The Atlanta Falcons have had their free-agent hits and misses over the last three years. Here’s a look at how those decisions have panned out on the field:
Total signings: 40* (tied for fourth in NFL)
Total contract value: $270,320,866 (eighth in NFL)
Three-year W-L: 25-23
Biggest hit: Alex Mack. The former Cleveland Browns center was signed last offseason and instantly boosted the Falcons' offensive line as the anchor. One could argue that Mack was the most important free-agent pickup of 2016 with the way he not only cleared holes for the running game but also helped keep pressure out of MVP Matt Ryan's face. That's not to mention Mack's ability to get everything lined up in the front and produce clean snaps, which made life that much easier on Ryan. Mack was named to the Pro Bowl for the fourth time in his career. Then he went out and played in Super Bowl LI despite having a hairline fracture in his left fibula. Mack signed a five-year, $45 million contract that included $28.5 million guaranteed.
Biggest miss: Paul Soliai. The Falcons signed the 300-plus-pound nose tackle to eat up blocks and stabilize the defensive front, but Soliai battled injury issues and eventually was released. He signed a five-year, $32 million contract in March 2014 that included $14 million guaranteed. Soliai played just two seasons in Atlanta as his body wasn't the ideal scheme fit for new coach Dan Quinn, who sought more rush ability across the defensive line.
Sneaky-good move: The Falcons claimed wide receiver Taylor Gabriel off waivers from the Browns after already signing a No. 2 wide receiver in Mohamed Sanu to complement Julio Jones. Gabriel, with whom the Browns regretted cutting ties, proceeded to tie Jones for the team lead with six touchdown receptions. His blazing speed as a deep threat meant safeties couldn't always cheat over to Jones' side. Gabriel proved he could be dangerous off screens and reverses. He made himself a valuable commodity, one the Falcons should try to keep around for years to come. By the way, Gabriel made $600,000 in 2016.
Verdict: The Falcons are coming off a rather solid free-agent class that included Mack, Sanu, Gabriel, seven-time Pro Bowl defensive end Dwight Freeney -- who helped NFL sacks leader Vic Beasley Jr. elevate his game to another level -- and veteran quarterback Matt Schaub, who was a sounding board for Ryan. Such building blocks helped turn the Falcons into the NFC South champion and put them one step away from the Super Bowl title. Sure, folks will complain about the signings of players such as Soliai, Tyson Jackson, Brooks Reed and the often-injured Justin Durant, but you can't be perfect. Even those players either played their minimal roles or showed flashes. The bottom line is the Falcons have gotten better over the last three years as Quinn has established a winning culture.
*Signings made during free agency period beginning in March.