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Taking a look at the Falcons impending free agents

The offseason is almost here for the Falcons as they head into Week 18 out of playoff contention, an offseason that will be filled with highly scrutinized decisions. Terry Fontenot won’t have much more cap space in 2022 than he did in 2021. Still, those financial restrictions can be alleviated by trading or restructuring multiple contracts — Matt Ryan, Grady Jarrett, Deion Jones, Calvin Ridley, and Jake Matthews.

The offseason could go in several directions depending on how the front office handles those very different situations. Regardless of the core under contract in 2022, the Falcons will still have to fill out the majority of the roster. Atlanta pretty much exclusively handed out one-year deals last offseason, of which an overwhelming majority were veteran minimum deals.

Every team deals with attrition, whether that be turnover from the coaching staff, front office, or roster. The Falcons will be one of the teams that have to replace an eye-popping percentage of their 2021 snaps.

On offense, the Falcons won’t have to replace nearly the amount of snaps that they will on the defensive side of the ball. Without much clarity on Calvin Ridley’s situation, the most glaring area that needs addressing is wide receiver. I don’t mean the receiving core is more of a problem than the offensive line, but the Falcons won’t have a starting caliber wide receiver on their roster if Calvin Ridley does not return.

In terms of the percentage of snaps played, the Falcons’ top three receivers will all be hitting free agency. Olamide Zaccheaus (57% of offensive snaps), Russell Gage (56%), and Tajae Sharpe (47%) could all leave this offseason; the trio accounts for nearly 80% of all snaps by receivers. Lee Smith (31%) and Hayden Hurst (40%) are also set to become free agents, but tight end and wide receiver are really the only position groups on the offensive side of the ball that are taking substantial blows.

Cordarrelle Patterson is obviously the most impactful offensive player set to hit free agency, but he was only on the field for 45% of offensive snaps. His impact is undeniable; the production will be more challenging to replace than the actual snap count. In all, the Falcons offense has the eighth-lowest percentage of snaps coming from impending free agents. Moreover, the offense has the third-lowest wins above replacement by impending free agents, which means the guys leaving don’t have a profound effect on the Falcons’ overall success.

Unless Fontenot does something drastic, the offense in 2022 will look similar to the one in 2021; however, the same cannot be said for the defense. The Falcons will be replacing an unprecedented percentage of snaps defensively. Atlanta’s defense leads the entire league in snaps coming from impending free agents.

The Falcons will have to replace Foye Oluokun’s 98% of all defensive snaps, Duron Harmon‘s 91%, Fabian Moreau‘s 88%, Erik Harris‘ 64%, Steven Means‘ 58%, and Dante Fowler‘s 44%. Six defensive starters and a plethora of other rotational players will have to be replaced. Dean Pees’ unit has been one of the worst in the league, so maybe a little turnover won’t hurt. Pro Football Focus seems to think so.

What stands out in the below chart is the contrast between the snaps the Falcons are losing on defense (most in NFL) versus the total Wins Above Replacement (WAR) generated by this group (26th). The Falcons field the 30th-ranked defense in the NFL, and these two charts tell almost the entire story. More draft picks like 2020 first-round cornerback A.J. Terrell — the highest-graded cornerback in the NFL through Week 16 with an 86.3 mark — will go a long way in helping this Atlanta defense return to respectability.

This means that the Falcons are losing a ton of defenders that aren’t difference-makers.

It is all speculative, though. The Falcons could be replacing multiple starting offensive linemen, all of whom are under contract in 2022. Atlanta could move on from Matt Ryan, Grady Jarrett, Deion Jones, and Calvin Ridley, which would again make this picture look much different. The Falcons could also retain some of these impending free agents. Moreau, Oluokun, and Patterson are three they would surely love to bring back.

 

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