The Atlanta Falcons’ struggles to generate a pass rush have been well documented. The team has chosen to keep the underperforming Vic Beasley, for at least one more season at 12.8 million dollars. I gave my thoughts on the signing in this article. The team is also still waiting for Takk McKinley to have a breakout season, as the starter on the opposite edge. Behind them is Adrian Clayborn, who returns to the Falcons after one season in New England. However he is coming off of a 2.5 sack season and can’t be counted on to produce major sack numbers.
Ezekiel Ansah is a player that could have benefited the Atlanta Falcons greatly. Ansah only started two games and appeared in just seven games last season, due to a major shoulder injury. He managed just four sacks, however in 2017 a healthy Ziggy racked up 12 sacks for the Detroit Lions. Ansah had the best season of his career in 2015, when his 14.5 sacks earned him a Pro Bowl nod. Unfortunately for the Atlanta Falcons, he just recently signed a one year incentive laden deal with the Seattle Seahawks. The deal could be worth up to 13 million dollars. Seattle being the former team of head coach Dan Quinn, runs the same exact defensive scheme as the Atlanta Falcons. Lee Vowell of 12th Man Rising gave his thought on the signing for Seattle here.
Now that we are done crying over spilled milk, there are some decent edge rusher options on the free agent market for the Atlanta Falcons to consider. Nick Perry who has spent the first seven seasons in his career in Green Bay, is an interesting option. A knee injury limited Perry to just nine games and 1.5 sacks this past season. However in 2016 and 2017, Nick Perry racked up a combined 18 sacks. Perry logged 11 of those sacks in 2016 and they were enough to earn him a five-year 70 million dollar contract. Even though he has played left outside linebacker in 3-4 defense the majority of his career, at 6’3 and 265 pounds Perry has the size to play in the Falcons scheme. Being just 29 years old, Perry likely still has some gas left in the tank. The Atlanta Falcons should kick the tires on him.
Derrick Morgan is another free agent option. The 6’4 260 pound edge defender, has spent all nine years of his NFL tenure with the Tennessee Titans. Like most of the free agent options, Morgan had a down season in 2018. He started 12 games this past season for Tennessee, yet somehow managed to collect only one-half sack. Despite an abysmal 2018, Morgan is just one year removed from a productive 2017. He produced 7.5 sacks and hit opposing quarterbacks 14 times that year. Morgan was even better in 2016, taking down a quarterback nine times and coming up with an impressive 22 quarterback hits. The bonus is, Morgan also brings good run stopping abilities. Derrick played his college football at Georgia Tech, so he is very familiar with the city of Atlanta. The Falcons should explore adding him to their defensive line rotation at a low-cost.
Shane Ray is a more developmental option for the Atlanta Falcons. Yet Ray does have one really productive season, that gives hope he could produce immediate returns if signed. Ray is the youngest good option at 25 years old and has only played four seasons with the Denver Broncos, as an edge rusher and 3-4 outside linebacker. Ray has never been a full-time starter, having been used as more of a situational pass rusher in Denver. He appeared to be on the way to stardom, after logging eight sacks in only eight 2016 starts. Unfortunately he has made just one sack in each of the past two seasons, leaving him without work thus far in the offseason.
A move back to a 4-3 defense here in Atlanta, like he played in during his college time at Missouri could be just what the doctor ordered for Shane Ray. Should he be signed, Shane would be asked to put on some weight. Similar to Vic Beasley, Ray is undersized at 6’3 245 pounds. He’s also similar to Beasley in having just one good season this far. However he won’t cost near the 12.8 million that Vic makes. It’s worth a contract and camp invite, to see if a change of scenery can help the light come on for Ray. The great thing is, should Ray work out he is young enough to be a long-term answer at the position.