NFL Free Agency: Ranking the 5 Players the Atlanta Falcons Must Target

The Atlanta Falcons finished the 2021 season with a 7-10 record, placing them third in the NFC South. First-year head coach Arthur Smith started his tenure with a losing season, but it was a step in the right direction after the team went 4-12 in 2020.

Atlanta now enters the offseason with several pressing needs to address. The Falcons desperately need to add talent on both sides of the ball, and they should have plenty of options in NFL free agency. The biggest hurdle for the team will be its finances, though. General manager Terry Fontenot and the front office are more than $6.5 million over the salary cap.

The Falcons will have to do some restructuring to bolster its roster in free agency. These players should be on their radar once the period opens.

Falcons NFL free agency targets Mike Williams and Haason Reddick in action
Mike Williams of the Los Angeles Chargers in action against the Eagles | Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images; Haason Reddick of the Carolina Panthers lines up against the Washington Football Team | John Byrum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Honorable Mention: Falcons free agents Cordarrelle Patterson and Russell Gage Jr.

The Atlanta Falcons undoubtedly must address the wide receiver position in the offseason. Calvin Ridley’s status moving forward is still up in the air, and his absence caps the ceiling on the offense.

Russell Gage Jr. filled in nicely in 2021, catching 66 passes for 770 yards and four touchdowns. Cordarrelle Patterson enjoyed a breakout season in a hybrid role for the Falcons. He split time at running back and wide receiver. Patterson finished with 618 rushing yards, 548 receiving yards, and 11 total touchdowns.

Patterson’s versatility will make him a hot commodity in NFL free agency, but the Falcons have to do what they can to bring him back. Gage will certainly be more affordable, though.

5. G Laken Tomlinson, San Francisco 49ers

The Falcons’ front office has seemingly tried to build the offensive line through the draft, but the unit struggled mightily in 2021. Addressing the interior should be one of the top priorities. Pro Football Focus rated Atlanta’s interior offensive line group 29th in the league for the 2021 season.

Rookie Jalen Mayfield struggled mightily in year one. He’s young and has time to develop, but his woes were certainly concerning, given the hype coming out of Michigan. Laken Tomlinson could step right in and improve this offensive line. The veteran left guard allowed just two sacks and seven quarterback hits in 2021.

The San Francisco 49ers left guard has been as reliable as they come, starting every game over the past four seasons. Adding a consistent and proven veteran to the mix could be a massive step in the right direction for Atlanta’s offense.

4. RB Leonard Fournette, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

If Cordarrelle Patterson walks, the Falcons will be desperate for running back help. Leonard Fournette is the best player available at the position in NFL free agency. The fifth-year tailback has been an integral part of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers‘ offense over the past two seasons.

With him playing in the NFC South, Atlanta is very familiar with Fournette. He’s coming off a solid season where he rushed for 812 yards and eight touchdowns on 180 carries. He also caught 69 passes for 454 yards and two scores. His heavy involvement in the passing attack would translate well with the Falcons.

Fournette would be a significant upgrade over Mike Davis, who didn’t pan out quite as well as the team would’ve liked. Matt Ryan isn’t getting any younger, so having a highly capable back behind him would help take some pressure off the veteran quarterback’s shoulders.

3. S Marcus Williams, New Orleans Saints

The Falcons have several weak spots on their defense, especially in the secondary. The unit wasn’t as bad as it might seem, giving up 232.4 passing yards per game. However, the team needs to add more talent in the defensive backfield. The only player with a secure spot should be cornerback A.J. Terrell.

Atlanta could turn to another familiar face to bolster its defense. New Orleans Saints safety Marcus Williams has grown by leaps and bounds since entering the NFL in 2017. The Utah product recorded 74 tackles, eight passes defended, and two interceptions during the 2021 season.

The Saints used the franchise tag on Williams this past season and could choose to do it again. Even though it would be in their best interest to lock him up long-term, there’s a possibility the team could let him walk. If that’s the case, the Falcons should jump at the chance to land him.

2. OLB Haason Reddick, Carolina Panthers

Atlanta recently released Dante Fowler Jr., further heightening its need for pass rushers. The Falcons ranked dead last in the NFL in team sacks, registering just 18 on the season. That’s an abysmal number, and it’s hard to win like that in today’s game.

Haason Reddick could be a prime target for Arthur Smith’s squad in NFL free agency. Fowler led the team with 4.5 sacks. The Carolina Panthers edge rusher finished with 11 sacks in 2021. He also registered 18 quarterback hits and 33 pressures.

Pass rushing and defending the pass go hand in hand. The Falcons’ secondary lacks elite talent, but so does the front seven. Adding Reddick would give this unit a legitimate threat to wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks. He deserves a solid payday, so it will be interesting to see if Atlanta can offer him that.

1. WR Mike Williams, Los Angeles Chargers

Even if the Atlanta Falcons can retain Cordarrelle Patterson or Russell Gage Jr., it would be wise still to attack the wide receiver position in NFL free agency. With Calvin Ridley’s status for 2022 unknown, the front office can’t afford not to address it.

Expect Mike Williams to be one of the most coveted wideouts on the market in the offseason. The Los Angeles Chargers receiver caught 76 passes for 1,146 yards and nine touchdowns in 2021. Williams enjoyed the most productive season of his career, which should mean plenty of suitors once free agency opens.

The Clemson product is a big-bodied weapon that thrives in contested catch and red zone situations. He’s also shown an ability to stretch the field. The Falcons need more playmakers on offense, and Williams could be that for Matt Ryan if given the opportunities.

All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference and contract figures courtesy of Spotrac

RELATED: 2022 NFL Free Agency: 5 Best Destinations for Juju Smith-Schuster