A breakdown of the first week of free agency for the Atlanta Falcons:
Most significant signing: The Falcons didn't make three-time Pro Bowl center Alex Mack the highest-paid player at his position in the league for no reason. They fully expect Mack, who signed a five-year, $45 million deal (with $28.5 million guaranteed), to come in and be a stabilizing force along what has been a shaky offensive line. Last year, the combo of Mike Person and James Stone had trouble simply snapping the ball. With Mack, they have an intelligent athlete who is capable of alleviating some of the pressure quarterback Matt Ryan feels up the middle. Mack should thrive in the outside-zone blocking scheme in which he became accustomed to playing during his short stint with current Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan in Cleveland.
Most significant loss: Although wide receiver Roddy White has yet to find a new team, it's hard to imagine the Falcons lining up on offense without the franchise's all-time leading receiver. However, White made it clear he didn't agree with Shanahan's offensive philosophies, which included not incorporating White much in the offense. Coach Dan Quinn was the one who said White brought leadership qualities to the table. At the same time, Quinn and the staff obviously believed White didn't have enough left to contribute. We'll see if White goes elsewhere and proves otherwise. Losing the leadership of outside linebacker O'Brien Schofield will hurt, too, if he doesn't return.
Player they should have signed: Quinn said linebacker Jerrell Freeman was on the team's radar before Freeman ended up signing with the Bears. Because Freeman, a former Indianapolis Colt, wasn't signed in the first few days of free agency, he obviously wasn't a top priority for anybody. There were some concerns about his injury history, but Freeman seemed worth the risk, especially for a team like the Falcons that was desperate at linebacker. The Bears eventually signed Freeman to a three-year, $12 million contract that included $6 million guaranteed. Last offseason, the Falcons signed injury-prone linebacker Justin Durant to a three-year, $10.8 million contract that included $3 million guaranteed, then cut him for injury reasons. Now the Falcons are hoping their former first-round draft pick, Sean Weatherspoon, can overcome his injury history and enhance the depleted linebacker spot.
What’s next: The Falcons were in the running for veteran defensive end Chris Long, the former No. 2 overall pick of the Rams. However, Long signed a one-year deal with the Patriots Tuesday after New England traded pass-rusher Chandler Jones to Arizona. If the Falcons want to get pass-rush help, maybe they should try harder to re-sign Schofield, who showed the ability to pressure quarterbacks in spurts last season.
Overall grade: C-plus. Getting Mack is sure to help the offensive line, and re-signing defensive end Adrian Clayborn should help the pass rush. The jury is still out, however, on wide receiver Mohamed Sanu and defensive lineman Derrick Shelby. Sanu has lofty expectations to fulfill after getting $6.5 million per year, but his confidence and ability to establish separation should bode well for him as he steps in for the departed White as the primary complement to Julio Jones. The Falcons have touted Shelby as a pass-rusher, but we'll see how much he contributes in that area. Re-signing quarterback Matt Schaub to back up Ryan gives the Falcons a veteran arm rather than an inexperienced one in Sean Renfree, but Schaub has to overcome the woes that have haunted him in recent seasons. The Falcons still need to find a strong safety if they don't have full confidence in Kemal Ishmael to replace the released William Moore. Veteran Charles Godfrey, the only safety signed, is not the answer.