Let’s zero in on the offensive and defensive lines.
If you have even the dregs of your soul after you’ve been a Falcons fan this long, you felt that soul stir when Arthur Smith and Terry Fontenot talked about adding to the trenches. The Falcons have real question marks on both lines that could once again derail their best-laid plans, so knowing they’ll be targeting competition and perhaps outright upgrades is welcome news.
It raises an obvious question: Who are they signing? We don’t know the answer to that and it’s likely to involve cuts from other teams later in the summer, but the good news is that there are a handful of extremely worthwhile options out there in the open market today. If the Falcons are serious about trimming positions like wide receiver and cornerback after their final minicamp session tomorrow, they could sign some of these players pretty soon.
For each of these, I tried to block out four players who I thought would be great fits for the Falcons who are still somehow available, as well as one offensive line upside gamble for the team to look at. This is not an exhaustive list of who’s available—you can find that on Spotrac—and will be missing surprise cuts that the Falcons might explore. With all that said, let’s take a closer look at who’s out there right now as Atlanta decides who they want to add to the trenches.
LG Quinton Spain
Sort of the no-brainer choice if the Falcons are looking to supplant Jalen Mayfield.
Spain is a physical, experienced guard with extensive starting experience at left guard in particular, and while he’s on the wrong side of 30, he’s coming off a quality season with the Cincinnati Bengals and isn’t showing signs of slowing down. He also knows Arthur Smith from their shared time in Tennessee, and would probably be the guy you’d want pushing Mayfield for a spot if you wanted a proven starter to take over for him in 2022. It’s sort of surprising he’s still out there, frankly.
C J.C. Tretter
If the Falcons are more intent on pushing Matt Hennessy out of a starting job and don’t think Drew Dalman’s the man to do it, Tretter is a beyond logical option.
Tretter has started all but one game at center over the past five seasons and has consistently delivered quality seasons, earning a sterling 78.7 Pro Football Focus grade in 2021. He’s above average in terms of both pass protection and run blocking, and would slot in to a Falcons line that desperately needs to do both things at a higher level. I’m sure Atlanta wants Hennessy and Dalman to duke it out for the job and have a long-term option under contract, but if that competition doesn’t go well and Tretter is still somehow out there, the Falcons should snap him up.
G/T Ereck Flowers
Flowers has now played both tackle and guard in the NFL, and after a truly abysmal start to his career, quietly carved out a good run as a starter. Most of Flowers’ NFL experience has come on the left side of the line, which would the 6’6”, 330 pound lineman in a good position to compete with Mayfield at left guard (where he was a 14 game starter for Miami in 2020) or at least serve as a seasoned backup for potentially both Jake Matthews and Mayfield.
The versatility, the fact that Flowers is still reasonably young, and the experience at left guard all combine to make him a potentially intriguing addition for this Falcons team.
G Greg Van Roten
The textbook definition of a solid starting guard, Van Roten hasn’t started fewer than 10 games in each of the past four seasons for Carolina and New York and has experience playing both left guard and right guard in the pros.
He’s not an exciting addition—the Jets benched him for Laurent Duvernay-Tardif last year partway through the season, though it’s not clear that was an upgrade for them—but he is seasoned and solid enough to hold down the fort at left guard if he beats out Jalen Mayfield. If he winds up being just a backup for Atlanta, that’s fine, as he’d be by far the most proven and solid option to back up both Mayfield and Chris Lindstrom that the Falcons would have on the roster.
T Zach Banner
Purely a dice roll, but a more interesting potential addition than a sea of so-so players out there in free agency. Banner has just two starts over several years in the NFL, but has played well on those rare occasions when he’s not injured and out on the field. Listed at 6’8” and 360 pounds, Banner has shown terrific strength and real run blocking chops as a right tackle when healthy, and is still just 28 years old.
If the Falcons want to add an interesting option for the summer who might latch on to a practice squad spot at worst, especially with Kaleb McGary and Germain Ifedi set to reach free agency, why not Banner?
Defensive line/edge rusher
DT Eddie Goldman
He’s not quite the space eater Anthony Rush is, given that Rush is listed as being nearly 40 pounds heavier, but Goldman is a quality nose tackle who gets pressure on opposing quarterbacks. He’s lingering in the free agent market because he’s coming off the worst season of his career in Chicago, but a change of scenery could provide him with the opportunity for a bounceback year.
Remember, the Falcons are far from settled on the interior of their defensive line, and Goldman’s not all that far removed from being a force in the middle of that Bears defense. On the right deal, he would be a worthwhile addition.
DT Larry Ogunjobi
He’s not going to get the deal he received from the Bears in mid-March, who backed out after Ogunjobi reportedly failed a physical. He will still command a solid one-year deal or multi-year pact, and Ogunjobi will absolutely be worth it.
Last year with Cincinnati, Ogunjobi logged 68% of the defensive snaps as a workhorse for that Bengals defensive line, managing 7 sacks. He’s a disruptive force who just turned 28 years old.
It’s just a question of health. If Atlanta’s serious about adding talent to the defensive line and Ogunjobi can pass a physical, I’d be thrilled to see a player of his caliber sign this summer.
OLB Justin Houston
Yes, I’m going to stump for Houston until he retires. No, you can’t stop me.
A model of consistency and pass rushing efficiency, Houston has at least four sacks in every single one of his NFL seasons, adding up to 102 in total. As a 15 game starter for a loaded Ravens defense a year ago, he managed 4.5 and just one fewer pressure (per Pro Football Reference) than he put up in 2020 when he had 8 sacks. This is all to suggest that Houston, despite being 33 years old, hasn’t really dropped off.
The advantages of adding Houston are myriad: He’s a well-regarded leader and teacher, he’d add a proven track record to a relatively young and unproven group, and he offers a strong floor if some of the team’s high-upside young players don’t quite take off in 2022. I’d love to see him in Atlanta.
DE/OLB Benson Mayowa
Besides Houston, most of the options on this list are either going to be more expensive, are much older, or have more limited track records. Out of that bunch, Mayowa stands out to me as a worthwhile addition.
All Mayowa does is turn in solid seasons as a pass rusher wherever he goes, and he’s gone many places in his NFL career. Mayowa is coming off a quiet year by his standards, turning in just one sack and (per Pro Football Reference) just six pressures after putting up a combined 13 sacks in 2019 and 2020, but he’s still a capable player who would add experience and production to a young outside linebacker group.
Who else would you add to this list?