As free agency slows, Falcons need to think winning draft

The Atlanta Falcons, up against the salary cap, haven't been too active in free agency and most likely will have to turn their attention to enhancing the roster via the draft.

Sure, the Falcons did address one need by signing offensive guard Brandon Fusco to a three-year, $12.75 million contract ($5.5 million guaranteed). But that's the only player the Falcons have signed from another team, thus far. And there's no guarantee Fusco will have a major impact despite his 80 career games of starting experience.

Whatever the case, there are still holes to fill, such as a defensive tackle with pass-rushing skills, a speedy receiver, a blocking tight end, a return specialist, linebackers and defensive backs with special-teams ability, and perhaps a hole-clearing fullback. With just over $5 million in cap space remaining and no Matt Ryan extension completed yet to provide more cap relief, it's hard to imagine the Falcons plugging many of those holes, even with lower-cost players remaining on the free-agent market.

No one expected the Falcons to go on a free-agent splurge. General manager Thomas Dimitroff hinted at it when he talked about not having any major holes, and the limited cap space spoke volumes. But the Falcons certainly wanted to make a splash by trading for impact defensive lineman Michael Bennett, who ended up being shipped from Seattle to Philadelphia instead. The Falcons also were in the mix for free-agent tight end Ed Dickson, who reportedly signed a three-year, $14 million deal with the Seahawks. The Falcons apparently didn't come close to that number in the end.

Of course, there's one very intriguing name left on the free-agent market in defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. But Suh is sure to be well out of the Falcons' price range.

The Falcons could add a player or two at a bargain price this week, but they'll certainly count more on hitting big in the draft, like they've done in recent years. Four players from the 2016 draft class were regular starters last season: strong safety Keanu Neal, linebacker Deion Jones, linebacker De'Vondre Campbell, and guard Wes Schweitzer. Another member, tight end Austin Hooper, started half the games. Schweitzer might be out of the starting lineup moving forward, with Fusco's arrival, while the coaches expressed confidence in Hooper as the primary tight end after a shaky '16 campaign.

The Falcons also expect big contributions from '17 draft picks Takkarist McKinley and Damontae Kazee moving forward, with McKinley as the primary edge rusher opposite Vic Beasley Jr. and Kazee possibly overtaking the nickelback spot. The jury is still out on linebacker Duke Riley, guard Sean Harlow and tight end Eric Saubert from that class.

We'll see what the 2018 draft class brings, starting with the No. 26 overall pick.