The Atlanta Falcons’ pass rush is almost an oxymoron the last several seasons. The Falcons had an almost impossibly-low total of sacks in 2021 with 18, finishing 11 below the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Falcons improved in 2022, but their total only grew to 21 in 2022. If the Falcons had 39 sacks THIS season, they would have finished tied for 18th in the NFL.
Yes, the Falcons combined total of sacks the last two years would put them in the bottom half of the NFL this year. It’s that bad.
Meanwhile the Eagles, who finished 31st in 2021 had a whopping 70 sacks in 2022, so there can be rapid improvement from season to season.
The Falcons addressed the edge position last year in the NFL Draft by taking Arnold Ebiketie in the second round and DeAngelo Malone in the third-round, but more help is needed.
Atlanta will likely prioritize the defensive line in April’s draft, but they’ll also look to bring in help in free agency, a luxury they haven’t had the last two seasons other than bargain-journeymen players and castoffs from the Chicago Bears and Tennessee Titans.
Pro Football Focus (PFF) listed a free-agent defensive target for every team in the NFL, and it’s no surprise they went edge for the Falcons. Brad Spielberger pegs Sam Ebukam of the San Francisco 49ers as a Falcons target.
“It’s almost impressive how little production the Falcons have gotten from edge defenders over the last three seasons, as their 229 quarterback pressures are the fewest in the NFL by more than 50 and well below the league average at 406,” wrote Brad Spielberger on PFF.
“Ebukam is coming off back-to-back seasons with 45 quarterback pressures, and he’s not just a pure pass-rusher, totaling 51 defensive stops over the last two seasons. With Falcons defensive coordinator Dean Pees retiring after this season, there could be changes coming to the structure of the Falcons defense, but Ebukam has shown flexibility as a bit of a tweener with his 6-foot-3, 245-pound frame between his days spent as a stand-up outside linebacker with the Los Angeles Rams and a defensive end in San Francisco.”
Spielberger mentions the Falcons’ available-salary cap space of $56-million being the second highest in the NFL, but that number will be closer to $100 million than $50 million once general manager Terry Fontenot goes to work on clearing and restructuring a few key contracts.
Just because the Falcons have the money for a change, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t still be frugal in their spending. Ebukam is coming off a 2-year, $12-million deal with the 49ers. By comparison, Ebukam’s 45 pressures came in 559 snaps, while Falcons-starting edge Lorenzo Carter had 33 pressures in 909 snaps according to PFF.
Carter was on a one-year $2.5-million deal. Combined with the dead-cap hit of Dante Fowler, the Falcons had over $8 million invested in one of the starting edge positions last year. Carter can be a valuable role player for the Falcons, but he doesn’t need to see over 900 snaps in 2023 if the decide to re-sign him.
Atlanta could tempt Ebukam with a $10-million per-season deal that would give him a significant raise while staying well within their parameters of not overspending.
The Falcons have invested heavily (through the draft) the last two seasons on offense including two first-round picks in the top 10. Fontenot’s last draft was especially good on offense despite ESPN’s relatively low ranking.
Now it’s time to address the defense.