Through seven weeks, the Atlanta Falcons are sitting at 3-4 after a 19-13 loss to the Carolina Panthers on Halloween. While Cordaralle Patterson’s offensive production has been a pleasant surprise, the team is still seeking to fill needs at other positions.
Two of the four losses they’ve suffered have come at the hands of 2020 playoff teams, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Washington Football Team. For the Falcons to have any luck of gaining serious attention, they have to beat good teams. They’ve outscored opponents by just 12 points in their three wins while their four losses were by a combined 59 points.
With the NFL Trade Deadline coming up today at 4 p.m. EST, many teams are rapidly scrambling to adjust the final pieces to their puzzles. For the Falcons, it’s the last chance to make a bold move that could catapult them into a team capable of keeping games competitive, regardless of a win or loss at the end.
The Falcons haven’t made the playoffs since 2017 and with an extra game this year, it could be all the team needs. However, they’re in a bit of a predicament.
Since the Falcons have major salary cap issues, being bottom five in the league, a free agency may not be a viable option during the 2022 offseason. Sports Illustrated called Atlanta’s cap situation “the worst position in the NFL” in September.
“The Falcons are already over the 2022 salary cap before a single player has been drafted or free agent signed … The Falcons salary cap is being cannibalized by players who no longer play for them. This is referred to as dead cap space by the NFL,” SI noted.
If the Falcons can maneuver the right deal, they can land key role players who can improve in areas they lack and do so that it doesn’t further the salary cap woes in Atlanta.
Here are three trade targets the Falcons should pursue in the final hours of NFL trade season.
Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, Tennessee Titans
Factor in the dead cap issues combined with an affordable pass-catcher will be the most realistic candidate that the Falcons can land. The Falcons lack another reliable wideout, as there has only been one game where a wide receiver not named Calvin Ridley has caught five passes.
With Westbrook-Ikhine’s role diminished, playing behind two proven studs at wide receiver in AJ Brown and Julio Jones, the deal would benefit both parties. The big catch radius being 6’2 meshed with his 4.5 40-yard time, he could become a reliable red-zone target for Matt Ryan and this relatively high-scoring offense.
Clelin Ferrell, Las Vegas Raiders
There wouldn’t be any salary cap questions with the acquisition of Ferrell, as he’s still under his rookie deal. The fourth pick in the 2019 NFL Draft has watched his snaps at defensive end progressively decline throughout the season and hasn’t even been on the field for 30% of the teams snaps.
Atlanta could be a breath of fresh air for Ferrell and has the possibility of being able to thrive in a defense that has been struggling for the good part of three seasons. The potential for Ferrell is there.
In 30 career games, the 265-pound Ferrell has an impressive 26 sacks. Playing alongside established players like Grady Jarrett and Dante Fowler could unlock the ability scouts saw in him entering the draft and providing a bright future on the east.
Marcus Maye, New York Jets
The Falcons’ secondary has been abysmal in recent memory, and the addition of Maye would force offenses to take this defense seriously. He’s one of the best free safeties in the league, boasting exceptional coverage skills and tackling instincts that interrupt offenses.
Maye came out of the offseason without a long-term deal for the Jets, and with a team playing for the future, Maye could use a team in a “win-now” mode. His contract may be hard for Atlanta––he’s got a year left on it and will make $10 million.
Still, the right moves make it possible for the Falcons to find the right pieces if they ship players at crowded positions in order to fill in holes.
Matt Ryan’s not getting any younger, and the Falcons need to do something drastic, especially on the defensive side, if they want to be proper contenders throughout the season. A new system could be just what a disgruntled or struggling player needs.