NFL free agency is off and running, and we're keeping track of every major signing, trade and release of the 2021 offseason, with analysis from our NFL Nation reporters and grades from our experts. The new league year began March 17, meaning free-agent signings could be made official after that. The first round of the 2021 NFL draft begins April 29 on ESPN.
The Falcons start free agency $22.05 million over the salary cap, and that’s after cutting several players (notably Ricardo Allen and Allen Bailey) earlier this year, so don’t expect them to be big players in free agency. The team did re-sign four exclusive-rights free agents, including Pro Bowl K Younghoe Koo, in mid-March but there are expected to be some cuts and restructures to get under the cap.
QB Matt Ryan ($40.9 million) and WR Julio Jones ($23.05 million) have the two highest cap numbers in 2021 and could be candidates for restructuring deals to help create some cap relief. The Falcons do need to address running back and find a pass-rusher, but the latter likely will be well above their price limit.
Younghoe Koo, kicker
Koo re-signed as an exclusive rights free agent. Terms were not disclosed.
What it means: Koo was a Pro Bowler in 2020 and has made 60 of 65 field-goal attempts in 23 games with the Falcons. No kicker in the NFL has made more field goals than Koo since he joined Falcons in Week 10 of 2019. Koo had a rough start to his career with the Los Angeles Chargers in 2017 and didn't kick in the NFL in 2018 and for more than half of the 2019 season, but he's been almost automatic for the Falcons since. Koo also gives the Falcons a chance to score from long range: He's 9-of-9 on field-goal attempts of 50 or more yards.
What's the risk: Minimal, if any. Koo has arguably been the Falcons' most consistent player since he joined the team, which is invaluable for a playcaller. It makes choosing a play on third-and-9 from the 38-yard line a little easier knowing you're already sitting on a pretty good chance of getting three points. Since he'll play at least half of his games inside Koo should be able to maintain that consistency, barring injury, for a while longer.
Brandon Copeland, linebacker
Copeland agreed to a one-year deal with the Falcons, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported.
What it means: Copeland was a starter for four games in New England before a torn pectoral muscle ended his season with the Patriots. He's been a good special teams player wherever he's gone and developed into at least a part-time starter the past three seasons with the New York Jets and the Patriots. He's played in 66 games, starting 18 of them. He has seven career sacks, two forced fumbles, four passes defended and 119 tackles."
What's the risk: There isn't much of one as long as this isn't a big contract -- which considering the Falcons' cap situation it won't be. Copeland is a consistent player and a good locker room presence who was named to the Forbes 30-under-30 list last year. Beyond playing football, he teaches an offseason class at the University of Pennsylvania (his alma mater) on personal finance and is involved with real estate. He's also a contributing editor for Kiplinger's.
Christian Blake, wide receiver
Blake re-signed with the Falcons. Terms were not disclosed.
What it means: Blake is a young, developmental receiver that the Falcons hope can emerge in his third season. He joined the team as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2018 and has 24 catches for 232 yards in 25 games with the Falcons in 2019-20. He played in 16 games last season but totaled just 13 catches, though he did have two games in which he had three catches. Julio Jones is nearing the end of his career and the Falcons have to find an eventual No. 3 receiver and Blake is going to get a chance to earn that job.
What's the risk: Blake had just one catch over the final five games of 2020 and his best game came in 2019: six catches for 57 yards against New Orleans. There were opportunities for him to produce more at times in 2020 (Julio Jones missed seven games) but he wasn't able to come up with consistent production. Part of that is because of breakout seasons by Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage.
Tyler Hall, cornerback
Hall re-signed with the Falcons. Terms were not disclosed.
What it means: Hall, who was signed by the Falcons as an undrafted rookie in 2020, turned in a solid season on special teams. He had two tackles on defense but four on special teams in nine games. He'll get a chance to establish himself as a core special-teams player in 2021.
What's the risk: Zero, honestly. The Falcons clearly see some potential if they're bringing him back after playing in just nine games but it's not as if they're counting on much from him on defense. Whatever he can deliver beyond special teams is a bonus.
Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, defensive end
Tuioti-Mariner re-signed with the Falcons on a one-year extension.
What it means: Tuioti-Mariner showed flashes that he can develop into a good rotational player on defense who can also contribute on special teams. Tuioti-Mariner had 20 tackles, one sack, a forced fumble, two fumble recoveries and a career-high 11 special teams tackles last season. He was the NFC's Defensive Player of the Week after posting five tackles, a sack, a forced fumble, two fumble recoveries, and one special teams tackle against the Las Vegas Raiders.
What's the risk: Not much. The Falcons bring back a solid special-teams player and someone who flashed at times on defense. The Falcons need to find a pass-rusher to complement Dante Fowler and Tuioti-Mariner gets a chance to find some playing time there.
Jaeden Graham, tight end
What it means: The Falcons brought back another special-teams contributor who can make an occasional contribution on offense behind Hayden Hurst. Graham has appeared in every game the past two seasons and has 12 catches for 174 yards and one touchdown, but he but caught only three passes for 25 yards last season.
What's the risk: Re-signing solid special-teams players who can help out on offense or defense in a pinch is a low-risk move that helps build depth at the back end of the roster. With new coach Arthur Smith coming from an offense that liked to use the tight end there's a chance Graham's production could equal or better what he did in 2019 (nine catches).
Erik Harris, safety
Terms of Harris' deal were not disclosed.
What it means: Harris brings two years of starting experience with the Raiders as a free safety, starting 26 games over the past two seasons. He made five interceptions, with two touchdowns.
With his experience, he should be a starter in this defense this year, potentially as a replacement for Keanu Neal.
What's the risk: Not a ton at this point. The Falcons need players, specifically on defense, and have very little depth at safety. As long as Atlanta didn't overpay -- and with the team's cap situation it is unlikely they'll overpay for any player this cycle -- it's a move worth taking to bring an established starter in.
Mike Davis, running back
The Falcons signed Davis to a two-year deal worth up to $5.5 million.
What it means: The Falcons needed a running back with Todd Gurley II gone in free agency and Davis is a back who can give coach Arthur Smith a little bit of everything in the backfield.
Davis had one of his most productive seasons last year, rushing 165 times for 642 yards and six touchdowns while also catching 59 passes for 373 yards and two touchdowns.
What's the risk: With the way the roster is currently constructed and with Smith having used such a heavy rushing attack in Tennessee, if Davis doesn't produce at the rate he did last year -- or like he did in Seattle in 2018 (514 yards, four touchdowns, 4.6 yards per carry) then the run game could be in trouble.
Of course, it's possible Atlanta drafts a running back next month and that helps balance things out as Smith and GM Terry Fontenot start to build their team around the passing game pieces already in place.
Barkevious Mingo, linebacker
Mingo agreed to terms on a one-year deal.
What it means: Mingo is another player on a one-year contract who should have an immediate role. As a former first-round pick, the talent is there but he's bounced around the league. Atlanta is his seventh stop and he hasn't been with the same team at any point since his first three-year stint in Cleveland.
Mingo has played in 126 games, starting 40, and has 12.5 career sacks. He hasn't been a full-time starter since 2018, when he started 14 of 16 games in Seattle. He's been very durable throughout his career, missing only two games in eight seasons.
What's the risk: There's none, really, as it's a one-year deal and Atlanta needs linebackers. He's also been adept as a linebacker at defending passes -- with 16 over his career. Any player signing a one-year deal isn't going to be too big of a risk if the money is OK -- it is not a big dollar figure here.
Fabian Moreau, cornerback
Moreau agreed to a one-year deal.
What it means: Moreau took on a little heavier special-teams role last season, playing 41 percent of the Washington Football Team's snaps. A third-round pick by Washington in 2017 out of UCLA, Moreau rarely established himself as a starter, with 18 starts over 60 games. He has six career interceptions and 14 career passes defended so he has the ability to be around the ball.
It's not likely he becomes a starter in Atlanta, but Moreau can provide good depth as long as his special-teams work continues.
What's the risk: Not much of one. Atlanta needs players and Moreau is a veteran presence with good size who can give you some work on special teams. It's a one-year deal so not too much invested. He is a better outside corner than someone in the slot and he might have a similar role to what he had in Washington -- No. 4 corner who could start in a pinch.
He might get more opportunities in Atlanta, though, especially if he can show more inside-outside flexibility."