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Offseason Mailbag: Justin Fields & other QB options, priority free agent positions

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By: William McFadden

Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

It’s been a news-heavy week for the Atlanta Falcons, and we’ve got a few answers for your biggest questions

It’s been a news-heavy week for the Atlanta Falcons. Head coach Raheem Morris and General Manager Terry Fontenot spoke from the podium at the NFL Combine, and they made clear what we all know—quarterback is at the top of the offseason priority list.

But while the organization is searching for the long-term answer at the game’s most important position, the business of building a roster continues. On that front, Atlanta made an expected move to clear up cap space by releasing Jonnu Smith. It’s a step towards the new offense Zac Robinson will implement and will help reallocate resources. However, Smith’s time in Atlanta should be remembered well.

With actual on-field events at the combine set to begin Thursday afternoon, we will get a lot more information about the prospects for this year’s draft. The offseason is really kicking into gear now, and the Falcons are going to be one of the main characters.

What are the areas of most importance for the Falcons to target in free agency? – Ed Helinski (@MrEd315)

We’re all aware that quarterback is the most important, yes? We just don’t know how the team will—or should—go about it. Atlanta may trade for Justin Fields, sign a top free agent or make a move for one of the top prospects. Whatever the case, quarterback would be at the top of any list, so let’s remove that position for one second. Here is my personal Top 3 to target in free agency.

1. Cornerback – I’m a sucker when it comes to building from the back to the front. It’s something I used to argue about with my old boss Matt Tabeek a lot behind closed doors. He likes the big uglies, and I want to throw a blanket over all of the receivers. Neither is necessarily wrong, but Beek isn’t here to rebut me so I get the last laugh. The Falcons have been solid at finding plug-and-play No. 2 corners in recent offseasons. I liked the growth of Clark Phillips, and Dee Alford has become a nice contributor. Add a proven and cost-effective player opposite of Terrell, and I’d consider this group to be in good shape.

2. Edge rusher – The only reason I don’t have this as the top choice is because I think the draft lines up nicely for Atlanta at this position, and I’m not sure a lot of the top free agents will actually become available. However, if someone like Josh Allen or Brian Burns does hit the market, I’d do anything in my power to grab one. Otherwise, I’d be perfectly happy with Dallas Turner at No. 8 or seeing if someone like Chop Robinson, Darius Robinson or Bralen Trice slips to Day 2.

3. Wide receiver – Again, this is mostly due to balancing free agency with the draft. In a year where the receiver class is once talented and deep, the Falcons could easily add a starting option (or two). Instead of paying a premium for proven production, I’d rather go with a cheap, young option. After all, receivers are one of the few positions that can make an impact right out of the gates. I’d rather get Roman Wilson or (lord willing) Ladd McConkey in Round 2 than pay for Gabe Davis, but that’s just me.

How do you rank these in order of more likely to happen:

  • Trading for Justin Fields
  • Signing veteran FA QB like Cousins or Russ (if cut)
  • Moving up to get one of the big 3, Williams, Maye, Daniels

– Cody (CodySnow25)

Right now it certainly feels like the Justin Fields announcement could come at any moment, but I’m not so sure that a deal is imminent. Remember everything with Deshaun Watson—there was a ton of smoke on social media (there always is) but ultimately no fire.

Of the two parties, the Bears are the ones under pressure to get something done. They don’t want to go into free agency with the Fields situation hanging over them. The Falcons, meanwhile, would be smart to continue investigating every scenario. So, the noise we’re hearing right now might be legitimate or it might be coming from Chicago to add pressure for Atlanta. But the longer the Falcons wait, the more leverage they should gain when it comes to Fields.

That may still be the best middle ground to walk, though, which is why you could softly pencil it in at No. 1. Fields would be cheap in 2024, but then the finances come into play. With a big year, Fields would cost a pretty penny, but the Falcons would feel better about the long-term health at the position. If he doesn’t perform well, the Falcons will have inherited the Bears’ current problem. But a player with Fields’s youth and upside is rarely available like this.

I think the next option you’d see Atlanta pursue would be through the draft. All signs point to the Falcons taking an aggressive approach at quarterback, so if they identify one of the consensus top 3 that you mentioned as the right guy for the future, I’d expect them to do whatever is necessary to land him. Otherwise, I do think there’s a real chance they consider J.J. McCarthy or Bo Nix. Fans can feel however they’d like about those two prospects, but NFL teams will find a lot to like and both are similar to players who have succeeded in the Shanahan/McVay offense.

Last on the list for me would be a free-agent signing, and that’s purely because of the cost. I’d bet on Fontenot looking for a cost-effective option, at least in the short-term, than going with an expensive rental. But ask me again next week, and I’m sure this will all change. That’s what makes this the most important and fun conversation to have!

Thanks to everyone who submitted questions for today’s mailbag! If you’d like to submit a question for the future, leave it in the comments below or send to @willmcfadden on Twitter.

Originally posted on The Falcoholic – All Posts