Picking the Ideal Free Agents to Fill Each of the Atlanta Falcons' Holes
Atlanta needs to bring in some talent this offseason. Ideally, the Falcons would address their five biggest needs through free agency. When it comes to ideal free agents for the Falcons, they need to be both versatile and powerful. Also, a mental toughness and some leadership would be helpful for a team that lacks both.
Looking over the roster, the Falcons have five needs that stand out. With a ton of talent in this year's free-agency pool and the Falcons having nearly $20 million in cap space, Atlanta could make some moves this offseason to improve the roster.
Left Tackle: Jared Veldheer
The Falcons had arguably the worst performance from their left tackles out of any team in the NFL. Sam Baker is overpaid and often injured. Lamar Holmes is better suited for the right side, and the Falcons would be better off with someone else at left tackle.
Jared Veldheer needs to be that new left tackle. On top of just being a massive 6'8", 321 pounds, Veldheer is extremely quick off the line and plays with a nasty attitude. He's able to handle both bull rushes and speed rushes effectively and has great hand usage.
Veldheer also is just 26 years old and can be a legitimate franchise left tackle to protect Matt Ryan. Adding him to Justin Blalock will only help the left side of the line all-around. The biggest issue would be trying to get him to leave Oakland for a contract in Atlanta.
Right Guard: Geoff Schwartz
As bad as left tackle was in 2013, the right guard position was just as bad. Between Garrett Reynolds generating no push up front as a run blocker and Peter Konz playing the role of a turnstile as a pass blocker, the Falcons need someone up front who can actually perform well at right guard.
Geoff Schwartz is an ideal pickup for the Falcons. He understands how to set the depth of a pocket while he's pass blocking. He's got a great base, and his massive 6'6", 340-pound frame can absorb almost any bull rush. He also has a good punch when firing off the ball in the run game.
Schwartz is a bit older than most of the free agent guards this offseason at 28, but he's talented enough to play for years. It has taken him a while to earn a starting role in the NFL, so he has lower mileage than most starting guards. If he signs a mid-range contract, Atlanta could have a very solid pair of guards.
Nose Tackle: Linval Joseph
Atlanta's run defense ranked 31st in the NFL in 2013. On top of that, Corey Peters is a free agent and even if he does come back, is better suited for the 3-technique role. So an improvement at 1-technique defensive tackle (aka nose tackle) would improve the defense as a whole.
Linval Joseph is a 6'4", 328-pound nose tackle from the New York Giants. He's not just able to do the standard job of most 1-techniques in taking on double teams. He's able to get after the passer and help create pass rush from the interior.
Joseph's able to get four to six sacks from the nose tackle spot the way Peters was able to. However, by taking on the double teams in both pass rush and run defense, the Falcons could have more blitz abilities from their linebackers as well as more single teams for players who would destroy single teams.
Edge Rusher: Brian Orakpo
The Falcons had a combined 11.5 sacks from their starting defensive ends in 2013. They need a premier edge rusher with scheme versatility. Someone who can both rush the passer as both a down lineman and as a linebacker would be ideal. A premier edge rusher would improve the defense dramatically.
Brian Orakpo has had four seasons with at least 8.5 sacks. He's a freak of an athlete who posted up great combine numbers when he came out of college and is ideal for Mike Nolan's scheme. Orakpo would provide an instant boost to the pass rush as a top-level edge rusher.
The versatility and athleticism Orakpo has would be new for Nolan's tenure in Atlanta. He could play a role where he lines up as a 3-4 outside linebacker, 4-3 defensive end and even does some of the coverage responsibilities that Kroy Biermann has had. He's a wrecking ball who would instantly improve the defense.
Free Safety: Jairus Byrd
Thomas DeCoud has been terrible as a tackler the past two seasons. More than that, he's started to decline in his coverage ability without any semblance of a pass rush in front of him. Atlanta needs to find someone who can replace him effectively otherwise, they face another year of terrible, overpriced safety play.
Jairus Byrd is a legitimately talented safety that would be expensive but worth it. He's a three-time All-Pro and a three-time Pro Bowl selection. He's averaged four interceptions and more than six pass deflections during the past three seasons on top of his effective run defense.
He also doesn't miss tackles often. With someone back there who takes good angles, make plays on the ball and can tackle, the Falcons would go from one of the mid-level safeties in the NFL to someone who has an extremely well-rounded game and is in the top five safeties in the NFL.
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He covers the Atlanta Falcons, College Football, NFL and the NFL draft. He also runs DraftFalcons.com.