This is a four-part series on the potential cut candidates that could be cap casualties and the free agents that could be signed this offseason to replace them. With new general manager Terry Fontenot’s pro personnel background, free agency could prove more fruitful than the draft. Part one was offensive cuts; part two will be offensive free agents; part three will be defensive cuts; part four will be defensive free agents.

Now that Dean Pees has officially been named the defensive coordinator, we know what personnel his system demands. If you haven’t already read over my breakdown of Pees’ scheme, be sure to check it out because these free-agent options coincide with that article.

The cuts from part three were Allen Bailey, Ricardo Allen, and Tyeler Davison; so, the positions of need are defensive line (interior and edge) and safety.

Sheldon Rankins, DL

2020 cap hit: $7,690,000

Rankins has had trouble staying healthy, but he just enjoyed the best year of his career. Although a couple of seasons ago he looked to be an ascending pass rusher, these past two years he has struggled in that facet of his game. Nevertheless, he has still shown to be a dominant run defender; cutting Davison opens a hole for this exact type of player. Rankins would ideally take up double-teams allowing Grady Jarrett one-on-ones. If he gets back to where he was two years ago rushing the passer, this could be a homerun signing.

Ndamukong Suh, DL

2020 cap hit: $8,000,000

Suh is 34-years old and no longer earning the massive figures he did from the Dolphins a handful of years ago. Getting Suh on a one-year, fully guaranteed, $6,500,000 deal is very reasonable. Although he’s 34, Suh played 788 snaps this season. Which is actually the lowest of his career, but it was still 11th-most among interior defensive linemen. With the Buccaneers, he totaled 25 defensive stops and 50 total pressures. He is very capable and would thrive next to someone like Jarrett, i.e., Aaron Donald and Suh in Los Angeles.

Shelby Harris, DL

2020 cap hit: $3,075,000

Harris is a similar type of free agent as Marlon Mack from part two, In that, both will probably get less than they would have if they stayed healthy this season. The other two defensive line options are going to cost the Falcons more than Harris would. This is the economical option, but he is still capable. This season, he had 27 total pressures and 19 defensive stops on only 441 snaps.

Carl Lawson, DL

2020 cap hit: $2,296,155

At first, I didn’t even consider Lawson, because I thought the Falcons couldn’t afford him. But Spotrac has his market value at under $9,000,000 per year. This is almost unbelievable, but if the Falcons could grab Lawson, they should. Lawson has a nice combination of size and athleticism to constantly apply pressure. If Lawson can sometimes get lost in the run game, but he is a great piece for this defensive line rotation.

These defensive linemen aren’t the prototypical edge rusher that you might be wanting, but these are all versatile big men who can play multiple techniques along the defensive front. With Dante Fowler already making a high figure next year, look for Fontenot to address the depth through the draft.

Darqueze Dennard, CB(S)

2020 cap hit: $672,261

This isn’t some blockbuster signing, it is good value. If you read the Pees defensive breakdown, you’d know the exact role Dennard would thrive in.

I would definitely advocate for Darqueze Dennard to be brought back as well… over Neal if I had to choose. Dennard would absolutely thrive in a Logan Ryan-type role and has the ability to drop deep into coverage.

With such a defensive back free agent pool this offseason, Fontenot could get Dennard for pennies. His versatility and willingness to help in run-support are huge pointers to why he needs to be brought back. He could thrive in a nickel/safety role just like Logan Ryan.

Jaquiski Tartt, S

2020 cap hit: $6,275,000

Tartt is going to be an absolute steal for a team this offseason if he can stay healthy in 2021. Tartt is a very good safety in a flooded safety pool, he will get less than he is earning this year — by a couple million. Tartt is exactly the safety the Pees needs. He is the definition of versatile — able to line up in any safety spot — with a high floor both in coverage and against the run and is a perfect guy to pair next to just about anyone.

If you see the trend, I targeted versatile players at both the first and third levels. I did this because that what Pees’ defense calls for. There was also another trend in my potential signings, injuries. Some were coming off an injury in 2020 or have an injury history. This will provide value for the Falcons who are tight for cash this year, but it is risky. I fully expect Terry Fontenot to pull someone out of his ass who we didn’t even think of and initially doubt, who comes in and blows everyone away.

This article first appeared on SportsTalkATL and was syndicated with permission.

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