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Ranking the Falcons' Top 3 Offseason Moves

These three moves were the highlights of Atlanta's offseason.

An up-and-down 7-10 season in general manager Terry Fontenot and head coach Arthur Smith's opening campaign led way to an eventful offseason for the Atlanta Falcons.

Despite not having much cap space to work with, Fontenot bargain-shopped himself into another solid free agent class. Then, Atlanta's second-year general manager infused young talent at positions of need across the board.

Still, three events stand out above all as the most important offseason moves.

3. Signing CB Casey Hayward

The Falcons' addition of Hayward wasn't talked about enough at the time, as it occurred in the midst of the team's pursuit of now-Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson.

The 32-year-old Georgia native has started 103 regular season games over the last seven campaigns, missing just two total contests. Hayward offers an experienced, consistent veteran presence to man a starting cornerback position opposite 2021 second team All-Pro A.J. Terrell, giving the Falcons one of the league's best corner duos.

According to PFF, Hayward allowed less than 30 yards in 15 of his 18 games last season. He offers tremendous value to the Falcons both on and off the gridiron, which is particularly important considering the transitional phase that Atlanta is currently in.

2. Trading for WR Bryan Edwards

The Falcons acquired Edwards from the Raiders in May, just a few weeks after spending a top-10 pick on USC receiver Drake London. Instantly upon arrival, the pair became Atlanta's top options at the position.

In less than a year, Atlanta lost receivers Julio Jones and Russell Gage, and will be playing without the suspended Calvin Ridley in 2022. For the team to add Edwards, a third-year receiver who started 12 games for Las Vegas and posted 34 receptions for 571 yards and three touchdowns, for just a fifth-round pick is a stellar move by Fontenot.

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Edwards, 23, was a third-round pick in 2020, but seemingly wasn't viewed as a fit by Las Vegas' new coaching staff. Instead, he found a good landing spot in Atlanta, where Edwards' 6-3, 212-pound frame is exactly what Smith wants in his receivers.

If Edwards stays healthy, he has a chance to post career-best numbers and continue the upward trajectory his career is headed towards. For as much as Atlanta's offense needed a player like Edwards, one could argue he needed Atlanta even more.

It's extremely difficult to succeed in the NFL without having an impact player under center. That's why teams often spend premium draft picks on quarterbacks and pay top-dollar to retain their services.

As such, trading a franchise staple and former MVP in quarterback Matt Ryan was a tough decision, but one that had to be made for both parties. For Ryan, he gets a chance to compete for Super Bowls before hanging up the cleats, while the Falcons will be able to get his contract off the books after this season and bring in better fits for Smith's offense.

The trade almost had to happen after Atlanta's failed pursuit of quarterback Deshaun Watson, which alienated Ryan and revealed their interest in creating change at the position. As it's turned out, the Falcons seemingly dodged a bullet by not acquiring Watson, who's now staring down a long suspension in Cleveland.

Instead of Ryan and Watson, the Falcons will be rolling with veteran Marcus Mariota, who the team signed the day they traded Ryan, and rookie third-rounder Desmond Ridder. Both provide the team with more mobility at quarterback and got off to good starts during OTAs.

Perhaps the biggest plus for the Falcons is the lack of long-term financial commitment to each player. Mariota's cap hit jumps by $10 million from 2022 to 2023, but if the Falcons choose to let him go after one season, they'll incur only $2.5 million in dead cap.

For Ridder, being a third-round pick, Atlanta didn't spend immense draft capital on him, meaning there's less commitment than had he been a premium selection. For the Falcons, this means they can address the position again next year if they need to and the opportunity presents itself.

Ultimately, the 2022 offseason will be remembered as the year the Falcons traded Ryan, but it has a chance to go down as the free agent class that changed the standard, the draft class that provided the young playmakers needed to take the team to the next level, and the quarterback carousel that resulted in the next great franchise player.