one of the biggest job interviews of their lives’ and the way they all handle the pressure of the week is truly admirable. This was a fantastic Senior Bowl week and hopefully the first of many for me. Can’t wait to see where some of these guys end up and how they progress as players.

Who Were the 2022 Atlanta Falcons?

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder
Kyle Hess/Atlanta Falcons

Happy New Year and congratulations on surviving the experience formally known as the 2022 Atlanta Falcons. For most, January symbolizes new beginnings, but for the Falcons it routinely marks the end of their season. In a rebuilding year, the Dirty Birds posted their second straight 7-10 record under Arthur Smith and finished last in the NFC South. Not great, but they far exceeded the expectations many had for them entering the season.

Regular viewers of the team know the final wins and losses don’t begin to tell the story of the 2022 Atlanta Falcons’ season. Atlanta was entering the year with the largest dead cap in league history ($83,686,690) , a thin roster, a bridge quarterback and a rookie third-round quarterback. All coming off the heels of an offseason that saw the pursuit of Deshaun Watson, and the trading of franchise cornerstone Matt Ryan.

It was a tough scene and winning expectations weren’t realistic for this team. These players and coaches deserve credit for defying those odds.

In spite of that, when we look back at this season it may be defying these very odds that cost the team something very precious: time. Atlanta had a lot of questions entering 2022, and they’re going to leave with few of them answered. Let’s reflect on the season and begin an ever-evolving discussion about the Falcons as they head into the offseason.

Was it worth it?

We all make choices, but in the end our choices make us. Arthur Smith chose to ride with Marcus Mariota until Week 14 of this NFL season. After starting 3-3 and being in 1st place of the NFC South; the Falcons went on a 2-5 spiral. During this spiral, many called for the start of Desmond Ridder, but the allure of the playoffs was too much for Arthur Smith and he stood by his veteran QB.

As Dishonored’s Lady Emily Kaldwin said, “It’s a funny thing, ambition. It can take one to sublime heights or harrowing depths. And sometimes they are one and the same.” It was great to be in that position, but after the loss to the Panthers, the Falcons had a 10-day window before facing the Chicago Bears and it feels like an opportunity was wasted.

This felt like a prime opportunity to insert the rookie QB but the Falcons still “controlled their destiny” and the Ridderssance was put on hold. Arthur Smith didn’t give a damn about anyone’s “rebuilding year”. The Falcons beat the Bears, but ended up losing the next two, eliminating them from the playoffs as they headed into the bye week. 

Afterwards, many got what they wanted and it proved to not be enough. It’s impossible to give a fair evaluation on a four-game sample size. At the very least, I can say there was no drop in quarterback play, which is a positive. Beyond that is where things start to get tricky.

Outside of a rough first game, Ridder showed he can at least be the QB2 of this offense, with flashes that showcased QB1 ability. Objectively, the only thing that could be said for sure is that he should’ve been playing earlier. By going this route, Atlanta’s young regime has almost boxed themselves into a corner when it comes to their 2023 QB situation.

The assumption is Ridder is going to start in 2023. The argument to play Ridder for the 2023 season and forgo drafting a quarterback high — or acquiring a starter via free agency — is valid. Ridder had few games to showcase himself and was without tight end Kyle Pitts, leaving fellow rookie Drake London as his best option.

Ridder didn’t have any turnovers. He led a game winning drive and scored his first two TDs against Tom Brady. Alternatively, Ridder faced three subpar/injured defenses and didn’t dominate against any of them. The one good defense he did face crushed him — but this was also his first start as a pro.

It doesn’t really feel like Ridder has won the job, but he hasn’t lost it either. Getting a longer look at him in 2022 could’ve given the Atlanta Falcons, and their fans, more confidence one way or the other heading into the offseason.

It’s hard to imagine Arthur Smith starting over with another rookie — one rebuilding year was enough. There are a lot of vets hitting the market this offseason and Atlanta is going to add one of them. Marcus Mariota is not likely to be back and Ridder needs competition in camp.

It’s a huge risk for this staff to put all their chips on a third round prospect, but it’s probably the best move they have right now. The pressure to build the right team around him is high. Luckily they have an entire offseason and empty check book to work with. But it’s easier said than done when it comes to roster building in the NFL.

Do you remember these 2022 Atlanta Falcons moments?

Remember Kyle Pitts’s first touchdown at home (and on U.S. soil)?

It’s the joke that’s never going away until proven otherwise. Seeing Kyle Pitts get his first home touchdown of the season in Week 6 against the 49ers was both relieving and frustrating. Frustration describes Pitts year two all together.

Missed opportunities with Mariota at quarterback and an increase in blocking duties had fans worried about the unicorn tight end. Eventually Pitts’ season ended in the Chicago Bears game with a torn MCL. Seeing Ridder with Drake London made many fans wonder what could have been, but we must wait until next season to see if Ridder can help Pitts regain his rookie dominance.

Pitts is an important part of this team’s future; one down season in a rebuilding year shouldn’t be taken seriously.

Remember when the Falcons closed out games with their defense?

No, it didn’t happen a lot but it’s more than zero, which is what fans are used to experiencing. In Seattle, we saw a clutch Grady Jarrett sack followed by a Richie Grant interception to close the door on what turned out to be a playoff team. The very next week versus Cleveland, Grady got another sack on the final 3rd down of the game. This was once again followed by an interception, this time by standout newcomer Dee Alford.

Remember Bryan Edwards and Auden Tate?

Friendly Reminder: The preseason is a wild time when no one should be taken seriously. When we look back at this saga of the 2022 season for the Atlanta Falcons, everyone should remember that everything was said with good intentions, and that’s all that matters.

Remember when the offensive line was bad?

Atlanta’s offensive line play became the story of the season for all the right reasons. We saw Kaleb McGary take a huge step forward in a contract year. Drew Dalman replaced veteran Matt Hennessey, and Elijah Wilkinson became the first Falcons bargain offensive line signing to pay off. 

Meanwhile, old faithful Jake Matthews anchored down the left side. Chris Lindstrom’s season was special and he should be receiving his first of many All-Pro selections this year. Even so, the biggest round of applause goes to OL Coach Dwayne Ledford.

Ledford has brought stability to the offensive line and was an integral part in one of the best turnarounds fans have witnessed in recent memory. This is only the beginning for the OL, who still have an opportunity to improve with free agency and the draft ahead.

Remember when Grady’s clean sack was called roughing the passer?

There’s not much else to add; the film is still maddening to this day. Oh, and don’t forget, this was one of two kick attempts by Tom Brady on Jarrett in this game.

Rookie of the Year

These are the types of picks you have to hit on in a rebuilding year. I’ll be the first to admit, I didn’t anticipate this season from fifth-round pick Tyler Allgeier. He is undoubtedly the team’s rookie of the year, and he deserves national attention for the league award as well.

Falcons coaching staff and fans saw the growth of Allgeier throughout the season, and he took off when the team needed him most. Cordarrelle Patterson was put on injured reserve and Allegeir never really let go of the RB1 title after that.

With seven official starts under his belt, he finished the season with 1,035 yards | 4.9 Y/A | 4 TDs, setting the new Falcons rookie rushing record. He is also the first Falcon since Devonta Freeman in 2016 with a 1,000 yard season. A true draft gem, Allgeier will be treasured in Atlanta for years to come.

Defensive Culture (Still Under Construction)

Let’s just call this season a wash, especially now that Dean Pees has announced his retirement. We’ve established that 2022 was a rebuilding year for the Atlanta Falcons. Well, no unit proved that more than this one. Everything that was said about this defensive roster preseason was true. Early injuries exposed a lack of depth and talent immediately.

The unit did have its best PPG mark since 2017, but teams moved the ball on them at will. All levels of the defense have glaring holes, and it’s clear this side of the ball needs the most resources poured into it.

On the bright side, Grady Jarrett returned to his elite standard and rookies Arnold Ebiketie and Troy Andersen showed flashes that make them look like legitimate roster pieces. AJ Terrell didn’t have a repeat All-Pro season, but he did show that he’s a level corner in this league and not a one-year wonder.

The Falcons are going to have a brand new defensive coordinator, and they will have the rare opportunity of signing players for their system almost immediately, which should make the transition to life without Dean Pees a little easier.

Where does Atlanta go from here?

Like I said at the beginning, the Falcons are leaving this season with many questions unanswered and the most difficult part of the rebuilding year starts now. It’s easy to brush off losing consecutive seasons when you consider the circumstances to begin with for this regime. That changes now. The cap is clear and the expectations are to win.

It’s easy to simulate free agency on Twitter or through a mock simulator, but people and teams are unpredictable. Furthermore, there’s a long offseason ahead. I do think Ridder will be QB1, but I’m not sure if he’s the answer for the future yet.

Fans have waited all this time for the fresh start to be here, and now its arrival presents more questions. Those questions will be answered by the time summer mini-camp begins. By then, we’ll replace them with new questions and the cycle continues.

For now though, just process the 2022 Atlanta Falcons season however you need. Play highlights. Act like it never happened. Whatever you need, because this season doesn’t matter. That’s one of the few perks of a rebuilding year: this season was a necessary evil. The Falcons wouldn’t be set up as well as they are now heading into the offseason. It’s only the beginning and hopefully they can capitalize.

Thank you for reading. You can find me on Twitter: @tre3shon

Deion Jones Saga: Atlanta Falcons Trade Linebacker to Cleveland

After many wondering what the status of Deion Jones would be after completing the four week IR requirement, the Atlanta Falcons have found the solution: a trade. According to a report from NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, the Falcons have dealt him to the Cleveland Browns.

Current terms are unknown, but believed to be an exchange for late round draft compensation. Jones has been with the Falcons since 2016 and was one of the last remaining hold overs from the Thomas Dimitroff and Dan Quinn era.

Jones never seemed to find his footing in Dean Pees’s defense and his contract started to be a point of contention for many fans. While the play of Jones had dipped, he was a certified star during the early days of the Quinn era. He was an interception machine and if not for injuries, his dominance may have continued to reign.

We wish Deion Jones all the best in his new venture with the Browns in the wake of this trade. So let’s remember the good times and watch one of his more memorable interceptions below.

What do you think about the Falcons decision to trade Deion Jones? Let us know in the comments, and follow the entire ATB Falcons crew @falcons_atb on Twitter!