Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff knows critics will dissect every part of his free-agency approach, particularly when no big names are added to the roster while other teams make big splashes.
But Dimitroff continued to emphasize how the Falcons have moved forward with their plan of concentrating on a Matt Ryan extension -- first and foremost -- and then figuring out how to plug other holes with lower-cost players. The quarterback's extension remains in the works, and his $20.75 million cap figure for 2018 no doubt limited the Falcons' aggressiveness at the start of free agency. However, Dimitroff indicated the Falcons had no intentions of going on a wild shopping spree from the outset.
"We knew what we were getting into," Dimitroff said. "And again, I want to stress that our focus was on signing back the players that we want to sign back. The fact that we were able to sign Devonta Freeman early. The fact that we were where we were with our corners and [Robert Alford and Desmond Trufant]. Those, in essence, were part of our free-agency plan.
"Going into this year ... bringing back Matt Bryant was huge. He's a clutch player and one of our most valuable players on our team. ... We are focusing on the players that we know are pillar-type players on our football team. We'll continue to do that, again, while we're looking in free agency. But we're not just going to spin off in free agency just to get some shiny new cat in here and all of sudden it's not the fit all-around."
Dimitroff is mindful of the future and has already talked about new deals for left tackle Jake Matthews, nose tackle Grady Jarrett and free safety Ricardo Allen to go along with the Ryan extension. The team plans to exercise the fifth-year option on pass-rusher Vic Beasley Jr. through 2019, but Beasley will also be in line for a lucrative extension. Not to mention Dimitroff mentioned the possibility of keeping the running back combo of Freeman and Tevin Coleman together, with Freeman signed through 2022 at $8.25 million per year and Coleman set to make $791,268 in the final year of his rookie deal.
Regarding the immediate future, skeptics would say the window for a return to the Super Bowl is slim and that the Falcons have done little this offseason to enhance their chances. But Dimitroff said the team will continue to search for lowest-cost players for need areas prior to the draft. They've found two thus far in guard Brandon Fusco, who signed a three-year, $12.75 million contract ($5.5 million guaranteed), and tight end Logan Paulsen, who signed a one-year, $1.005 million deal ($200,000 guaranteed). They brought in outside linebacker Pernell McPhee and cornerback/special-teamer Justin Bethel for visits this week but neither was signed immediately. The Falcons had just $5,633,482 in cap space before the Paulsen deal.
The Falcons indeed had a strong interest in trading for defensive lineman Michael Bennett but the hang-up apparently came from the Seahawks' side. Bennett, who was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles, would have filled the need for a pass-rusher capable of pressuring from the interior along with just all-around versatile defensive lineman.
McPhee could help fill a void on the defensive line but has health concerns (knee, shoulders).
"As far as other players we're looking at right now in free agency, I want to make sure that we get guys in here that are all about competitive toughness and all about urgency and, of course, athleticism," Dimitroff said. "We have a really zoomed focus on the type of player we want in here. ... That said, we have a number of players that we're trying to re-sign from our own team here, and that's where our focus is going to be."