The Atlanta Falcons enter the 2021 NFL offseason with 23 free agents and several decisions to be made. Which Falcons players could be back in free agency with the team in 2021, and who will be moving on?
How much cap space do the Falcons have in 2021?
The Falcons have some work to do before they can sign players. Based on the current projected salary cap of $176 million, the Falcons will be $24 million over the cap. Perhaps more concerning is that they only have 31 players currently under contract and will need to find the money to get that number to 53.
They have a handful of restricted and exclusive-rights free agents who could be brought back on inexpensive deals, but the majority of those nearing the end of their deals are unrestricted free agents.
The Falcons have some key players with expiring contracts
With aging stars, the fourth overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, and an unhealthy cap situation, the question of whether the team is in a rebuild continues to arise. It will be up to the new general manager and head coach to make these decisions in 2021, but the following Falcons’ free agents were the starters under the old regime.
Alex Mack, Center
Alex Mack has been one of the top centers in the NFL since joining the Falcons from the Cleveland Browns in a deal that made him the NFL’s highest-paid center. He’s made the Pro Bowl three times since then, played in the Super Bowl with a broken leg, and has been one of the few bright spots on an underperforming offensive line.
With the Falcons using a third-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft on Mack’s heir apparent, Matt Hennessy, he will likely be looking for a new team this offseason. He shouldn’t have a shortage of suitors despite his advanced age.
Keanu Neal, Safety
Hard-hitting safety Keanu Neal was drafted in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft to play the Kam Chancellor role in Dan Quinn’s Seahawks-inspired cover 3 defense. He’s impressive when healthy, as his 2017 Pro Bowl appearance attests to, but has struggled with injuries throughout his tenure.
He’s a key contributor when he’s on the field. Yet, the new front office and coaching staff will need to decide how highly they value a box safety who provides most of his value against the run. The Falcons are short on depth at safety and would no doubt love him to return on a team-friendly deal. However, they could end up being priced out of the 2021 free agent market.
Todd Gurley, Running Back
The Todd Gurley homecoming didn’t go the way that the Falcons planned. It’s clear that Gurley’s knee is an issue, despite him being only 26. He was displaced as the team’s starter by Ito Smith towards the end of the year. It looks unlikely that he’ll ever be the game-changer that he once was.
He’s likely to have to settle for less than the $5.5 million that he was paid in 2020. The Falcons would be wise to spend their money elsewhere in free agency.
Younghoe Koo, Kicker
An argument could be made that Younghoe Koo was the Falcons’ MVP in 2020. The South Korean earned a cult following for his onside kick heroics and led the league in field goals made.
He should be signed to a long-term deal. Beyond that, the Falcons could look to the franchise tag.
Free agent departures could further deplete Falcons secondary depth
The Falcons could lose their starting strong safety if Keanu Neal doesn’t sign a new contract, and their starting free safety, Ricardo Allen, could be a cap casualty. Things don’t get much better with the other potential free agents in the secondary.
Darqueze Dennard, Cornerback
Dennard was brought in on a cheap prove-it deal during the Falcons’ preseason training camp. The former Bengals CB showed his versatility, playing both in the slot and on the outside. He was value for money and would be worth bringing back if his contract demands are similar.
Damontae Kazee, Safety
Kazee hasn’t quite hit the heights he did in 2018 when he led the league in interceptions, but he’s been a versatile player for the Falcons, capable of lining up at safety and cornerback.
Kazee spent much of 2020 on the sideline after suffering a torn Achilles. He’s a great backup, but the Falcons may not have the money to spend on one of those.
Who are the other Falcons’ free agents in 2021?
The Falcons are set to lose some members of their defensive line rotation in free agency. Defensive end Steven Means had a mini-breakout season. While he won’t be demanding big money, he should be able to improve on his current deal. Charles Harris, the former first-round bust, had the most productive season of his career. Yet, he may have to settle for less money than he earned in the last year of his rookie deal.
Elsewhere, cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson and safety Sharrod Neasman have had brief cameos as starters in the secondary over the last few years. They are unlikely to turn those appearances into full-time roles. Running back Brian Hill has shown enough that he should find playing time in a change-of-pace role, but that will likely be elsewhere.