The Atlanta Falcons featured an offense full of former first-round picks, but they still finished at the bottom of the NFC South last season. That represented a new low for a franchise that made the Super Bowl just a few years ago.
With Matt Ryan and Julio Jones inching closer to the end of their respective careers, the Falcons face a very uncertain future. But with the 2021 NFL draft rapidly approaching, new general manager Terry Fontenot may be forced to trade away Atlanta’s most valuable asset before time runs out.
The top of the 2021 NFL draft suddenly looks much different
The Miami Dolphins completely shook up the top of the 2021 NFL draft by trading the No. 3 pick to the San Francisco 49ers for the 12th overall pick, first-rounders in 2022 and 2023, and a 2022 third-rounder.
The Dolphins then executed a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles to move up to the sixth slot in next month’s draft.
By paying such a steep price to move up to No. 3, San Francisco undoubtedly has its sights set on taking a signal-caller. Mac Jones, Justin Fields, and Trey Lance stand out as obvious candidates to eventually take over as the new face of the 49ers.
Barring a complete surprise, the Falcons will come on the clock with three quarterbacks already off the board.
The Falcons suddenly have no choice but to trade their most valuable asset
While the Falcons have a few bonafide stars on their roster, their most valuable asset doesn’t wear a jersey on Sundays. At the moment, the No. 4 pick represents the key to Atlanta’s future.
And after watching the Dolphins get a huge haul for the third pick, the Falcons suddenly have no choice but to trade the fourth pick, too.
Sure, it sounds enticing to take a quarterback. But do they really want to settle for the fourth one off the board? That doesn’t seem like good value when the No. 1 prospect at every other position would still be available.
For those clamoring for the Falcons to take the top-ranked non-quarterback on their board, that plan doesn’t carry nearly the same upside as trading away the pick entirely. Instead of acquiring one elite player, Atlanta can turn the fourth selection into multiple first-round picks, plus a mid-rounder or two.
With a new regime taking over a roster full of question marks, the Falcons would be foolish not to hold a bidding war for an asset that carries tremendous value for quarterback-needy teams.
Which NFL teams could give Atlanta a call?
If Terry Fontenot welcomes offers for the Falcons’ first-round pick, he should have no shortage of interested suitors. After all, if the 49ers select either Jones, Fields, or Lance, two potential stars will still be on the board.
And while no prospect is perfect, if a team has one of those players graded highly, Atlanta could fetch a fantastic return for the No. 4 pick. Of course, that will require a trade partner willing to surrender significant resources to move up for a potential franchise signal-caller.
While it would be a massive risk, the Falcons could trade their top pick to one of their division rivals. The Carolina Panthers desperately want to find a long-term solution at quarterback this offseason. Can they come up with a trade package Atlanta simply can’t refuse?
The Denver Broncos currently hold the ninth pick, but if they have their sights set on landing a young quarterback, could they maneuver up the board to secure one?
Plus, the New England Patriots loom in the distance. Armed with the 15th overall selection, Bill Belichick has a rare opportunity to land a blue-chip talent. After executing a franchise-altering free-agent haul, will he continue to operate in an uncharacteristically aggressive manner by actually trading up in the 2021 NFL draft to find Tom Brady’s ultimate successor?
The Falcons clearly have several logical potential trade partners who could hand over valuable assets for their most valuable one. Let’s see if Atlanta takes a page out of Miami’s playbook before Roger Goodell takes the stage next month.