Breaking down Atlanta's key free agent decisions
The Atlanta Falcons took a step in the right direction in the team’s first season under head coach Dan Quinn, and look to build upon that heading into year two. They still have several positions that are in need of upgrading, and addressing those issues in the draft alone likely is not enough.
Here are some of the players that the Falcons should re-sign, let walk, and target during free agency next month.
RT Ryan Schraeder
Not much of a surprise on this one, but not only does Atlanta need to retain the restricted free agent, they need to sign Schraeder to a long-term deal. He has continued to improve with each season in the league, and was an integral part of Atlanta’s turnaround on the offensive line last year. With an 87.0 overall grade in 2015, Schraeder was our fifth-ranked offensive tackle and top right tackle. We would still like to see him improve more as a run blocker, but he was among the best pass protectors in 2015.
RG Chris Chester
At age 33, Chester is a few years past his peak. However, he was still good in the run game, even if his performance dipped a bit in pass protection. Right guard is still a position they will want to upgrade in the near future, but the guards in the free agent market have some drawbacks, as well. Keeping a player who has proven he can play well enough in the system should be enough to bring back Chester for one more year on a reasonably cheap deal, and the Falcons can look to the draft for a successor.
DT Adrian Clayborn
Clayborn had the highest-graded season of his career in his first year with the Falcons. He’s not an every-down player, but he was a solid pass rusher last year. He also has the versatility to play either on the edge or inside as an interior lineman. Clayborn would be worth bringing back on a short-term deal while the Falcons continue to work on upgrading other areas of the team.
Atlanta has already been active this offseason, cutting LB Justin Durant and S William Moore since the end of the season.
DE O’Brien Schofield
Schofield hasn’t been overly poor for Atlanta, but he’s rarely played much above an average level, either. He has earned below-average overall grades in four of his six season, and there’s not an area in which he excels. At this point, it looks like we know his ceiling, and he seems pretty expendable if they want to continue to improve the defense’s pass rush.
LB Rolando McClain
Whether the Falcons tender restricted free agent linebacker Paul Worrilow or let him walk, he should be no more than a backup going forward, and they need to upgrade the position regardless. There are more than a handful of linebackers that could work for Atlanta, and all of them would be upgrades. A player like Rolando McClain would give them more athleticism and speed at the position, while also not breaking the bank. McClain was among the best linebackers in 2014 during his first season with the Cowboys. He did not play quite as well last year after returning from suspension, but did play much better as the season went on. In five seasons, he has graded below average just once in each run defense (2015) and coverage (2011).
TE Dwayne Allen
Matt Ryan needs a better No. 2 option in the offense than Jacob Tamme. While wide receiver might be the more pressing need, an underwhelming group of free agent receivers might make Atlanta look to the draft to address that particular need instead. However, improving the tight end position again could be another way to give Ryan another target, and move Tamme to more of a No. 2 tight end role that better suits him. Allen has dealt with injuries over the last few seasons, and had his lowest-graded season last year. However, he was a very good, well-rounded tight end in 2014 and his rookie year of 2012. He was also a decent blocker prior to last season, an area that the Falcons have lacked for years. Depending on how other teams view the market, Allen could be a good target to take a chance on, with hopes that he can regain his form from earlier in his career.