The most exciting part of NFL free agency has come and gone, and the Atlanta Falcons made some big moves. Just knowing they made major moves should really make us happy, since, unfortunately, the Falcons, and Atlanta teams in general, tend to let us down when it comes to free agency. In the past several years, the only big-name free agent that the Braves have signed would be
B. J. Melvin Upton (and we all know how that worked out) and the Hawks have really only signed one as well (thankfully it was a great one), and that was Paul Millsap.
Who is the biggest free agent the Falcons have signed in recent memory? The only one would be Michael Turner, and that was in 2008 (Tony Gonzalez and Asanta Samuel were both big additions as well, but they were trades).
So it is nice to see the Falcons spend a little bit of money in free agency. So, what do we think about those additions?
Favorite Pick-up: Alex Mack
So I absolutely love this signing. Mack is a 3-time Pro-Bowler with the Cleveland Browns and has started every game in six of the seven seasons he has been in the NFL. Many NFL writers and pundits consider Mack to be one of the best Centers in the game, and the Center is leader of the offensive line. It is also a position that the Falcons have primarily used a different player at in each of the past four years (2015: Mike Person; 2014: James Stone; 2013: Peter Konz; 2012: Todd McClure).
Mack signed a five-year, $45 million contract, which is actually a lower cap number than Andy Levitre and Jake Mathews. This really makes this signing even better. It doesn’t break the bank, and the Falcons get a stud on the O-line.
Most Worrisome Pick-up: Derrick Shelby
Derrick Shelby spent the first four years of his career with the Miami Dolphins, where he recorded nine sacks, a number that did go up every season. Shelby has not gotten a lot of attention in his career, or even this past season (he recorded just 3.5 sacks), but having to play beside Ndamukong Suh and Cameron Wake, I imagine, would make it difficult to garner much attention. Plus, Shelby is really considered to be more of a run-stopping Defensive End than a pass-rusher.
I like that the team knows that they need help on the Defensive Line, particularly when it comes to rushing the passer. The Falcons have recorded just 41 sacks over the past two seasons (not even 1.5 per game). 10 teams reached at least 41 sacks in 2015 ALONE! They need the help anywhere they can get it, and hopefully getting to play and learn from Suh and Wake will pay off for Shelby.
Shelby signed a four-year, $18 million contract.
Underrated Pick-up: Mohamed Sanu
Mohamed Sanu, I feel, has been underrated thus far by NFL writers in terms of the pick for the Falcons. He didn’t put spectacular numbers in his four seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals (per season averaged 38 catches, nearly 450 yards and 3.75 TDs). Sanu’s contract has been criticized for him being the fifth-option in the Bengals passing game last season, and yet he is still getting a pretty good #2 receiver contract from the Falcons, but, that being said, that Falcons didn’t need to pay for another #1 receiver. Maybe you’ve heard of Julio Jones? Yes, the Falcons needed another receiver, but they certainly did not need one that would be expected to catch 100 passes, gain 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns with a massive contract. Offensive Line and pass rushing help were easily the biggest needs, and they spent a good chunk of change trying to improve those areas.
Sanu seems, to me anyways, like he could really be a great fit to put opposite Jones. If the Falcons get really lucky, maybe Justin Hardy will continue to develop and be able to give the team another weapon. The Falcons might also draft a Wide Receiver, or a Tight End, who will also be able to help out the Falcons’ passing game.
Sanu signed a five-year, $32.5 million contract.
Surprise Pick-Up: Sean Weatherspoon
The Sean Weatherspoon signing surprised me. I, like most Falcons’ fans, loved having him on the team in the early part of his career, and it was sad, and clearly really difficult on the team defensively, to see him suffer with injuries in the latter part of his time in Atlanta (only played in seven games in 2013, and missed all of 2014, the final year of his original stint with the team). Weatherspoon spent 2015 playing for the Arizona Cardinals, where he appeared in just 14 of their games, and was unable to play like the Weatherspoon of 2011, or anywhere close to that, in which he was named to Pro Football Focus’ 2nd-team All-NFL. The Falcons also did not pay a lot for him either, which is definitely a smart decision at this point in his career.
Weatherspoon signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract.
The Falcons have made other free agent signings, but I would consider these to be the most important…or at least the most interesting.