Terry Fontenot’s ties to New Orleans mean it’ll be worth keeping an eye on a few names from (urgh) New Orleans.
Free agency is awfully close. The Falcons are going to have to figure out who they want to add to this roster ahead of March, and if last year is any guide, Terry Fontenot and company will want to populate the roster with what they view as quality veterans who don’t break the bank. Some of those may be re-signed players—I’d expect one of Erik Harris or Duron Harmon to come back, for example—but the team will also look outside the walls of Flowery Branch for new additions.
It doesn’t hurt to look at teams these front office executives and coaches came from, especially when Dave Ragone stumped hard to add Cordarrelle Patterson, Arthur Smith presumably pushed for former favorites Tajae Sharpe and Parker Hesse, and executives like assistant director of college scouting Dwaune Jones had ties to early-offseason 2021 signings like punter Dom Maggio. We’ll start with Terry Fontenot’s former team, the eminently detestable Saints.
Last year, we looked at a list and the Falcons signed zero of them, so this is not going to be a precision tool so much as an interesting potential shopping list. We do know that Fontenot signed Erik Harris, who he was familiar with when the two overlapped in New Orleans, and that this team will once again need to do some of its building through free agency. Let’s look at a few impending free agents Fontenot would be familiar with and could potentially join Atlanta this offseason.
WR Tre’Quan Smith
Saints fans, I would say, are not big Smith fans. He’s had a deeply frustrating four year run in New Orleans, putting together just 112 receptions for 1,486 over that span, though he has scored 17 times. That doesn’t mean Fontenot and company won’t be interested.
Smith just showed out against the Falcons, catching five passes for 76 yards and a touchdown in the season finale, and he offers good size (6’2”, 210 pounds) and a history of red zone production. The team figures to prioritize both traits this offseason. Smith would ideally be something like the third or fourth receiver in Atlanta, and in that role he offers more upside than, say, Tajae Sharpe. I’d keep an eye on him.
S Marcus Williams
Let’s quote last year’s writeup, because nothing has really changed.
There are a lot of dots worth connecting here. A part-time starter for the past four years in New Orleans, Williams is probably most famous for getting his missed tackle on Stefon Diggs in the Minneapolis Miracle game, which will probably be enough to put many off of the signing. Outside of that brutal moment, Williams has been an aggressive, interesting safety who has 13 interceptions and 30 pass deflections in four seasons, a product of being a player who has terrific coverage instincts and is willing to contest catches. He’s a solid if not tremendous tackler and is solid in run support, but coverage is where he’s a definite asset.
Terry Fontenot will know Williams well, will be familiar with his strengths, and will absolutely arrive at the conclusion that Atlanta needs help at safety.
If the Falcons don’t bring back Isaiah Oliver, it’s quite possible Richie Grant will settle into the nickel role full-time, and only Jaylinn Hawkins is under contract at safety at the moment in addition to Grant. Williams would be a strong addition who was pretty stingy in coverage this past season, but obviously he won’t be cheap.
DB P.J. Williams
An interesting player, Williams was a third round pick back in 2015 with the Saints and has played his entire career there, so he may not be amenable to leaving. He’s played multiple spots for the Saints on defense over the years, but the noteworthy thing is that he hasn’t allowed a touchdown in coverage over the past two seasons and has really improved his coverage skills over that span. The Falcons have A.J. Terrell and Darren Hall locked in at cornerback, but Williams would be a nice get for this secondary.
DL Jalyn Holmes
Not all of these are going to be exciting. Holmes played in eight games this year and started nine a year ago, doing solid work in his snaps. He’ll be just 26 years old in 2022, extremely affordable and could slot in as a reserve rotational piece at defensive end. Fontenot likely would’ve been instrumental to bringing him into the Saints organization after he was cut by the Vikings, so there must have been something there he liked.
DT Shy Tuttle
I can tell you at least one reason I’d have a hard time with this signing at first. Tuttle is an RFA, so he’d have to be tendered at the original round level (he was an undrafted free agent) and then scooped up if the team wanted him.
Tuttle is a stone solid run defender and an occasionally useful pass rusher who would plug into Atlanta’s defensive line rotation. Atlanta’s run defense was not doomed by the performance of the line alone or even close to it, obviously, but they could use more stout defenders at the point of attack. Tuttle would be a good get to address just that.
RB Ty Montgomery
As a versatile reserve—Montgomery has dabbled at running back and wide receiver—and special teamer, he makes sense as a back-of-the-roster addition. Cordarrelle Patterson Diet Lite, if you will.