Grady Jarrett signed a lucrative contract extension to stay with the Atlanta Falcons, but that doesn’t mean the team won’t add another beefy lineman to its defensive front this offseason.
Jarrett played over center a lot in 2021, but he’s not an ideal nose tackle. Rather than absorbing double- and even triple-teams, Jarrett is most effective when he’s allowed to attack a single gap and push the pocket.
Freeing Jarrett to play a more attacking role should be a priority for Atlanta defensive coordinator Dean Pees. It could happen if the Falcons add a true nose tackle able to occupy blockers and give Jarrett and the new edge-rushers on the roster more one-on-one matchups.
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Fortunately, there’s one player still on the free-agent market who fits the job description perfectly. He’s won a Super Bowl as a classic, space-eating 0-technique, and one Falcons reporter thinks the veteran “could help” this front seven.
Well-Traveled DT Perfect for Falcons
When answering questions for his weekly online mailbag, Falcons Digital Managing Editor Scott Bair was asked who the team could still sign for both sides of the trenches. Bair said “Danny Shelton or former Bear (just following trends here) Eddie Goldman could help the defensive interior.”
The reference to “trends” is telling because of the presence of Ryan Pace in the Falcons’ front office. Ex-Chicago Bears general manager Pace is helping Falcons GM Terry Fontenot and has already overseen the acquisition of several former Bears, including wide receiver Damiere Byrd, running back Damien Williams, offensive lineman Germain Ifedi and linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski.
Pace’s connection naturally makes Eddie Goldman an option, but Shelton is the more intriguing choice. The 12th pick in the 2015 NFL draft has certainly done the rounds during six seasons in the NFL. He’s suited up for the Cleveland Browns, New England Patriots, Detroit Lions and New York Giants.
Shelton’s most successful spell came as a member of the Patriots, whom he helped beat the Los Angeles Rams 13-3 in Super Bowl LIII:
He was able to anchor a three-man line in the multiple version of the 3-4 defense favored by Pats’ head coach Bill Belichick. Pees, who served as Belichick’s defensive coordinator for four seasons from 2006-09, runs the same scheme with the Falcons.
It hasn’t always worked for Jarrett, who often found himself the focus of heavy attention last season:
Putting Shelton over center would let Pees move Jarrett back outside to defensive end. That would have two advantages for the Falcons.
One, it would solidify a soft run defense. Two, it would give Pees’ sack-shy defense the ability to generate greater pressure from the edges.
Jarrett More Valuable Outside
There’s a reason the Falcons paid Jarrett $ 51 millioneven after a season when he produced just 28 tackles and one sack:
He wasn’t at his best, but Jarrett is a true game-wrecker when he’s on form. He didn’t earn a pair of Pro-Bowl berths by accident.
Jarrett is also a highly disruptive pass-rusher when he’s allowed to play to his strengths. He logged 11.5 sacks across the 2019 and ’20 seasons. Jarrett also took down Tom Brady three times when the Falcons blew a 28-3 lead to lose 34-28 to the Patriots in Super Bowl LI.
The Falcons need this version of Jarrett to help revive a pass rush that logged a mere 18 sacks a year ago. Much of the offseason has been about Fontenot improving the edge-rushers at Pees’ disposal.
Fontenot’s efforts yielded Lorenzo Carter from the Giants in free agency, while the second and third rounds of the draft produced by Arnold Ebiketie and DeAngelo Malone, respectively. This trio’s chances of putting more heat on quarterbacks in 2022 will be better if Jarrett plays on the outside.
Jarrett can occupy offensive tackles and leave outside linebackers like Carter and Ebiketie matched up against running backs and tight ends. That should be a matchup win for the Falcons’ defense every time.
One other area where the Falcons need better matchups is in run defense. Pees’ unit allowed the sixth-most rushing yards in the league, 2,242, along with 19 touchdowns on the ground last season.
Shelton and his 345-pound frame would surely make it tougher for opposing running backs to average 4.3 yards per carry this term. The 28-year-old knows how to play vertically and snuff out rushing attempts at their source, like on this play when the Pats beat the Rams, per CLNS Media Network’s Evan Lazar:
Signing Shelton to a short-term deal late in free agency is one of the smartest moves the Falcons could make at this stage of the offseason. There’s still $ 12,358,927 worth of space under the salary cap, according to Sportrac.com, more than enough to add a player who would transform both phases of the Falcons’ defense and revitalize one of the few elite players on the roster.