NFL Preview: NFC South – Atlanta Falcons

680 The Fan NFL Preview
Feb.17, 2021 – BY CARLOS MEDINA
680 THE FAN, ATLANTA –

NFC South – Atlanta Falcons
2020 Record: 4-12 | Projected Cap Space: $32 Million Over

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) runs against the New Orleans Saints during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Hitting Rock Bottom:

The make or break season that faced former Falcons coach Dan Quinn and former Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff started with an 0-5 start to the season and an early season dismissal of the tandem that had helped the Falcons reach Super Bowl LI.

The Falcons have used the 2021 offseason to try and change the lingering reputation from that Super Bowl loss. The Falcons have found ways to give up big leads in recent years, and that mentality of “here we go again” had permeated the fanbase. Most every link to that period is now gone.

New coach Arthur Smith, previously the OC of the Titans, and new team GM Terry Fontenot are now tasked with changing the team’s current reputation. Fontenot, previously an executive with the New Orleans Saints, will be tasked with finding the types of players who have the mental makeup to establish a new identity for the team.

The team still has some ties to that Super Bowl debacle. Quarterback Matt Ryan and receiver Julio Jones have the types of contracts that make moving them this offseason less than ideal. For Ryan, returning to a style off offense from 2016 and 2017 should serve him well.

The Falcons do hold the 4th overall pick in the upcoming draft and there are a number of possible franchise quarterbacks in this draft. A big change looks to be coming.

Targets for Release/Restructure:

Allen Bailey, DE: The veteran played as a rotational pass rusher. The Falcons will need to make several moves in order to get under the salary cap for 2021. One of those moves will be moving on from Bailey and realizing his savings. Cap savings: $4.5M

James Carpenter, G: The 13 game starter was a trust worthy starter at times during the 2020 season. With the Falcons running more zone run concepts in 2021, the team will look to part ways and find a player who is a better fit at the guard position. Cap savings: $4M

Key Free Agents:

Keanu Neal, S – Had a bounce back season after missing the better part of two seasons with knee and Achilles injuries. Physical run player who recorded 100 tackles in 2020.

Alex Mack, C – The six-time Pro Bowler is looking at a possible retirement.

Brian Hill, RB – Became the Falcons most useful running back due to Todd Gurley’s lingering knee issues. Recorded 465 yards rushing with an impressive 4.7 yards per carry average.

Damontae Kazee, S – Was only able to play in four games due to injury. Intercepted 10 passes over the previous two seasons.

Younghoe Koo, K – The 2020 Pro Bowl kicker made 37 of 39 kicks after making the team on a one year deal. Will likely resign with the Falcons.