For many Atlanta Falcons fans, the free agency period moved at the pace of continental drift. Jack Crawford? Alright, nice rotational defensive line pick. Andre Roberts? No more Weems fair catches on the 5 — we’ll take it. But was this team really content heading into the draft and upcoming season with re-signing its RFAs and relatively minor acquisitions? Are Quinn and Co. confident in the growth and potential of their 2016 squad that, against many odds, made it to Super Bowl LI?
The days crept by with few rumors emanating from Flowery Branch. But after playing somewhat of a mutual game of footsie, the Falcons brought in the Big Man, former Chiefs defensive tackle Dontari Poe. With bitterness still on their tongues and the days trudging by since Super Bowl Sunday, this was the pool-clearing-cannonball splash in free agency that Falcons fans were pining for.
But big name and big body aside, what can the Big Man do for Atlanta’s young and opportunistic defense? He can be a transformative force.
There are valid concerns regarding Poe’s recent injury history, but when playing to his potential, he can claim few peers on the interior line. With his mammoth frame, Poe can plug the middle and add some much-needed heft to what was a woeful run defense in 2016. While his sack numbers in the past two seasons have been a bit of a disappointment, Poe is certainly adept at getting after the quarterback. Those numbers appear poised to rise under Dan Quinn’s 4-3 defense, and with DQ’s stated commitment to a four-man pass rush. With the likes of Ra’Shede Hageman, Derrick Shelby, Adrian Clayborn, and Courtney Upshaw (and Jack Crawford!) available to spell Poe in the rotation, Atlanta should have the flexibility to consider his limitations, carefully manage his workload and put him in a position to excel.
Where Poe will have his biggest impact, however, is on his defensive counterparts. Grady Jarrett had a veritable coming-out-party in the Super Bowl, showing NFL and Falcons fans alike why he was considered one of the biggest steals in the fifth round of the 2015 draft. Had that game not turned into an event worthy of an Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind-style memory procedure, it’s quite possible that he would have been named Super Bowl MVP. But I digress.
Grady’s maturation will only continue with Dontari Poe lining up next to him, forming an intimidating and dynamic duo in the middle of Atlanta’s defensive front. Along with providing a stout physical presence adjacent him on the line, Poe can serve as an onfield teacher to the still-developing defensive tackle and continue to foster his growth, much in the manner that Dwight Freeney took Vic Beasley under his wing. Not to draw immediate parallels between Poe and a future Hall of Famer, but teachable experience in this league is invaluable. We saw the fruits of the Freeney-Beasley mentorship last season.
With Poe clearing space up front and eating double-teams, it will free up lanes for Atlanta’s lightning-quick linebackers to do work in blitzing formations. Quarterbacks are on the menu for the likes of Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell in 2017, as the task of keeping Poe and Jarrett out of the backfield will prove a tall order for opposing guards. Keep an eye on both men to take huge leaps forward on their already exceptional rookie campaigns.
At this stage in the offseason, the addition of Dontari Poe just feels like a key puzzle piece for an evolving Falcons defense. With his relatively light $8 million/one year contract (with production incentives that can boost it to $10 million), it’s a low-risk/extremely high-reward situation for an Atlanta team still adapting to Dan Quinn’s vision. The potential impact of the Big Man on a defense still learning the game at the professional level cannot be understated, and could pay dividends during the season.
Header photo courtesy of: Reed Hoffmann, Associated Press