Peterson will miss at least the Vikings’ next three games with the move. Coach Mike Zimmer said he doesn’t believe the eight-time Pro Bowl selection’s injury would end his season.
Peterson left the Vikings’ 34-28 overtime victory over the Carolina Panthers late in the fourth quarter because of cramping after defending against DJ Moore on a pass that fell incomplete. He didn’t return for the overtime period.
Peterson was replaced in the game by Cameron Dantzler, who presumably would fill Peterson’s role in the starting lineup while he is on IR.
Asked how he feels about the rest of his cornerback group in Peterson’s absence, Zimmer said: “I feel fine. Patrick’s played really well. We’ll miss him for sure, but Dantzler’s done decent and so has [Bashaud] Breeland.”
Peterson signed with the Vikings this offseason after spending the first 10 seasons of his career with the Arizona Cardinals.
The Vikings improved to 3-3 with their victory Sunday.
ESPN’s Courtney Cronin contributed to this report.
Fantasy football rankings – The 192 players who should be rostered in 2022
The fantasy football offseason is nearly upon us, which means it’s time to start looking ahead to 2022.
Yes, the next fantasy season is many months away and the below rankings will be impacted in a significant way by retirements, free agency, the draft, coaching changes and much more. Nonetheless, we need to start somewhere, so below is the first run of “The 192” for 2022.
Why 192? Fantasy leagues come in all shapes in sizes, but many have settled into the vicinity of 12 teams and 16 roster spots. “The 192” is a list of the 192 players who should be drafted (and thus rostered) in a 12-team, 16-round, PPR league with relatively standard scoring and lineup settings. The players are technically listed in the order they should be drafted, though it’s important to remember that drafts are fluid and your decisions should be altered based on what’s left on the board and your previous selections.
What if you’re in an eight-team league? Or a 16-teamer? “The 192” can still help you win, but you’ll certainly need to make tweaks in the mid-to-late rounds. For example, in a smaller league, you might want to wait even longer at quarterback since the position is so deep. In deeper leagues, running backs and tight ends should be more of a priority, as those positions lack depth and could leave you with a weak spot if you wait until late.
The 192 should serve as a simple guide to help you maximize the value of your starting lineup while making the best possible decision in each round.
For a deeper look, here is an early 2022 PPR Cheat Sheet.
Contract key: Included in this initial run is each player’s contract status. The year indicated is the final season of that player’s contract. The letter notes what type of free agent the player will be when that contract expires (u = unrestricted, r = restricted, e = exclusive rights, v = void option). If the player is headed for free agency this offseason, that status is also indicated.
Early indications suggest that 2022 is going to be one of the most volatile seasons yet in terms of early-round ADP. Taylor will be the first pick in nearly all drafts after his breakout 2021 campaign, but it gets trickier from there. McCaffrey has had two injury-plagued seasons, but he’s still in his prime (he’ll be 26 next season) and remains a near lock for 20-plus points any time he plays. That’s hard to pass on. Henry’s increased passing-game work this past season helps secure his place as a top pick.
I’m certainly not locked in on how to order this impressive group of top receivers, but I’m rolling with youth over recent dominance for now. It’s rare to see a wideout over age 28 lead the position in fantasy points, but Kupp and Adams (both will be 29 to open 2022) are nonetheless quality WR1 targets.
9. Dalvin Cook, MIN, RB5, 2025u
10. Alvin Kamara, NO, RB6, 2025u
11. Deebo Samuel, SF, WR5, 2022u
12. Tyreek Hill, KC, WR6, 2022u
13. Najee Harris, PIT, RB7, 2024u
14. D’Andre Swift, DET, RB8, 2023u
15. Joe Mixon, CIN, RB9, 2024u
16. Stefon Diggs, BUF, WR7, 2023u
The Round 1-2 turn is loaded with heavy volume and talent. Harris and Swift are the up-and-comers at running back, whereas Cook, Kamara and Mixon are the high-volume, seasoned vets. Diggs finishes off what feels like a clear top seven at wide receiver … at least for now.
17. Javonte Williams, DEN, RB10, 2024u
18. Antonio Gibson, WAS, RB11, 2023u
19. Saquon Barkley, NYG, RB12, 2022u
20. Cam Akers, LAR, RB13, 2023u
21. Nick Chubb, CLE, RB14, 2024u
22. J.K. Dobbins, BAL, RB15, 2023u
23. Leonard Fournette, TB, RB16, UFA
This is a very intriguing tier of running backs who could make or break your squad. Will Williams, Akers and Dobbins live up to their potential? Can Gibson translate a strong finish to 2021 to a full-on breakout in 2022? Is Barkley toast, or will a new coaching staff return the 25-year-old to the elite tier of RBs? Will Fournette re-up with Tampa Bay and resume feature-back duties? Can Chubb sustain elite efficiency and overcome minimal receiving work?
24. A.J. Brown, TEN, WR8, 2022u
25. Diontae Johnson, PIT, WR9, 2022u
26. DK Metcalf, SEA, WR10, 2022u
27. CeeDee Lamb, DAL, WR11, 2023u
28. Josh Jacobs, LV, RB17, 2022u
29. Ezekiel Elliott, DAL, RB18, 2026u
30. David Montgomery, CHI, RB19, 2022u
31. Aaron Jones, GB, RB20, 2024u
Wide receivers get a lot tougher to sort after the first seven are off the board. Brown is so dominant when active, I have him eighth, but there is still a lot we need to see play out at this position. Johnson, Metcalf and Lamb are some of the young stars at the position, and we also have a few solid veteran plays at running back here. Elliott and Jones might seem low, but Tony Pollard and AJ Dillon are only going to play more and more.
32. Mike Evans, TB, WR12, 2023v
33. Jaylen Waddle, MIA, WR13, 2024u
34. Keenan Allen, LAC, WR14, 2024u
35. Tee Higgins, CIN, WR15, 2023u
36. Elijah Mitchell, SF, RB21, 2024u
37. Michael Carter, NYJ, RB22, 2024u
The Round 3-4 turn includes some solid WR targets (Evans, Allen, Higgins, Waddle), as well as a pair of impressive second-year backs who figure to dominate the carries in their respective backfield.
Kelce’s five-year run as fantasy’s No. 1-scoring tight end is over, with Andrews the new king of the position. Andrews (entering his age-27 season) gets the edge here over Kelce, who turns 33 during the 2022 season.
40. DeAndre Hopkins, ARI, WR16, 2024u
41. Tyler Lockett, SEA, WR17, 2025u
42. Calvin Ridley, ATL, WR18, 2022u
43. Chris Godwin, TB, WR19, UFA
44. George Kittle, SF, TE3, 2025u
45. DJ Moore, CAR, WR20, 2022u
46. Marquise Brown, BAL, WR21, 2022u
47. Terry McLaurin, WAS, WR22, 2022u
48. Elijah Moore, NYJ, WR23, 2024u
49. Amon-Ra St. Brown, DET, WR24, 2024u
50. Brandin Cooks, HOU, WR25, 2022v
51. Hunter Renfrow, LV, WR26, 2022u
52. Amari Cooper, DAL, WR27, 2024u
53. DeVonta Smith, PHI, WR28, 2024u
54. Michael Pittman Jr., IND, WR29, 2023u
55. Darnell Mooney, CHI, WR30, 2023u
56. Michael Thomas, NO, WR31, 2024u
I’ve pounded the table for the “draft a WR in the fourth round” approach the past two seasons, and it looks as if we’ll be in the same spot in 2022. There will be plenty of solid veterans (Hopkins, Lockett, DJ Moore, et al.), as well as youngsters on the incline (Elijah Moore, St. Brown, Smith). There are a few question marks here, including the future of Godwin (ACL tear, free agent), Ridley (sat out most of 2021, trade candidate) and Thomas (missed most of the past two seasons).
The fifth/sixth round looks like a good spot to attack tight end and quarterback. Pitts was the No. 6 fantasy TE as a rookie and will still have yet to turn 22 years old when September rolls around. His upside remains elite. Allen and Mahomes are the class of the QB position.
62. Travis Etienne Jr., JAC, RB23, 2024u
63. Miles Sanders, PHI, RB24, 2022u
64. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, KC, RB25, 2023u
65. Chase Edmonds, ARI, RB26, UFA
66. Justin Herbert, LAC, QB3, 2023u
67. Kyler Murray, ARI, QB4, 2022u
68. Kareem Hunt, CLE, RB27, 2022u
69. James Conner, ARI, RB28, UFA
70. Damien Harris, NE, RB29, 2022u
We’ve reached the beginning stages of the running back dead zone, but the likes of Sanders and Edwards-Helaire could enter 2022 as clear feature backs. Landing spot will drive the appeal of free agents Edmonds and Conner. Etienne is expected to make a full recovery from a foot injury and his value is up with James Robinson‘s torn Achilles potentially limiting him early next season. Herbert and Murray make for strong QB1 targets.
71. Mike Williams, LAC, WR32, UFA
72. Robert Woods, LAR, WR33, 2025u
73. Adam Thielen, MIN, WR34, 2024u
74. Dalton Schultz, DAL, TE7, UFA
75. Zach Ertz, ARI, TE8, UFA
76. Dak Prescott, DAL, QB5, 2024v
77. Aaron Rodgers, GB, QB6, 2022v
78. Jalen Hurts, PHI, QB7, 2023u
79. Lamar Jackson, BAL, QB8, 2022u
80. Deshaun Watson, HOU, QB9, 2025u
81. Chris Carson, SEA, RB30, 2022v
82. Devin Singletary, BUF, RB31, 2022u
83. James Robinson, JAC, RB32, 2022r
84. Melvin Gordon III, DEN, RB33, UFA
85. Cordarrelle Patterson, ATL, RB34, UFA
This tier of players is overloaded with solid veteran options, though the value of impending free agents Williams, Ertz, Gordon, and 2021 breakouts Patterson and Schultz will depend on landing spot. We’ll see how ADP plays out, but there is likely to be a middraft value option or two at the quarterback position, with Prescott, Rodgers, Hurts, Jackson and Watson potentially available.
86. Brandon Aiyuk, SF, WR35, 2023u
87. Rashod Bateman, BAL, WR36, 2024u
88. Jerry Jeudy, DEN, WR37, 2023u
89. Courtland Sutton, DEN, WR38, 2025u
90. Rob Gronkowski, TB, TE9, UFA
91. Pat Freiermuth, PIT, TE10, 2024u
92. Tom Brady, TB, QB10, 2022v
93. Joe Burrow, CIN, QB11, 2023u
This tier includes a few young wide receivers who have flashed but who have yet to enjoy a full-on breakout for a variety of reasons. The QB situation in Denver will drive the appeal of Jeudy and Sutton. We’re also getting toward the end of starting-caliber players at quarterback and tight end, with the Brady/Gronk battery and youngsters Freiermuth and Burrow your best targets.
94. Dallas Goedert, PHI, TE11, 2025v
95. Logan Thomas, WAS, TE12, 2024u
96. JuJu Smith-Schuster, PIT, WR39, UFA
97. Kadarius Toney, NYG, WR40, 2024u
98. DeVante Parker, MIA, WR41, 2023u
99. Chase Claypool, PIT, WR42, 2023u
100. Tyler Boyd, CIN, WR43, 2023u
101. Odell Beckham Jr., LAR, WR44, UFA
102. Allen Robinson II, CHI, WR45, UFA
This area of the draft mostly comprises veteran receivers and tight ends, including bounce-back candidates Thomas, Robinson and Smith-Schuster. Toney is one of the exceptions. The 2021 first-round pick flashed elite upside as a rookie but couldn’t dodge the injury bug. He’ll be a fun middle-rounds target as a potential breakout in his second season.
103. Tony Pollard, DAL, RB35, 2022u
104. AJ Dillon, GB, RB36, 2023u
105. Rhamondre Stevenson, NE, RB37, 2024u
106. Alexander Mattison, MIN, RB38, 2022u
107. Rashaad Penny, SEA, RB39, UFA
108. Russell Wilson, SEA, QB12, 2023u
109. Matthew Stafford, LAR, QB13, 2022v
110. Justin Fields, CHI, QB14, 2024u
111. Trey Lance, SF, QB15, 2024u
This is a fun tier of potential breakout running backs, but all five RBs here could (or certainly will) open the season second or lower on their respective depth chart. This tier also wraps up our QB1 options, including a couple of Year 2 breakouts in Fields and Lance.
112. Noah Fant, DEN, TE13, 2022u
113. Mike Gesicki, MIA, TE14, UFA
114. Dawson Knox, BUF, TE15, 2022u
115. Christian Kirk, ARI, WR46, UFA
116. Jakobi Meyers, NE, WR47, RFA
117. Jarvis Landry, CLE, WR48, 2022u
118. Marvin Jones Jr., JAC, WR49, 2022u
119. Michael Gallup, DAL, WR50, UFA
120. Rondale Moore, ARI, WR51, 2024u
121. Corey Davis, NYJ, WR52, 2023u
122. William Fuller V, MIA, WR53, UFA
123. Gus Edwards, BAL, RB40, 2023u
124. Darrell Henderson Jr., LAR, RB41, 2022u
125. Sony Michel, LAR, RB42, UFA
This is another area rich with veteran options. Fant, Gesicki and Knox all have TE1 upside. Kirk, Gallup and Fuller are among the top free agents at wideout. Michel impressed late in 2021, but he doesn’t have a path to lead-back duties in Los Angeles with Cam Akers healthy, so he’ll likely be looking elsewhere for work this offseason.
126. DJ Chark Jr., JAC, WR54, UFA
127. Robby Anderson, CAR, WR55, 2023u
128. Sterling Shepard, NYG, WR56, 2023u
129. Gabriel Davis, BUF, WR57, 2023u
130. Joshua Palmer, LAC, WR58, 2024u
131. Kirk Cousins, MIN, QB16, 2022u
132. Trevor Lawrence, JAC, QB17, 2024u
133. Hunter Henry, NE, TE16, 2023u
134. Cole Kmet, CHI, TE17, 2023u
135. Irv Smith Jr., MIN, TE18, 2022u
Davis and Palmer could find themselves as high as second on the depth chart in elite pass offenses next season, and, if that’s the case, they’ll both be popular breakout candidates. Lawrence finished his rookie season with his best game, and the No. 1 pick in 2021 will be an intriguing post-hype sleeper in 2022.
136. Cole Beasley, BUF, WR59, 2022u
137. Kenny Golladay, NYG, WR60, 2024v
138. Van Jefferson, LAR, WR61, 2023u
139. Julio Jones, TEN, WR62, 2023v
140. Russell Gage, ATL, WR63, UFA
141. Curtis Samuel, WAS, WR64, 2023v
142. Jamison Crowder, NYJ, WR65, UFA
143. Zay Jones, LV, WR66, UFA
144. A.J. Green, ARI, WR67, UFA
145. Terrace Marshall Jr., CAR, WR68, 2024u
146. Dee Eskridge, SEA, WR69, 2024u
147. Dyami Brown, WAS, WR70, 2024u
148. Donovan Peoples-Jones, CLE, WR71, 2023u
149. Kendrick Bourne, NE, WR72, 2023u
150. K.J. Osborn, MIN, WR73, 2023u
151. James White, NE, RB43, UFA
152. Darrel Williams, KC, RB44, UFA
153. Kenneth Gainwell, PHI, RB45, 2024u
154. Ronald Jones II, TB, RB46, UFA
155. Jamaal Williams, DET, RB47, 2022u
156. Ke’Shawn Vaughn, TB, RB48, 2023u
157. Nyheim Hines, IND, RB49, 2024u
158. Khalil Herbert, CHI, RB50, 2024u
159. Rex Burkhead, HOU, RB51, 2022u
160. Marlon Mack, IND, RB52, UFA
161. Kenyan Drake, LV, RB53, 2022u
162. D’Onta Foreman, TEN, RB54, UFA
163. Tyler Higbee, LAR, TE19, 2023u
164. Robert Tonyan, GB, TE20, UFA
165. Adam Trautman, NO, TE21, 2023u
166. Ryan Tannehill, TEN, QB18, 2023v
167. Mac Jones, NE, QB19, 2024u
168. Zach Wilson, NYJ, QB20, 2024u
This final tier of skill-position players will help you prep for offseason best-ball drafts, but these players will be affected drastically by offseason player movement, and the later rounds are sure to be overloaded with rookies once we get to that point.
169. Bills D/ST, BUF, DST1
170. Cowboys D/ST, DAL, DST2
171. Patriots D/ST, NE, DST3
172. Buccaneers D/ST, TB, DST4
173. Packers D/ST, GB, DST5
174. Dolphins D/ST, MIA, DST6
175. Saints D/ST, NO, DST7
176. Colts D/ST, IND, DST8
177. Cardinals D/ST, ARI, DST9
178. 49ers D/ST, SF, DST10
179. Broncos D/ST, DEN, DST11
180. Rams D/ST, LAR, DST12
181. Justin Tucker, BAL, K1, 2023u
182. Daniel Carlson, LV, K2, 2025u
183. Matt Gay, LAR, K3, RFA
184. Tyler Bass, BUF, K4, 2023u
185. Harrison Butker, KC, K5, 2024u
186. Nick Folk, NE, K6, UFA
187. Chris Boswell, PIT, K7, 2022u
188. Evan McPherson, CIN, K8, 2024u
189. Jake Elliott, PHI, K9, 2024v
190. Matt Prater, ARI, K10, 2022u
191. Greg Joseph, MIN, K11, RFA
192. Dustin Hopkins, LAC, K12, UFA
Wait until your final two selections to select your kicker and defense.
Cleveland Browns DT Malik McDowell arrested on charges of battery on police officer, resisting arrest, public exposure
Cleveland Browns defensive tackle Malik McDowell was arrested Monday in Florida on charges of battery on a law enforcement officer, resisting arrest with violence and public exposure, according to an online record from the Broward Sheriff’s Office.
According to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, which cited the arrest report, McDowell beat a deputy in a “violent attack” that left the officer “dazed.”
McDowell is being held on $27,000 bond, according to the online record.
“We are aware of the very concerning incident and arrest involving Malik McDowell and are in the process of gathering more information,” a Browns spokesperson said in a statement. “We understand the severity of this matter and our thoughts are for the well-being of all involved. We will have no further comment at this time.”
According to the incident report obtained by the Sun-Sentinel, police in Deerfield Beach, Florida reported getting a call of a naked man walking near a school, later to be determined as a children’s learning center that was in session. When confronted, McDowell charged at police “full speed with closed fist,” according to the report, leaving a deputy injured. McDowell then fled, but was eventually tased and handcuffed.
The Seattle Seahawks selected McDowell out of Michigan State in the second round of the 2017 NFL draft. But before his first season, he suffered a head injury following an ATV accident. He wound up never playing a down for Seattle, which released him before training camp the following summer.
In 2019, McDowell was charged in Michigan with driving while impaired, obstructing justice and assaulting a police officer. Video showed McDowell fighting with police even after they tased him following a DUI stop. Two months later, he was found in possession of a stolen truck, leading to another charge of receiving and concealing stolen property. He was sentenced to 11 months in jail and three years of probation after pleading guilty to the series of crimes.
The Browns gave McDowell a second-chance at football last year, with Cleveland general manager Andrew Berry noting that McDowell had been “accountable for his actions” and was “in a good place, personally and medically.”
McDowell went on to win a starting job at defensive tackle for the Browns this past season, finishing with 33 tackles and three sacks.
Calvin Ridley, Cordarrelle Patterson and many tough decisions await Atlanta Falcons – Atlanta Falcons Blog
It’s going to be better than it was. That much, general manager Terry Fontenot said, is pretty clear.
Will everything be easy to deal with for the Atlanta Falcons this offseason? Probably not.
That’s the truth for almost every NFL team and absolutely one with the salary-cap conundrums the Falcons have.
But it should be more flexible than last season, which saw Atlanta needing to restructure, trade, pay cut and outright cut players just to be able to sign its rookies and field a roster.
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“Still some constraints,” Fontenot said. “But we just have to look at every player and every contract and do the best job we can. We know we have to bring in competition and continue to work to improve this offseason.
“There are going to be challenges every year with the cap, but we just have to make the right decisions, and the players we bring in, make sure we have clear visions for them and do the best job we can.”
That worked in some cases last season (Cordarrelle Patterson, Erik Harris, Duron Harmon) and didn’t work as well in others (Mike Davis, Jonathan Bullard). But the Falcons must evaluate what this team will look like — and in doing so, make critical decisions for the future of the franchise heading into 2022.
Find a pass rush
Atlanta could go in almost any direction and see improvement this offseason. The most glaring issue is in the front seven — particularly the pass rush.
No player had more than Dante Fowler Jr.’s 4.5 sacks and only one, defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, had double-digit quarterback hits (12). The Falcons’ 18 sacks were worst in the league — by 11 sacks — and made contact with the quarterback 135 times. Too often, opposing quarterbacks had clean pockets and ample time to dissect the defense.
Change probably consists of a combination of everything, from jettisoning current players to investing in both veterans and rookies. The only edge rusher who seems like a lock to return is Adetokunbo Ogundeji — who started 11 games but had only one sack, one fumble recovery and one pass defended.
Every other edge rusher is either a pending free agent and on a contract the Falcons could choose to move on from, including Fowler. On the defensive line, it’s not much clearer. Jarrett remains a cornerstone, but even his future is in question as the team, and Jarrett, have to start to consider whether they want to extend the relationship beyond 2022, the final year of his contract.
Rookie Ta’Quon Graham started playing more as the season went on, but what he can bring remains a question. Marlon Davidson is on a reasonable contract (just under $1.9 million cap hit) but has no guaranteed money remaining. Tyeler Davison played less and less as the season went on, and Atlanta could save $3.8 million by releasing him.
A lot of veteran edge rushers could be available from high-cost options such as Haason Reddick and Emmanuel Ogbah to older options who might not be as costly to sign but offer an upgrade like Akiem Hicks and K.J. Wright. Then there’s the draft, where a player such as Purdue’s George Karlaftis or Michigan’s David Ojabo on the edge or Texas A&M’s DeMarvin Leal on the interior could make a lot of sense for Atlanta in the first round.
However the Falcons solve it, if Atlanta reaches training camp without a clear direction in the front seven, it would be a very big surprise.
Figure out Matt Ryan’s contract situation
The key to a lot of what Atlanta might do this offseason ties into how it handles quarterback Matt Ryan. While it makes sense for the Falcons to keep him for next season, his almost $49 million cap hit is not sensible for the Falcons unless they strip the roster down everywhere else.
Without an obvious plan for the future behind Ryan — AJ McCarron, Josh Rosen and Feleipe Franks were his backups last season — it’s tough to see Atlanta looking elsewhere at this point. Which means the Falcons will need to decide whether to restructure his contract, extend him, add voidable years to spread out the cap hit (but putting Ryan on future books) or live with his current number.
How much space the Falcons free up could help determine which of their own free agents they bring back and which possible outside big names, if any, they choose to pursue.
Ryan has a $7.5 million roster bonus due the third day of the new league year, so one would think any decision on how to handle him would be figured out, at least in part, by then.
The receiver position
Falcons coach Arthur Smith, when talking about Ryan, mentioned how he has performed without the typical level of talent he had on the outside in prior seasons, when the team had Roddy White, Julio Jones and/or Calvin Ridley.
The receiver position — maybe as much, if not more than edge rusher — could be in for a complete overhaul. Ridley’s situation — he stepped away on Halloween to work on his mental health — remains the biggest question. Fontenot and Smith offered no answers there, perhaps because there are none to have yet.
The Falcons have given Ridley the space he has needed. That should be commended. When it comes to 2022, Ridley and Frank Darby, who ran 12 routes last season, are the only members of this year’s 53-man roster under contract. Atlanta signed practice squad receivers Chad Hansen and Austin Trammell to futures contracts. While both have potential, neither looks like an immediate breakout star.
The rest are a combination of free agents, both unrestricted (Russell Gage, Tajae Sharpe) and restricted (Olamide Zaccheaus, Christian Blake). Gage and Sharpe are the guys to watch here. Sharpe is a fine option as a No. 4 or No. 5 receiver, and Gage is too because of his final eight games, where he had 611 of his 770 yards and 50 of his 66 catches.
Gage said if Atlanta is interested in him returning he would be open to the conversation. Whether that happens could depend on what occurs with Ridley. If Atlanta decides it needs to add a No. 1-type receiver, then it might not be able to afford that player and Gage. If not — or if the Falcons target a receiver early in the draft as a potential No. 1 — then Gage could make sense to try to bring back.
The free-agency class is strong here, potentially headlined by Davante Adams, Allen Robinson II, Chris Godwin and Mike Williams. The tier below that, including Christian Kirk, DJ Chark Jr. and, maybe, Gage, could be where Atlanta looks.
The Falcons will almost certainly be watching the depth receivers considering their roster at the moment. The draft should be deep at receiver as well, where a pick in Rounds 1-3 could have an instant impact. The top names here are Alabama’s Jameson Williams (who has a torn ACL), USC’s Drake London and the Ohio State duo of Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave.
Offensive line competition
In terms of bodies, Atlanta has a lot of those. But competition? That’s what the Falcons need. Chris Lindstrom is set at right guard, and unless the Falcons decide to move on from Jake Matthews’ $23,689,200 cap hit (where they wouldn’t save that much before June 1), he’s set at left tackle. Matthews played well enough there to keep him. Why create more problems on a roster already full of them?
Everywhere else? They need help. Jalen Mayfield had a rough first year pass protecting at left guard. The hope is he grows with a full offseason and true understanding of inside versus outside. Matt Hennessy was inconsistent at center. Can last year’s fourth-round pick, Drew Dalman, push or supplant them? Maybe. But they need another interior lineman, and it would make sense to look in free agency.
The Falcons would not receive much relief cutting right tackle Kaleb McGary, and with his base salary ($1,894,875) fully guaranteed, it makes more sense to keep him and bring in someone to push him. Worst case, McGary becomes Atlanta’s swing tackle this year. Best case, who they bring in helps him improve.
Free agency is another area here — although, again, cap constraints could cause issues — so this might be a spot for a midround draft pick. If Atlanta is intent on adding a tackle high in the draft, there will be options (although it would be unlikely Alabama tackle Evan Neal would fall to No. 8) where a player such as Mississippi State’s Charles Cross or a player with positional flexibility, such as N.C. State’s Ikem Ekwonu, might fit what Atlanta wants.
Their own roster decisions
So much of this for Atlanta will be dictated by its own roster.
“The best form of free agency is developing and signing your own players, because you’re not guessing,” Fontenot said. “We know exactly who they are in the building. So that’s important.”
But a combination of market value, how the Falcons value positions and the cap will make decisions difficult. Atlanta’s top free agents are Gage, linebacker Foye Oluokun, kicker Younghoe Koo and Patterson. Koo is a restricted free agent, and the Falcons would be wise to either give him a tender (perhaps a second-round tender) or negotiate a long-term deal with one of the NFL’s top kickers.
The rest are a bit in question. Patterson has expressed a desire to return in both his words and on his cleats, but he might be in line for a payday bigger than what Atlanta could offer. Oluokun, who indicated a desire to return, could also have many suitors.
Beyond that, the Falcons are looking at a bunch of players who are not obvious decisions. It could be easy to see Atlanta bringing back one of Harmon or Harris at safety to pair with Jaylinn Hawkins and compete with Richie Grant. It would be easy to see Atlanta bring back cornerback Fabian Moreau if the price was right — same with any of the rotational outside linebackers.
The tougher moves might be who to move on from. Davis, signed to be Atlanta’s top back, had 138 carries for 503 yards and three touchdowns. He has a cap hit of $3.25 million; but the Falcons would save $2.5 million if they released him. Cornerback Kendall Sheffield barely played last season and has almost a $2.8 million cap hit — with $2.54 million in savings if he were let go.
Linebacker Deion Jones has a cap hit just over $20 million, but don’t expect him to go anywhere unless Atlanta trades him (and even then, that might be unlikely). His $9.64 million base salary is guaranteed, and even after June 1, the Falcons would save only a little over $1 million on next year’s cap.
None of these decisions are easy. Fontenot and Smith have a tough few months ahead. How they navigate the offseason following their first season together will tell a lot about Atlanta.
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