By Alex Merritt
Similar to the Atlanta Hawks, the Falcons have gone through an eventful offseason in an attempt to help their team take the next step. From big-name free agent signings, such as Alex Mack and Mohamed Sanu, to the 2016 NFL Draft, Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff used this offseason to put the Falcons in a position to end their 3-year playoff drought. This included signing players that can shape the future of the franchise, and other players who provide depth. Overall, the Falcons have added a significant amount of talent to their roster. With training camp only a fortnight away, here are the top 3 moves of the Falcons this offseason.
3. Signing Derrick Shelby
Although the Falcons may not have addressed the pass rush as much as fans expected, Derrick Shelby has the skillset and athleticism to help a pass rush that has ranked last in the NFL in sacks the last 2 seasons. Shelby took advantage of the opportunity to play in place of an injured Cameron Wake in 2015 as he finished with 37 combined tackles, 3.5 sacks, and 3 turnovers in 9 starts (per NFL.com). After signing a 4-year deal with the Falcons worth $18 million, Shelby is expected to start on the defensive line or at least rotate with Brooks Reed, Vic Beasley, and Ra’shede Hageman. With a cheap contract and a lot of upside, the former Miami Dolphin will provide much-needed pass rush help for the team, and will bolster the Falcons’ defense.
2. Drafting Keanu Neal
Following the release of William Moore after the 2015 season, the Falcons lacked a safety who could provide physicality in the run game as well as coverage skills in passing situations. Drafting Keanu Neal with the 17th pick in the 2016 NFL Draft fills that need. While at Florida, Neal became known as a physical box safety that had a high ceiling as a coverage defender, finishing with 129 total tackles (4.5 for a loss), 4.5 sacks, and 6 turnover in 2 seasons as a starter for the gators (per sports-reference.com). With the Falcons looking to add youth, speed, and power to the defense, Keanu Neal has the potential to become the leading anchor in Atlanta’s secondary, alongside Desmond Trufant. Neal could be the last piece Dan Quinn needs to fully reshape Atlanta’s defense.
1. Signing Alex Mack
Arguably the biggest free-agent acquisition for the Falcons in recent memory, Alex Mack is expected to complete a talented Falcons’ offensive line. After spending his first 7 seasons with the Browns, Mack signed a 5-year deal worth $45 million to be with the team through the 2020 season, making him the highest-paid center in the league (per Overthecap.com). Mack has started every game he has played in his career and has started 16 games all but once, missing 11 games in 2014. Although Mack is now one of the highest-paid players on the Falcons roster, the impact he will make for the team will certainly justify his contract. From enhancing the Falcons’ zone run game to being a leader in the locker room, Mack’s impact on and off the field will help the Falcon’s offense reach new heights. Mack will be a long-term solution at a position that has been unstable for the Falcons since the retirement of Todd McClure, and will play an essential part in the Falcons’ return to the playoffs.